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Melanoma Awareness

Organized by Dona Williams
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Melanoma Awareness Fundraiser - unisex shirt design - front
Melanoma Awareness Fundraiser - unisex shirt design - back
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Gildan Ultra Cotton T-shirt

Melanoma Awareness

Custom Ink
All funds raised will go to Dona Williams, the organizer for Melanoma Awareness.
20 goal
Thanks to our supporters!
Gildan Ultra Cotton T-shirt, Unisex - Orchid
Gildan Ultra Cotton T-shirt
Unisex - Orchid
Organized by Dona Williams

Melanoma Awareness

Melanoma Awareness

It was an exciting day for me, as I had been asked to model for the cover of Creative Loafing magazine. I thought to myself “Wow!” I could get used to this. So in preparation for the photo shoot, I applied more makeup than I normally would. This additional makeup apparently triggered an allergic reaction; so I made an appointment with my dermatologist to see about getting my irritated skin under control.

While I was there, for some reason I also asked the dermatologist to look at my back. This was something I never asked before; and am not sure why I asked on this occasion. I certainly was not familiar with melanoma at the time and whatever I had heard about skin cancer was not something I was overly concerned with, as I was not a sun bather at all. Because I was fair skinned, I was very careful about staying out in the sun and used sunscreen on a regular basis. But little did I know at that time, a routine trip to the dermatologist for irritated skin would actually save my life.

So, the doctor did note a suspicious mole just below my right shoulder blade, removed the suspicious mole and sent this off to the lab. I was told that I would receive a report of the results in a few weeks…unless it was something more serious. Again, I wasn’t overly concerned at this point in time, and continued my day to day activities.

Two days later, I received a call from the nurse with a sense of urgency in her voice. She called to inform me that I had stage 4 Melanoma, and that I needed to return for surgery immediately (as in the very next day). She further informed me that there was a possibility that we may have waited too late, and once the cancer spread to my lymph nodes, I would have maybe a year to live…and it would be very painful final year of my life.

Well, 12+ years later and I’m still here, and I’m much more educated about Melanoma. And because May is Melanoma Awareness month, it is also clear that as a society, we are all more educated about Melanoma. But as with any other cancer, one can never completely rest comfortably; and the past 12 years have been anything but a walk in the park. Aside from a number of subsequent surgeries to remove suspicious moles – some benign, some cancerous, every day I wage battle with cancer. As any other cancer patient will attest, that anxiety and fear that the cancer could return is always in the back of your mind. So you truly never rest easy.

After the surgery, and honestly, up until recently, I was embarrassed and ashamed of the 3” scar on my back, a second scar on my back from a second surgery, and now a 4” scar just below my right calf resulting from the removal of a blue nevus about a year ago; something the doctor said could turn into melanoma if I didn’t remove it. But now, I am starting to see my scars as beautiful and powerful; because every time I look at these scars, I realize they represent a second chance at life. I also see what friendships I have developed through this and how much stronger I am than I was 12 years ago.

Looking back at some of my modeling photographs taken several years before the doctor discovered the cancer, I clearly see the suspicious moles staring back at me. But, back then, I did not have the knowledge to know what to look for. But now I do, and if you can recite your ABCDEs, you too have that knowledge.

A – Asymmetry – if one half doesn’t match the appearance of the other half.

B – Border Irregularity – if the edges are ragged, notched or blurred.

C – Color – if the color pigmentation is not uniform.

D – Diameter – if the mole is greater than ¼ inch.

E - Evolution – if there is a change in the size, shape, symptoms, surface or color.

Because I am not a sunbather and even back then was religious about sunscreen, the doctor speculated that the evolution of the cancerous cells was probably as a result of one of times that I sunburned as a child. So, for 25 years, the cancer lay dormant, and that should be a warning for everyone.

Maybe it's just life, but I have found that as I have gotten older I realize that life happens; and you have to not only be prepared physically but be prepared mentally as well. Because the truth of the matter is yes, it can be physically painful; but the mental pain can be as great, if not greater than the physical pain. For me, it’s a test to see how graceful you can be, in the spite of the ugliness of it all.

The bigger picture is I may not understand why, and I still don't know why, but I have to believe that there is a reason and a purpose for me going through this. I continue to seek that purpose; but perhaps it is – aside from educating others (which I certainly find meaning and importance in that) – perhaps simply that in experiencing life as a cancer survivor, you have a greater appreciation for life itself. You feel more love, a greater embrace of life, and perhaps carrying strength for others to see; so that they can remind themselves that they are blessed to have the life they have without cancer.

Or maybe it is the opportunity to give a nurse or a doctor a chance to feel like they have purpose; or the opportunity of a friend or family member to pray for your healing and to see how valuable they are to you.

Because May is Melanoma Awareness Month, the purpose of my story is to make others aware that as unlikely a candidate as I should have been for Melanoma, you may have those thoughts about yourself. And that is a very dangerous assumption to believe that it could never happen to me.

So get to know your skin, inspect daily, and get a friend to look at your skin as well. Learn the ABCDE warning signs and teach that to others. And even though you may look beautiful and glamorous with a deep, rich tan, remember the tan wears off; but the cancer you will have to carry with you the rest of your life. So, wear lots and lots of sunscreen. And go get your birthday suit checked out once a year on your birthday. It could save your life. And remember, “White is the new Tan.”


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