My Skin Cancer Experience: Melanoma At Age 22

Posted by Team Bella in

In recognition of Global Wellness Day, we're honored that Sarah Daigle, guest blogger and former Spa Director at Bella Santé on Newbury Street, shares her story of skin cancer survival.

I was diagnosed with melanoma in April of 2005. Growing up on Cape Cod, I spent 90% of my childhood outdoors. I knew what skin cancer was, but never did it cross my mind it would ever happen to me. Not for a moment.

Discovering Skin Melanoma As A College Student

It was spring break my senior of college when I noticed a small freckle on my left forearm. Despite a slight raise and an odd location, it appeared otherwise usual. It was joined by a number of other freckles – not uncommon for my Irish skin after a day in the sun. I continued on my vacation, but couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling I had each time I looked down at my arm. I returned to campus after break and went straight to the health center of my college to get their opinion. They too suspected it to be a normal freckle that came out in the sun. Weeks went by, but the uneasiness didn’t go away. I felt compelled to return to the health center, and this time I asked for a dermatologist referral. They were hesitant to give me one but eventually agreed to my wishes. In hindsight I don’t blame the health center for not becoming alarmed from the start. After all, I was healthy, 22, and coming to them with a freckle that lacked any blatantly abnormal characteristics.

Melanoma Diagnosis

I saw a dermatologist a few weeks later; she suggested I monitor changes in the spot over the next six months. I disagreed with this plan and requested that my doctor remove it immediately. A few days later I got a call on my cell phone - it was the dermatologist. She told me the area they removed was indeed melanoma, and that I needed to come back to the office.

Melanoma Treatment Before College Graduation

Five days before my college graduation, I had surgery to remove the melanoma. It was invasive, but luckily the melanoma had not traveled to my lymph nodes. This meant that they were able to remove all that they needed to in a single procedure. It meant that one surgery and countless stitches later, I was melanoma free. No further treatment was needed - a gift for those who are fortunate enough to have their melanoma detected in its earliest stages.

Melanoma Aftermath

I have had close to 15 removals and biopsies since then, and as of this month have been clear of it for 10 years. I spent a period of time after my surgery fearing everything: being outside, being active, and everything I loved prior to my diagnosis. I decided that I could either live the rest of my life in a bubble or learn everything I can about being healthy, protecting myself, and committing every day to ‘controlling what I can’. I do all the things I loved before, but being aware has become a way of life for me. I don’t leave the house without sunscreen, and I can find shade in the sunniest of spots. I know the “ABCDs”, and am a regular at my dermatologists office. I trust my intuition.

By insisting that my freckle be inspected on all levels, I was able to save myself from the aggressive spread of of melanoma once it moves beyond the originating location. I feel very lucky. A friend of mine who was diagnosed with melanoma a few years prior to my diagnosis did not have the same chance to recover. Though Glenna passed away from skin cancer at the age of 26, she was successful in educating others about the importance of protecting your skin and the dangers of tanning. 

Protect yourself. Skin cancer really, really can happen to anyone.