I’m in the hospital with my sister Cindy, and the doctor says there isn’t much time. We all sit and watch her calmly tell her 2- and 4-year-old sons goodbye. She reassures them she will always be their mommy and watch over them from heaven. Shortly after, I hold her hand as she takes her last breath. A stunning, accomplished mother, wife, and pharmacist dies at age 30 because of melanoma.
Cindy was diagnosed with hemorrhoids during her two pregnancies when it was a stage 4 nodular melanoma. Melanoma is malignant and forms in your melanocytes (melanin-producing cells). This potentially fatal skin cancer doesn’t only occur in sun-exposed areas— it can happen inside the eye, on the lips, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, fingernails, toenails, and anal/genital areas. Melanoma does not discriminate; it can affect all races.
You may not know this, but Reggae musician Bob Marley died at age 36 in 1981 from melanoma on his toenail. Undergoing a skin examination is crucial, irrespective of whether your skin tans, burns, or is seemingly unaffected.
If you ever ask yourself, “Is this just a mole or something more concerning?” The answer is to get it checked. Melanoma was the 5th MOST COMMON new cancer diagnosed in both men and women in 2022. There were 99,780 new melanoma cases recorded in 2022, with Florida having the second-highest melanoma rate.
Melanoma risk factors encompass sun exposure, multiple moles, fair complexion, light-colored eyes, blonde or red hair, and a family history of melanoma or atypical moles.
What should you be looking for? The ABCDEs of melanoma risk.
A- Asymmetry (one half is not a mirror image of the other)
B- Border (the lesion has a poorly defined border)
C- Color (lesion has different shades or colors)
D- Diameter (most melanomas are larger than 6 mm – or the size of a pencil eraser, however, some can be smaller as well)
E- Evolving (the lesion is changing in size, shape, or color)
In addition to seeing a dermatology provider at least once a year, wear an SPF 30 or higher, apply 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every 90 minutes. Keep a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses on, and seek shade as much as possible. Enjoy your time outdoors while being sun safe.
Cindy was diagnosed with melanoma in 1995– shortly after I founded a non-profit organization in her name- promoting melanoma awareness throughout the community and co-chaired two runs/walks for melanoma awareness fundraising. Following her death, I continued to participate in health fairs, give presentations at school and corporate events, and lecture across the country at multiple medical conferences.
Cindy is the reason I chose to go into dermatology practice in 2001. Cindy is my inspiration and why melanoma is my passion. She lost her battle with melanoma in 1997, but I promised her I would do everything in my power to protect as many people from her killer and to save as many lives as possible from this deadly disease.