Sun & Skin News

After Melanoma, a New Beginning

By Steven Sladkus • November 13, 2023

As a melanoma survivor and advocate for The Skin Cancer Foundation, I’m sharing my story to connect with you and inspire a feeling of community among those of us touched by skin cancer. My own journey led me to the great people at The Skin Cancer Foundation, I hope you will join me in supporting their mission to reach more people and save more lives.  

The Diagnosis  

In October, 2019, I had gone to my wife’s dermatologist, at her insistence, to get my first skin check in about eight years (yes, I had, and still have, a fear of doctors because I never wanted to hear anything bad). My dermatologist got through checking everywhere but my head, and I was all clear. Great news! She only had to check my scalp and I was out of there. After making a joke about messing up my perfectly coiffed hair, my dermatologist found a suspicious mole. She asked if I minded if she shaved a small area of my head for a biopsy. I said, “Of course, no problem!” I’d never had any reason to check the top of my head and had no idea that mole even existed. Three days letter I got the news—I had melanoma 

“I had melanoma. I was in total shock and went numb. Completely numb.”  

I was walking to the parking garage by my apartment when I called my wife to tell her. I was physically sick about it. This didn’t seem real. She comforted me and encouraged me to make an appointment with the recommended surgical oncologist as soon as possible. My friend and law partner, who had just overcome his battle with lymphoma, came with me to that first appointment as a show of support. He mentioned that we were in the same waiting room he visited during his treatments, and that’s when it really hit me – I had cancer. 

I was told I had stage 1A melanoma. I stood there panicking while my kind and caring doctor explained the cancer was smaller than 1mm in depth and localized, but invasive, meaning that the cancer penetrated beneath the top layer of skin into the next layer. Surgery was the immediate next step. Each bit of news compounded my fears and completely freaked me out.  

The Surgery  

I was on pins and needles for a week leading up to the surgery. This was the first major surgery I’d ever had. In preparation, they told me to remove my jewelry, including my wedding ring, which I never removed in my 21 years of marriage. Just remembering that moment brings tears to my eyes.  

Prior to surgery to remove the melanoma (and margins) from my scalp, I was told the cancer could have spread to a lymph node in my neck (what did they mean the cancer could spread?!). Because of this possibility, I underwent sentinel node tracing before the surgery. A dye was injected at the location of the melanoma and then followed by a scanner to see what lymph node, if any, the cancer would have spread to. We chose to remove the whole lymph node while I was there so they could send it to the lab and make sure the cancer had not spread.   

Waiting for the Results  

For all the emotions I had dealt with to this point, this time may have been the toughest. Five days of wondering if the cancer spread. Five days of walking over a mile to work and back, listening to heavy metal music to try and keep my mind clear. Thinking about my wife and two daughters. Trying to pretend that the regular day-to-day tasks mattered. Finally, while walking to work, I received a text from a random number: “PATH NEGATIVE!!”. I could do nothing else but sit down on the curb alongside the street and thank God. Tears of pure joy and relief poured down my face as I shared the news with my wife, my mother, my in-laws and my law partners.  

I am so lucky they found the melanoma at an early stage. Had I not gone to the doctor, who knows how this story would end. I really love life and I live it to the fullest. I can’t believe this cancer could have killed me.   

The Aftermath   

Even though I got an “all clear” diagnosis, I still struggled. For weeks after, I made my wife look at the top of my head repeatedly to see if the cancer came back. I would ask if she saw any moles or spots and she would reassure me saying she didn’t see anything, just my stitches. As time went on, I stopped asking her to look, but it took a long time. I had to transition back to my normal self, and I did not expect it to be so hard. My visits with my surgeon became more sporadic, which eased my fears as well. A few years ago, my doctor even offered to perform surgery to close my scar and make it so my hair covered it up, but I declined. I look at it as a daily reminder of how lucky I am that my cancer was caught early, and that I am alive. It has been a part of my healing process.  

A New Beginning  

What drives me now is that I am not telling my story from “the end,” but rather “the beginning.” I feel like I can do something positive with my experience. It’s so clear to me that my ignorance could have been my demise and that is unacceptable. Awareness, prevention and early detection are key to avoiding a catastrophic conclusion. 

 Things must happen for a reason, because by chance, I ran into some people at The Skin Cancer Foundation earlier this year and my emotions kicked in. I had to get involved and their mission to save and improve lives by educating and empowering people is where I need to be.   

The Skin Cancer Foundation’s work is vital to helping people survive.  Please donate to The Skin Cancer Foundation. I have and I will continue to do so. They need funding to run their lifesaving programs that include free skin cancer screenings, patient and professional education and resources, and research.

If your donation saves one life or if it can help one person cope, it is worth it. We are in this together!   


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