Melanoma Strikes Close to Home for Buffalo Bisons Head Groundskeeper

Melanoma Survivor
Monday, May 7, 2018 - 1:48pm

Working outdoors is one of the factors that can increase your risk of skin cancer. Sign up for Roswell Park’s free skin cancer screening on May 17.

Four years ago, I noticed a mole on my back. For more than a year, I didn’t think much of it. But when it started to bleed, I figured it might be worth having someone take a look. I actually had a really hard time finding a dermatologist who could take me. I called five or six places, and they were all booked up for months. When I finally found one up in Lockport, he thought it was just an irritated skin tag. A week later, he called me up and said, "It turns out to be bad news." I was diagnosed with stage IIIc melanoma and referred to Dr. John Kane at Roswell Park.

My mentor was the first person I told. When I went to college for Turfgrass Management, I was more interested in pursuing football than baseball. I worked for the Steelers and a couple of other organizations early in my career, and it wasn’t until an internship in Louisville (I’m originally from Kentucky) that I shifted my focus to baseball. My internship mentor, who is still my mentor and best friend now, made everything so fun and really got me into baseball. Telling him about my diagnosis was one of the hardest things I had to do. It was pretty tough saying the words, “I have cancer.” And then I had to call and tell my mom. I don’t think it registered for her at first, but a few hours later she called back, all upset. That was tough. That first day I was really upset. But then I decided there was no reason to dwell on it and I had to just move forward.

Dr. Kane was awesome. He’s such a fun guy and easy to talk to. He also did a great job explaining everything. Because my family isn’t here, I was the only one hearing the diagnosis details and treatment plan. I found out that the melanoma had spread to my lymph nodes, and I would have to have surgery to have it removed, along with many of the lymph nodes around it.

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Going through a cancer journey away from home wasn’t as difficult is it could have been, thanks in large part to my coworkers. Baseball is a pretty tight-knit community; we are like family. The Buffalo Bisons organization was a huge support system for me. When my sister’s flight was delayed before one of my surgeries, my supervisor, Tom, drove me to Roswell Park and sat waiting for six hours. The Bisons family is a group of really good people.

I’m not a tanning guy, but my day-to-day job as Head Groundskeeper for the Bisons is all outside – mostly maintaining the dirt, grass and mounds at Coca-Cola Field. Leading up to my diagnosis, I never wore sunscreen. After my diagnosis, I invested in a bucket hat to shade my head and face. I now wear pants instead of shorts, and I always make sure to apply sunscreen before work.

The biggest thing I learned throughout all of this is to not wait. Even if you think something with your body is a non-issue, get it checked out. Don’t put it off. If I hadn’t waited a year, I could potentially have caught my cancer before it spread to my lymph nodes. Fortunately, I am doing well now. I haven’t had any issues, but I am more aware of what to look for. I come for yearly appointments at Roswell and have developed an attitude that there’s no good news or bad news — there’s just news.