Melissa Collins

When I was diagnosed with Stage 2a melanoma at age 40, I was not sure what it meant for me. I quickly found out. I wish I never thought a tan was more important than my life.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2a melanoma and basal cell carcinoma at age 40.  I was an outdoor tanner since age 15.  There were many times I was not able to tan, especially when my kids were little, because I was just too busy!  As a teen I liked the way it made me look and feel.  As I got older, I tanned outdoors to look better and it was relaxing to me.  At age 39, I decided to try indoor tanning.  I mean, everyone was doing it!  So I signed up for the membership, ignoring the waiver about getting skin cancer, and was instantly hooked!  It was amazing!  So fast for results, and I didn't have to lay outside and get sweaty.  I went 4 times a week for 3 5 months, then I stopped for the summer for about 3 months.  I went back in the fall, and noticed a mole on the back of my leg was raised.  I was actually putting on lotion to go inside the tanning bed when I found it.  I kept an eye on it for a few months.  It was getting bigger, so I did some research and was shocked at what I found.  I didn't know that melanoma could kill you.  I admit I didn't know much about melanoma and thought if I got skin cancer it wouldn't be so bad.  They would just cut it off and I would go on with life.  I was so wrong.  All the years of abusing my body ended in melanoma.  Cancer.  I was scared out of my mind.  I was stage 2a, which they said was good.  They wanted me to have surgery to remove more skin around the original mole site and also have a sentinel node biopsy.  I was terrified and cried my eyes out.  I made it through surgery and had a long recovery.  Since the surgery was on my leg, it was difficult to walk.  I was off work for 2 weeks.  My lymph nodes ended up being clear.  They took out just 3.  I now live with the fear that it will come back and I won't know it.  My dermatologist and surgical oncologist said that I don't need to have any scans to see if it has spread.  So, I just have to hope it is true that it was all removed. 

I now participate in walks when I can and I have a blog and facebook page dedicated to melanoma. I also did my first of hopefully many, TV interviews this month for melanoma awareness month!   I will always educate on the dangers of tanning.  I wear sunscreen and hats and I try to live my life without fear.  It isn't easy.  If I could say one thing to someone that wants to tan, it would be, "It is NOT worth it."  I am now loving the skin I have and am doing a much better job of protecting it!  

 

June 2012

Comments

Rich - (8/15/2012 - 3:24am)

Melissa,

Thanks for posting this. I was diagnosed with Stage IIA melanoma earlier this year at age 37 after years of intentional and unintentional sunburns and although I had heard a lot about the dangers of skin cancer, like you, I didn't think it could be deadly. I had assumed that it could be removed and forgotten about. The reality came as a massive shock, not least because I have kids aged 4 and 10months, and I've got a lot more to do in my life.  

I now have a large crater in my back around the original tumour site (a mole, basically) and scars in my arm pits where I had sentinel lymph node biopsies. I'm also coming to the end of a course of Interferon, which hasn't been pleasant at all. While I'm basically very very relieved, the possibility of a recurrence will always be in the back of my mind.

I was brought up in the north of England to think that a suntan gave me a healthy glow, but my fair hair and freckly skin obviously wasn't designed for tanning. I never wore a hat and only occasionally used sunblock. The result was generally more of a red lobster burn than a tan, so I should've got the hint.   

I wish you all the very best and you're already a great advocate for the many melanoma victims around the world.

Rich

parkmk80 - (11/20/2012 - 5:01pm)

Girl I'm in the same boat as you!  I always felt like the sun just gave me what I needed to feel good and LOOK good.  What a MISTAKE.  I was diagnosed with dysplastic nevus syndrome in my early 20's and that still didn't stop me.  I was laying out in the summer and laying in a tanning bed in the winter since the age of 15!  I haven't been diagnosed yet but I have had atleast 20 moles removed that were dysplastic.  I have ATLEAST 200 more.  I see you have a lot of moles.  Do you have mole mapping or do you take your own photos.  I am from Arkansas and they don't do mole mapping anywhere around here.  I see my derm every 3-6 months but I still feel like that just isn't good enough!  I'm always finding places I didn't know were there.  I'm more afraid than ever about my scalp.  Have you b een checking that too?  I have found 6 places and go see my derm tomorrow about them.  I'm afraid because I haven't ever been looked at on my scalp and I've been seeing my derm since I have been 18 and I'm 32!  Anyway, so glad to hear your story.  T hank you for sharing!  Bless you girl!  I'm praying for you !

John Davis CA - (3/7/2013 - 12:56am)

Greetings.  I also was diagnosed several weeks ago with Stage 2A nodular melanoma.  In a couple of days I am having wide area excision surgery (2 cm margins around the tumor that was removed from the back of my neck a couple of weeks ago).  The surgeon will also remove my sentinel node that is located on the left side of my neck.

It is so encouraging to read personal experiences posted on this web site.  My dermatologist, my surgeons and my oncologist have thus far been very tentative describing the probable treatment that they will recommend after the sentinel node biopsy results are known.

