Posts tagged “early detection

Dear 16 Year Old Me saved my life

By Rebecca Maskevich

rebecca maskevichWhen “Dear 16 year old me” started making the rounds, it was two days before I would receive the results for an abnormal mole I had removed on my side.

To give you a little bit of a back story, I’m a fair skinned girl who has tons of moles…just tons. I had my first weird looking mole removed when I was a kid. My doctor explained to me why I needed it to be taken off and tested and what I should look for. He told me how important it was to talk to my doctor if I noticed anything on my skin that looked strange. Since then, I’ve always kept an eye on my skin and brought any weird looking or changing moles to my doctor (nine to be exact) and had them removed. They always came back clean. I honestly didn’t really worry too much about them. It never really occurred to me to be overly concerned because I’ve always paid close attention to my skin.

About 3.5 years ago, I changed cities and family doctors. On my first visit with my new doc I showed him two moles on my stomach. They caught my attention because they were new moles and they had been slowly getting bigger. He took a look, said they were fine.

I kept an eye on them and made sure to bring them up to him every single time I had a doctor’s appointment. I would tell him that they are changing shape, getting bigger, that there was a change in colour… all textbook signs of melanoma. Every time he said it was fine and I left feeling like I was overreacting.

In December of 2016 I went in for my yearly checkup and, lucky for me, there was a resident who was doing training and would be the one to take point on my exam. I showed her the moles on my stomach yet again as well as a weird looking one that was on my side. My doctor agreed to let the resident take the mole off my side but not the ones on my stomach because, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, they were “fine”.

The mole on my side was removed and I received a call a week later that it came back abnormal and that I needed to come back in. The doctor couldn’t see me for a month so I used that timeline to keep calm. I felt if it was something serious, they would need to see me right away. I was also under the false impression that if it did come back as skin cancer, it wouldn’t be a big deal (boy, was I misinformed!). I was a little bit of a basket case (but only a little) waiting for the results but I was holding it together and trying to not think about it.

I was checking Facebook two days before I was scheduled to go in to get my results when I came across “Dear 16 year old me”. Cue tears, panic, a sense of dread, and googling photos of all three kinds of skin cancers to see if the mole I had removed matched any of the photos. If it was anything, it was a melanoma.

At my appointment I found out it was something called a Clarks Nevus, which isn’t really something to worry about. I’ve never been so relieved in my life. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the moles on my stomach were an issue and keeping “Dear 16 year old me” in mind, I insisted this time that my doctor remove them. Even as he was cutting them out, he kept telling me they were fine. He was humouring me.

I bounced out of that appointment feeling great and not actually worried that my results would come back as anything. A week later, I received a phone call saying the doctor needed to see me that day. My heart sank. I knew what the news was going to be. Both were melanomas.

I was referred to a wonderful surgeon who informed me that luckily, one of them was what is called a melanoma in-situ. They needed to take out a little bit of extra skin around it to make sure that they removed all of it but no further treatment was needed.

The other one, unfortunately, was not in-situ and had started to gain the wonderful ability to spread to my lymph nodes and from there wreak havoc on all my internal organs. My surgeon was pretty confident that it had not spread but because my family doctor let it go as long as he did, it was recommended that I get a sentinel node biopsy.

If you don’t know what that is, let me tell you about the world of fun that goes along with it. Because my mole was smack dab in the middle of my stomach, there were four different lymph node sites that (if the cancer had spread) it could have gone to. To identify which area(s) the melanoma would most likely visit, I was injected with this dye that feels like 100 bees are stinging you at the same time. Not fun.

Turns out that my body is a bit of an over achiever and I had two sites (one in each armpit) where they would need to go in and remove some lymph nodes to confirm that the melanoma had not spread. Do you have any idea how many nerves are in your armpits and how much it hurts if someone were to slice into them?!? Thank goodness for post-op pain killers.

Lots of post-surgery checkups and some killer scars later, I received my clean bill of health. I now have a life of slathering on sunscreen with reckless abandon, stylish hats, and constantly being way over dressed for the heat. Basically, I’m a greasy, sweaty mess who rocks hat hair.

