My Birthday Surprise

Melanoma Survivor Melissa Garrett Tells Her Story

Melissa-GarrettAfter a routine dermatology visit and biopsy, my doctor phoned one night with the horrible news that I had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It was one week before my 37th birthday. Needless to say, my family and I were shocked. So was my doctor, since I am part Cherokee Indian, with dark hair, brown eyes and an olive complexion. I have always tanned easily and have never had any severe sunburns, so I would normally be considered at low risk for melanoma.

My dermatologist had performed a shave biopsy (during which a layer of skin is removed) on a dark mole on the left side of my back, and it was diagnosed as a Stage I melanoma. He referred me to an surgical oncologist at East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC, and they scheduled me for immediate surgical excision (removal) of the tumor. Luckily, after surgery the pathology report came back clear, confirming that it was an early Stage I melanoma that had not spread, so neither chemo nor radiation were required. The doctors continue to check me closely every three months. The 5½-inch scar on my back took a long time to heal. Now I use sunscreen anytime I’m outdoors and also try to find other ways to protect my skin.