I had a very good friend pass away a few short months after he was diagnosed with melanoma at age 44 in 1995.

The people who post on this site who have been diagnosed with Stage 3 and Stage 4 melanoma and who are successfully controlling their cancer are an inspiration to me and give me a lot of hope and motivation to fight this disease.

A heart felt "thank you" everyone for openly sharing your thoughts and personal experiences regarding your struggle to successfully control your melanoma.

Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

heather F - (10/28/2013 - 7:51pm)

Thank you to everyone for sharing all of your personal experiences.  I had mole on the back of my calf removed in June which came back positive for melanoma - 0.95mm deep and Clarke's level 4.  I just had my WLE and SNLB a week and a half ago and am still waiting for the results. 

When I read everyone's stories about sunburns and tanning, it comforts me to know that others understand what I am feeling.  I am fair skinned, freckled, and strawberry blonde but yet throughout my teens and twenties, I was careless with the sun often because I thought I looked better with a little "colour" and others would say the same to me.  In my twenties,  I had many friends go to tanning beds, so I decided to go as well.  I distinctly remember burning the back on my calf once.....20 years later I have melanoma there.  I have 2 young children and I have always been extremely careful with both of them.  I am now acutely aware that I should have been more careful with myself.  

I am really hopeful that I will receive positive news when I get my biopsy results, but either way, I feel like I will always have this perpetual guilt that I did this to myself.  

Melissa, I hope that soon enough I too can educate people about the dangers of tanning and the importance of taking care of your skin in the sun.  Thank you for your inspiration.

timmy545 - (1/29/2014 - 3:56am)

Melissa

I had a melanoma and several basal cell tunors on my back from the sun -I'm also in my 40's. I worked in paving for years without my shirt all summer long. Anyway, I looked at the fear of death thing, too. Had to wrestle with it, even tho my cancer wasn't nearly as bad as some people's. I want to share something that helped me.  I don't know if you believe in God or not, but I do -and still I had fear. I know where I will go if I die, and it helps. But the emotions still tried to overwhelm me. so I went to look again at the promises found in the bible, because "faith comes by hearing.. the word of God." I needed faith. It's not some mystical thing. Faith is knowing something when you have no outward evidence or proof (in spite of what it looks like). In Psalm 91 it reads, "with long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation".  3 John 2: "beloved, I wish above all things that you prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers."  Ok, so He wants me to be healthy and promises me long life. Then I turned ot 2 Timothy 1:7; "for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." He doesn't want me to be afraid. See, fear is a spirit and it's not from God. If I believe in Jesus, He has not given me a spirit of fear but power, love and a sound (stable, settled) mind.  I don't have to be afraid because God himself has made me some promises and I can trust them. He is more powerful than cancer. If I indeed did die early, well, no need to fear that either. I know where I will go (there's promises for that, too). But I can take those other promises to the bank -they are mine- and I won't die young. Everything is going to be alright.

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too took on a flesh body, so that by his death he might destroy the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14

through faith in what Jesus did -he was the perfect sacrifice- I can now stand before God with confidence as His child without fear of any kind, because Jesus, through His death, defeated its power over me and set me free from the fear of death.

Well, they removed all of the cancers a couple of years ago and all is fine. But I knew it going in, that it would be. And I know I won't die of cancer. I have His promise. No fear.

 

timmy545 - (1/29/2014 - 3:57am)

Melissa

I had a melanoma and several basal cell tunors on my back from the sun -I'm also in my 40's. I worked in paving for years without my shirt all summer long. Anyway, I looked at the fear of death thing, too. Had to wrestle with it, even tho my cancer wasn't nearly as bad as some people's. I want to share something that helped me.  I don't know if you believe in God or not, but I do -and still I had fear. I know where I will go if I die, and it helps. But the emotions still tried to overwhelm me. so I went to look again at the promises found in the bible, because "faith comes by hearing.. the word of God." I needed faith. It's not some mystical thing. Faith is knowing something when you have no outward evidence or proof (in spite of what it looks like). In Psalm 91 it reads, "with long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation".  3 John 2: "beloved, I wish above all things that you prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers."  Ok, so He wants me to be healthy and promises me long life. Then I turned ot 2 Timothy 1:7; "for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." He doesn't want me to be afraid. See, fear is a spirit and it's not from God. If I believe in Jesus, He has not given me a spirit of fear but power, love and a sound (stable, settled) mind.  I don't have to be afraid because God himself has made me some promises and I can trust them. He is more powerful than cancer. If I indeed did die early, well, no need to fear that either. I know where I will go (there's promises for that, too). But I can take those other promises to the bank -they are mine- and I won't die young. Everything is going to be alright.

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too took on a flesh body, so that by his death he might destroy the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14

through faith in what Jesus did -he was the perfect sacrifice- I can now stand before God with confidence as His child without fear of any kind, because Jesus, through His death, defeated its power over me and set me free from the fear of death.

Well, they removed all of the cancers a couple of years ago and all is fine. But I knew it going in, that it would be. And I know I won't die of cancer. I have His promise. No fear.