Had I not known what I was looking for and actually listened to my family doctor, I most likely would have caught it too late. The key to fighting this cancer is timing and awareness. Your family doctor is not the be all and end all for medical knowledge. Inform yourself. Advocate for your health and the health of your loved ones.

I want to thank the David Cornfield Melanoma Foundation and those involved in making “Dear 16 year old me” for giving me the resources I needed to advocate for my own health and for making me realize that it’s more than “just skin cancer”.

I will now live a long, pale, and very greasy life that I couldn’t be more thankful for.

Thank you for putting that video together and all the amazing work that you do.


The story behind Dear 16 Year Old Me

By Kim Davis, Board Member, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

David and Sari Cornfield were two of our closest friends. Mark and I met David at Deloitte where we worked. David was the one who, much to his amusement and delight, first discovered our blooming interoffice romance a few years before.

Dear 16 Year Old MeI remember the evening that David and Sari told us about his melanoma diagnosis.  David always exuded positivity and optimism, but he had a rare moment of seriousness and concern that night.  Despite his tone and the look on Sari’s face as they gave us the news, I barely reacted.  I was a little bit embarrassed that I had never heard of melanoma before, but as David explained that it was a form a skin cancer, I assumed that it wasn’t serious.  After all, as I recall saying to Mark later that evening, he was lucky because skin cancer could surely just be cut out.

Even as the cancer progressed, Mark and I had no idea how serious David’s situation was, despite regular updates.  David fought with courage and grace.  He loved life and his glass was always overflowing, as he would say.  There have been many times following David’s passing that I have reflected back and wished that I had understood the gravity of his situation and been more sensitive and supportive to our dear friend.

Eventually it became obvious that David wasn’t going to beat melanoma.  His case, we assumed, was a tragically rare situation. It wasn’t until after David passed and we helped to form the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund that I began to do more research.  I was shocked at what I learned.  David’s situation wasn’t rare at all. In fact, it was all too common.

Melanoma is one of the most preventable and detectable forms of cancer, yet its incidence continues to grow significantly, particularly among young people.  Most alarming to me was that if people could catch it early, they would almost certainly survive, but if not, they would likely only survive less than five years.

With the advancement of social media, I was able to read all sorts of stories about young people who discovered suspicious moles years before being diagnosed, but didn’t do anything about it. And stories about people who unwittingly engaged in risky behaviour such as allowing themselves or their children to get sunburned or use tanning beds, only to develop melanoma a few years later.  Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends – all real people with names and faces. My heart was broken.

I was a 29 year-old, well-educated professional at the time of David’s diagnosis. I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t aware of melanoma, many others weren’t either.  Surely if we could educate people, we could save lives. That realization weighed heavily on me and fuelled my commitment to fulfill David’s dream of spreading awareness.

marisa on set

In 2011, the DCMF Board decided to create an awareness video. None of us really knew what it should look like or how we would promote it. At that time, we had no employees and we were all young parents with full-time demanding jobs. Then, divine intevenation. The communications firm that we hired to create the video had a very special member.

Marisa Caple was young, passionate, creative, and extremely talented. She was in our target demographic and she understood how to most effectively reach our target audience.  She had a vision that the DCMF board, mostly comprised of accountants and lawyers (not the most creative people), couldn’t fully appreciate.   We were contemplating a video to show in schools and camps; Marisa persuaded us to launch the video on YouTube instead. We provided Marisa with the key messages that we wanted to convey and she wrote two alternative scripts for our consideration.  We chose one, but Marisa knew that the other entitled ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’, was the video that would engage and empower its viewers the most.

dear 16 groupWe wanted our video to be authentic, so we decided to recruit real, young melanoma survivors or families of melanoma patients. Easier said than done! We needed twelve to fifteen participants, but due to privacy laws, we were unable to ask doctors or hospitals for names. We asked our friends and families, but were only able to identify five or so participants.  Time was tight as we wanted to get the video released in time for our upcoming fundraising event. So my late evenings were spent scouring the internet for melanoma blogs and websites and reaching out to patients, friends, and families to see if they would be willing to take a chance on DCMF, a completely new and unknown charity, and fly to Toronto to be in our video.  We finally found our participants, and they were perfect.

