Sun & Skin News

“Burn, Peel, Repeat”: A Stage IV Melanoma Survivor Reflects on His Youthful Mistakes

By Skin Cancer Foundation • June 9, 2021

Melanoma survivor Kelly Leggett was proactive about getting his skin checked, which ultimately saved his life.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, we had a different relationship with the sun. We didn’t think we looked good or “healthy” unless we had a tan.  Ironic, isn’t it? I spent many hours in my teens and 20s laying out in the sun – burn, peel, repeat…until the tan took hold.

In 2003, I noticed a mole behind my right ear that seemed to be changing. At a routine check-up I asked my doctor to look at the mole; he told me it was nothing to worry about. Some time went by and I noticed the mole had changed dramatically so I went back to my doctor. Again, he told me it was nothing, but my gut told me otherwise, so I asked for a referral to a dermatologist. The dermatologist removed the mole immediately, sent it out for a biopsy and told me that he’d follow up in a week. When he called two days later and asked to see me right away, I knew I was in trouble.

I was diagnosed with melanoma stage IIB in July 2007. Surgery was required to remove all the cancerous tissue, and plastic surgery a week later to restore the area. My oncologist prescribed a 12-month regimen of high-dose interferon injections. When the interferon treatments ended the following year, my scans showed no evidence of cancer.

In July 2009, a routine chest x-ray came back abnormal. Additional scans revealed that the cancer had returned and spread to my lymph nodes, lungs, spine, liver, spleen and pelvis. My doctor told me that the tumors were too numerous to count. I learned that the melanoma had advanced to stage IV just a week before my 48th birthday.

At that time there was only one FDA-approved course of action for metastatic melanoma, and the success rate for it was only about 10 percent.  If I did nothing, I had six months to live.

Losing my life was not an option, so I decided to move forward with the therapy. In October 2009, several weeks after completing the first round of treatments, additional CT and PET scans revealed the tumors were shrinking. I underwent two more rounds of treatment which was the maximum allowed.

In February 2011, I got the best news I could have imagined: My scans showed no evidence of disease. I felt beyond grateful and overjoyed. I was finally cancer free and have been ever since.

Before my cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t taking the proper measures to protect my skin. Now, I visit my dermatologist every three months for skin exams and wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing daily.

This month, I’m joining The Skin Cancer Foundation in their efforts to help people understand the risks of skin cancer and how to prevent it. In just a few weeks, the Foundation will once again hit the road, bringing its Destination: Healthy Skin program to communities around the country. The Foundation’s 38-foot RV, customized with two private exam rooms, will travel 10,000 miles to provide free full-body skin cancer screenings along with educational materials and sun protection giveaways.

Please consider donating $15 to “Buy a Mile” and support the 10,000 mile journey. Being proactive about getting my skin checked ultimately saved my life. Your gift today could save someone else’s.

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