How a Cancerous Mole Changed My Life

Pictured: "I feared I wouldn't be here for my next anniversary or my next birthday..."

Follow your intuition! If a spot or mole seems wrong, get it checked out.

I had the day off from work and was busy putting together a special anniversary dinner for my husband. In the midst of chopping vegetables, I heard my cell phone ring but couldn’t reach it in time. I’d missed a call from my dermatologist.

I suspected the call was just the results of my annual skin check a couple of weeks before. I remembered the appointment vividly as I had been concerned about a mole but my doctor didn’t think it was worth worrying about. My gut told me to keep pushing and eventually, he agreed to a biopsy. Unconcerned, I listened to my doctor’s voicemail message asking me to call him back – on his cell phone! Now that was not normal. Apprehensively, I called back. “There were some unusual cells in your biopsy,” he said, as he proceeded to provide me with the phone number of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and told me that I would need to schedule an appointment. “What should I tell them you found?” His answer: “A melanoma.”

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I hung up and continued with what I was doing, telling myself that it was all going to be okay. “Keep calm, there’s nothing you can do right now,” I told myself. However, there was another little voice in my head wondering if I would be here to celebrate another anniversary with my husband or to blow out next year's birthday candles. My imagination started to run wild and I found myself crying, feeling sorry for myself. Wow! This wasn’t supposed to happen. Yes, I had seen a change in that mole on my arm – and yes, I knew that a change in the shape and color of a mole was a bad sign, which is why I pointed it out to my doctor. I had actually noticed the spot a few months earlier, but was rather nonchalant about it and didn’t feel the need to move my annual doctor’s appointment any sooner. I had truly assumed it would be nothing. After all, I never used tanning beds, I have olive skin and Mediterranean roots and I live in Buffalo where the sun doesn’t shine for months at a time (or so it seems). I have no family history of skin cancer. My mother is 95 years old and spends her summer days sitting outdoors, moving from front porch to back patio in pursuit of the sun. My father, who spent most of his adult life working construction outdoors, without the benefit of sunscreen I might add, is fine. How could I possibly have a melanoma?

After a couple days of frightening myself with Internet research, I was relieved to walk through the front doors of Roswell Park into the bright, airy foyer. Dr. Valerie Francescutti was wonderful, answering my questions patiently and explaining the treatment and required follow-up care. When the time came to actually do the mole removal on my arm, she talked to me the entire time, keeping my mind occupied and my pain minimal. As she worked, tissue was sent to the lab to be certain that all the cancer was removed and the surrounding cells were normal. It was over before I knew it, but the lessons remained and this close-call experience changed my outlook on life. I made a promise that I would never wait again to get a suspicious spot evaluated by a professional.

Fortunately, I am now more aware about the dangers of skin cancer. I use sunscreen when I go outdoors. I meticulously watch for changes in my skin and I have regular skin checks. If I notice a suspicious mole, I will move my appointment up immediately and not wait. I learned that when melanoma is found and treated early, the cure rate is almost 100 percent. I’m grateful for the way my journey unfolded and I highly encourage others to practice sun safety and maintain a vigilant watch on their skin. And, most importantly, follow your intuition! If a spot or mole seems wrong, get it checked out.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.