Sun & Skin News

From Survival to Advocacy: Embracing My Melanoma Odyssey as a Warrior

By Amy Nichole • January 18, 2024


My journey with melanoma began when I was 28 years old. Subsequently, I battled three more melanomas, marking a turbulent and transformative passage through my 20s and 30s.

This series of diagnoses underscores the critical significance of vigilance and being proactive about skin health. I’ve learned that swift action and early detection are crucial in the fight against this formidable disease.

My Skin Cancer Journey

Melanoma surgical scare on young woman.

Post-operative incision on upper chest. Photo: Amy Nichole

My skin’s relationship with the sun started when I was young; my fair skin and freckles have been my identity since childhood. At the age of 8, a scorching sunburn left a unique, birthmark-like pattern on my arm and upper back that was initially dismissed as a sun reaction. I later learned that this pattern is atypical mole syndrome, also known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, a condition that increases my risk for skin cancer.

Multiple biopsies in my 20s confirmed the presence of pre-cancerous conditions, urging me to adopt rigorous professional skin checks every 3-6 months. The alarm sounded loud and clear in June 2016, when a spot on my chest underwent a drastic change, and I was diagnosed with stage 1B melanoma.

In February 2019, my second melanoma emerged from a dysplastic nevus on that patterned area of skin, this time on my upper right arm, nearly advancing to stage 2. I was treated with Mohs surgery that lasted 6 hours, removing the melanoma with clear margins. As if one was not enough, a short time later, a third melanoma emerged as a stage 1A, just inches away from its predecessor.

At this point, education became my shield, advocacy my weapon. But skin cancer was relentless. In May 2023, my fourth melanoma emerged on my right upper back, stage 0. Timely excision thwarted its progression, another testament to the necessity of constant vigilance.

Presently, I am in remission, undergoing genetic testing to understand the aggressive nature of my melanomas.

Advocating for Myself

Navigating multiple diagnoses wasn’t just about medical treatments and stages; it was a profound emotional and mental challenge.

My melanomas didn’t adhere to conventional ABCDE warning signs; they were ‘Ugly Ducklings,’ distinct, yet often overlooked. Knowing my skin and being consistent with self-examination have been vital in early detection.

Through these trials, I’ve learned the invaluable lesson of being my own advocate. After moving to a new state, I encountered a physician who didn’t heed my concerns about my skin, prompting me to look elsewhere for a more supportive healthcare team.

My battle with moderate dysplastic nevus syndrome also led me to collaborate closely with an oncologist for comprehensive scans. Another pivotal moment came in 2023, when, despite a doctor’s skepticism, I opted for a biopsy that revealed my most recent melanoma.

Understanding Risks and Prioritizing Skin Health

My teens were devoid of crucial sun safety knowledge. Looking back, I wish I had known what lay ahead; I’d have changed everything I did. Those hours spent pursuing the perfect tan led to extensive, unprotected sun exposure that only resulted in burns, and eventually, skin cancers. It’s a decision I deeply regret.

Skin cancer is serious. It’s important to understand the perilous risks of UV exposure and its signifiant impact on skin health. I’ve traded my wardrobe for UPF 50+ clothing, protecting my body’s largest organ year-round. Applying SPF 30+ sunscreen and donning protective attire regardless of weather conditions is now my norm.

 

A woman and her dog

Photo: Amy Nichole

Empowering Education and Advocacy

The Skin Cancer Foundation has been an instrumental pillar in my journey, offering support and resources that fostered my resilience.

My advice to you is to protect your body’s largest organ. Skip the tan, safeguard your skin, learn from my mistakes and beware of the sun’s dangers:

  • Check your skin monthly and get your skin checked annually by a dermatologist.
  • Protect it diligently by applying and re-applying sunscreen, regardless of weather conditions.
  • Utilize protective UPF clothing, sunglasses, sun gloves, and wide-brimmed hats.
  • Trust medical guidance, but fiercely advocate for yourself.

Embracing our unique skin and sharing our stories cultivates a supportive community. Every scar narrates a tale; they remind us to stay united. We are never alone. Hope fuels our resilience. Together, we are stronger.

My skin cancer journey fuels my fervor to educate and help people of all ages to understand the perilous risks of UV exposure. This commitment reflects in my philanthropic endeavors for the Skin Cancer Foundation, where I hope to create awareness and support for those navigating similar journeys.

About the author: Amy Nichole is a lifestyle portraits photographer based in Nevada.

Make a Donation
Find a Dermatologist

Recommended Products