"A Shocking Diagnosis" by Jerry Penacoli

It was just a tiny brown freckle on my inner right thigh. Then, practically overnight, it became black and slightly raised. Had it been on my back or another less visible part of my body, I never would have known it was there. I had it removed last September, the doctor optimistically saying, “It looks like nothing.” But it was something: the biopsy came back positive for melanoma, stage III.

When I heard that word, “cancer,” first I cried, then I became paralyzed with fear, then I sprang into action. I talked to other melanoma survivors in Los Angeles about surgeons and oncologists, and became a sponge in order to absorb as much information from credible sources as possible about this form of skin cancer.

I was in surgery four days after my diagnosis. Two surgeries were performed: one to remove the affected area of my thigh, and another to remove 22 lymph nodes nearby because a biopsy of the nodes showed evidence that the melanoma had spread (metastasized) there. A PET CT scan also separately detected possible thyroid cancer, and after a needle biopsy, I had to have my entire thyroid removed.

Right now, I am cancer-free. Vigilance is the key. My skin will be checked visually and my body PET-scanned every few months. I refuse to have a recurrence. It is not an option with me, so, in addition to proper medical care, I have improved my nutrition, not to mention my sleep and exercise regimens.

After four months’ medical leave, I decided to go public with this personal story on my show “Extra.” I felt it was my responsibility. I was touched by the number of people who reached out to me with their own stories of hope and survival. Every one of them inspired me to keep awareness of this disease in the forefront. This is why I’m telling my story here.

The Skin Cancer Foundation is a tremendous wealth of resources and information about melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. I want anyone who will listen to heed these words:

Please get your skin checked by a dermatologist who knows skin cancer, and not just the head and torso. Have a full-body skin exam — a complete ‘naked’ check, if you will, by a medical expert.

I should have had that kind of check-up every year, and didn’t. Please, do it. It could save your life.