When Ronnie walked into the salon in June 2022, she never imagined that her life was about to take a frightening turn.
As her hairdresser parted Ronnie’s hair for a cut, she saw something – a spot — on Ronnie’s scalp that wasn’t there six weeks earlier. “It was not in a place I would easily see myself, but she definitely felt it was something I should have checked out,” Ronnie explains.
The next day, Ronnie booked an appointment with her dermatologist, who biopsied the spot.
About a week later, her dermatologist called to inform her that the spot on her head was a melanoma in situ, or Stage 0 melanoma. Ronnie was shocked and devastated.
“I’m the type of person that immediately does research. That’s a good and not so good thing,” she says. “The internet is wonderful, but dangerous because the information you find can be very overwhelming.”
Ronnie later learned that she had several skin cancer risk factors, including her age (72), light skin, blue eyes, freckles, and long history of sun exposure as a young adult.
Ronnie fondly remembers growing up right across the street from the beach, soaking her toes in the cool sand, swimming in the warm ocean, and more often than not never wearing a hat in all that sun.
“It’s where we spent all our days, on the beach, summers but spring and fall too. I was of the generation of baby oil and sun reflectors,” she says. “Skin care was very different in the `50s and `60s and little to anything was known then, let alone publicized, about sun exposure and its long-term risks and impact.”
Finding The Skin Cancer Foundation
During her research, Ronnie came across a blog on The Skin Cancer Foundation’s website entitled A Haircut Could Save Your Life, authored by Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, a dermatologist, Mohs surgeon and president of The Skin Cancer Foundation.
“It was mind-blowing,” Ronnie recalls. “Somebody else went through the exact same experience. My outcome was a little different, but the article touched me very deeply.” Ronnie encouraged her friends and family to read the piece too.
Getting Creative After Surgery
Ronnie’s treatment option was excisional surgery. Her surgical oncologist explained this was a rare amelanotic melanoma not possessing the usual color characteristics of melanoma and often times overlooked as a result. He explained the surgical process and assured her that it would not be painful. Unfortunately, that was not the case. “It was probably the most pain I’ve had in my life,” Ronnie recalls. “The scalp is very sensitive to begin with and during my consult, my surgeon told me that I have a very hard head.” According to her surgeon, these factors may have contributed to the above average pain Ronnie experienced.
In addition to the initial pain, Ronnie felt exasperated with changing the dressing on her scalp each day. Tired of wrestling with the adhesive tape that plucked out her hair, Ronnie got creative. “I tried sports tape — it looks like an ace bandage but its stretchy and sticks to itself,” she explains. “I made a headband out of that to place over the bandage, so changing the dressing became a breeze and I wasn’t pulling my hair out, literally and figuratively.”
Finally, Ronnie got the news that all her melanoma cells had been removed successfully and she was officially cancer free!
What Ronnie Wants You to Know
Ronnie, her dermatologist and surgical oncologist credit her successful outcome to early detection and her very proactive approach to seeking treatment quickly.
Unlike her early years at the beach, Ronnie and her hats or UPF50 headbands are now inseparable. “I never leave home without a hat or headband. I used to wear a hat periodically, but now I’m never without one or the other or both.”
Ronnie also advises everyone to wear sun protection, get your skin examined regularly and ask your hairdresser or barber to check your scalp at every appointment for anything new, changing or unusual. And if they see something, better hope they say something, just like Ronnie’s hairdresser did for her.
With Special Thanks and Gratitude from Ronnie to:
Karen, owner of Image Works Salon in Ramsey, NJ
Joshua P. Fogelman, MD, Dermatology Center of Rockland
Bret Taback, MD, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center department of surgery
The Skin Cancer Foundation