02 May Dylan Akins
I had my first introduction to the devastation of Melanoma in November, 2009. My younger (and only) brother went into the doctor to have a mole checked out. It had popped up on the side of his head and his comb kept catching on it, and it hurt. I remember my mom telling me that the doctor wanted to take it off and biopsy it, but none of us had any idea that it would turn out to be what ended his life. The diagnosis came back as stage 3 melanoma. Still, I had no clue how serious it was. I thought, well, it’s skin cancer…..so they’ll just take it off and it will be okay, right? Wrong. He underwent a sentinel node biopsy and although 1 of the 2 nodes had cancer, they said they had caught it before it spread any further and he was declared to be in remission. He remained cancer-free for almost a year. The following October, he was hit on his motorcycle and suffered from bleeding in the front of his brain. At that time, they did a CT scan and MRI, and there was no cancer detected. But within 6 weeks, he was suffering from horrific headaches that required a trip to the ER. It was discovered that the melanoma had gone straight to the injured brain tissue and he now had 6 lesions, 3 of which were considered “large”. He immediately started radiation therapy along with steroid treatment to shrink the swelling in his brain. He completed 3 weeks of radiation and on the 4th week, he had his follow-up CT-MRI. Once again, he was pronounced “cancer-free” (they actually used this term) and we celebrated!!! That was a Tuesday. Thursday night, he passed away in his sleep. We were FLOORED…..devastated doesn’t even begin to describe how our family felt. It has been almost 2 years and we are still struggling to cope with his death. His death on February 26th, 2010 was ruled due to complications of metastatic melanoma.
6 months later, I decided to have a birthmark checked out. I had had it biopsied once 10 years earlier and it was just fine but I felt the need to have it looked at again. I went in and they did a punch biopsy. Still benign. The following year, I went to my yearly scheduled skin check and this time, the doctor said “let’s just take it off to be safe, and be done with it”. So he took the whole thing off. When I went in for my 2-week follow-up, he said “I have some bad news, you had a melanoma in-situ”. But he went on to explain that he had cauterized the margins well enough that he didn’t feel a secondary excision was necessary. I left, feeling very shaken but confident in his decision. Months went by and I kept having this nagging feeling that I should have had that secondary excision to make sure all the cancer was gone. So I went in for a second opinion and the doctor immediately scheduled me for a MOHS procedure to make absolutely sure there were no cancer cells accidentally missed. Everything came back clear and I felt immensely relieved.
My life has been altered by these experiences, and I feel I have been set upon a new path. I have an intense need to spread the word about melanoma prevention and detection. This is largely a cancer that can be prevented by safe sun practices and early detection. Through my passion to spread awareness, I have joined the non-profit organization Miles Against Melanoma, and have started my own chapter in WA state. In October, we will have our first 5K charity fundraiser for melanoma research and patient/family support. It is my way of making something positive from the loss of my brother.