09 Jun Jennifer Lemmo
As a child, I spent a lot of time outdoors not using sunscreen on a regular basis. At a young age after a day at the pool I had my first severe sunburn which developed blisters and pits across my shoulders. When I became a teenager and even into my young adult life, I used tanning beds on a regular basis, without considering the damage it could cause. Consequently enough, the local tanning salon was a “social” hangout for me and my friends.
I was diagnosed with my first skin cancer, specifically Basel cell carcinoma, in my early 20′s. I wish that diagnosis of skin cancer would have opened my eyes to the dangers of tanning and sun exposure, but sadly it didn’t stop me from using the tanning beds from time to time or not being diligent about applying sunscreen to myself. I developed many freckles and moles over the years due to the sun damage. At some point, I developed a small freckle on one of my toes. I can remember people commenting how the freckle on my toe was “cute”. Never did I think anything serious would result from these freckles/moles!
I have always been health conscious and the weeks leading up to my diagnosis of melanoma I just felt like something wasn’t right. Every time my shoes were off I would find myself looking at my toe. Finally, that overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right led me to make an appointment with a dermatologist. It was odd that I had this overwhelming feeling because my “cute”mole/freckle wasn’t spelling out MELANOMA like you might find looking at pictures online. The only thing that was really concerning me was another tiny freckle that appeared next to an existing mole/freckle that I had for 20+ years.
On January 1, 2013 I went to the dermatologist who did a full body scan. He asked what area I was concerned about. At that moment I spoke up and said my toe. He looked at that area again but felt I could wait 3 months to be reevaluated. I was persistent and would not waiver without him doing a biopsy before leaving. He agreed but reassured me that it didn’t think it looked like anything of concern.
January 2, 2013 is a day I’ll never forget. The biopsy results were back, and I was told I had malignant melanoma stage 1. When I ended the call with the doctor, to say I was in a state of shock is inadequate. I will never forget how scared I was in that moment. The doctor told me he was glad I persisted on having it biopsied. I knew immediately I needed a second opinion so I went to a different dermatologist who confirmed the diagnosis of melanoma, but also found other areas on my body that looked concerning. The dermatologist just to be on the safe side did many more biopsies with one coming back as melanoma in situ. I was advised by the 2nd dermatologist that I would need to be referred to an oncologist surgeon because where my melanoma was located.
The surgeon explained that often when melanoma is on the toe they have to amputate the toe because their is not enough tissue to cut away and that skin grafting generally doesn’t take and often times end up with an infection. After reviewing my pathology reports and looking at my toe he felt confident that we had caught it in time and would be able to remove the cancer without amputation and preventing the cancer from spreading to my organs. He did advise me we wouldn’t know anything for sure until after the surgery.
January 25, 2013 I had the surgery on my toe and also an area on my back to remove the cancer. After waiting the longest 5 days I received the most wonderful call from the surgeon telling me that both areas showed clear margins on the pathology report.
Since my initial diagnosis in January I have had 10 additional biopsies coming back as atypical dysplastic nevi. Because of my diagnosis of melanoma, my father being a survivor of melanoma and all of the atypical dysplastic nevi they believe genetics are also playing a role in my diagnosis. Because of this my children are now getting full body scans every year. I can’t turn back time or change genetics but I can remain diligent about my skin care now and make sure my children are always protected and educated.
After my diagnosis, I felt it was very important to organize the first 5k Miles Against Melanoma in North Texas. Miles Against Melanoma, is a non-profit organization to raise melanoma awareness. The money raised at the race will be donated to melanoma research.
My life has been forever changed by this diagnosis and feel extremely grateful and blessed with my outcome which is why I find it so important to share my story and raise awareness stressing the importance of sun safety, staying out of tanning beds, getting regular skin exams and raising money for melanoma research.
Please feel free to contact me Jlemmo@me.com