The morning of filming, I was an emotional wreck. This had become an important and personal project.  As I got into my car to go to the studio, I turned on my radio and the first song to come on was “Beautiful Day” by U2. This was David’s favourite song and the line ‘It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it slip away’ was his personal motto. I immediately knew everything would be ok.

dear 16 on set

We met many of the participants for the first time on the day of filming and we felt an instant connection with each of them, a connection we continue to treasure immensely. It was a wonderful, fun, exciting, happy day.

The DCMF board members were not allowed into the filming area, so we really didn’t know what to expect.  But when we viewed the first cut of the video for the first time a few weeks later, we knew that it was special. Of course we had no idea how special.

Dear 16 Year Old Me was released on YouTube on May 3rd, 2011. By May 4th, it had over 25,000 views. By May 5th, it had over one million views, including various channels outside of YouTube, in over 15 countries. By the end of 2011, Dear 16 Year Old Me was the 7th most shared ad in the world – an incredible achievement for a small non-profit organization. To say that we were amazed is an understatement.

dear 16 year old me cast at launchToday, Dear 16 Year Old Me has been viewed by close to 10 million people in 215 countries, shared by organizations and celebrities, featured in the media (including on NBC’s Today Show), and won a number of awards. The video clearly resonated with people, and through it we have made huge strides in achieving our goals of educating people and saving lives.

Here is just one of the countless emails that we received:

“Thank you, thank you very much! If it wasn’t for your video, that I saw by chance on YouTube a few months ago, I would have never thought to have my skin checked… I actually didn’t know what melanoma was! Now everything seems to be fine, you, your commitment your work actually saved my life. Thank you with all myself, I hope I will have the opportunity to support your precious job in the years to come. I really owe you so much. Thank you. Cesare from Italy”.

Dear 16 Year Old Me propelled the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund onto the global stage and earned us the credibility needed to become the organization we are today. It also validated the fact that our message of awareness was compelling – our viewers heard it, understood it, and shared it.

So with that knowledge, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund will continue to work tirelessly to promote melanoma prevention and early detection.  We are incredibly thankful to everyone who made Dear 16 Year Old succeed and all the donors and supporters that took a chance on us. We hope that we have made each of them proud. And of course, we hope that we have made David proud too.

 


Spotlight on melanoma

 

Dave and Marlins

By Dave Aizer  – television host, writer and producer

January 2nd 2015 was the day that changed my life. It was the day my dermatologist called to tell me the mole he biopsied from my face tested positive for melanoma. As a guy who grew up in South Florida, I certainly knew of melanoma; but I had no idea what it really was. I just thought it was “skin cancer.” I didn’t know it could penetrate your lymph nodes, spread throughout your body and potentially kill you.

As you can imagine, I was beyond terrified. Nightmarish scenarios raced through my head constantly. To become acutely aware of your own mortality, and how quickly everything can be taken from you, is a feeling I would never wish on anyone.

A few weeks later, I had surgery to remove the melanoma and some surrounding lymph nodes from my face and neck. Because we caught it early and the melanoma was small, the odds were very much in my favor that it hadn’t spread to any nodes. As it would turn out, I was the exception rather than the rule.

Dave SlimeTimeThey diagnosed me as stage 3a. What followed was a PET scan, a brain MRI, meetings with oncologists, survival rates and a massive second surgery. That surgery took over fourteen hours and involved the removal of all the nodes from the left side of my neck, the removal of my left parotid gland and a massive plastic surgery reconstruction of my face and neck.

All because of a stupid little mole.

The two weeks after that surgery were the hardest of my life. Not only was I healing physically but I was on pins and needles, waiting for the pathology results. So when the doctor called and told me the most incredible news — everything they took out of me came back clean — I wept, prayed, hugged my family and made a promise that I’d spend the rest of my life (which I intend to be very long) being an advocate against this terrible disease.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m a television host for the CW here in South Florida and I’m blessed with a platform to educate our community on melanoma detection and prevention. I’ve shared my story on TV and have interviewed my surgeon and oncologist.

Regarding my treatment, I’m on a clinical trial and will have MRI’s, CAT scans, blood tests and oncology appointments for the next few years. I try to live every day like it’s my birthday and I’m grateful for every moment I’m alive.

I’m proud to say I’ve been cancer-free for a year. I’m even more proud to say I’m doing my part to help others avoid what I’ve been through.


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