This article is the first in a monthly series of stories focused on cancer issues. Denver7 is proud to partner with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Colorado Cancer Coalition and Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HealthONE to bring you these stories, tips and resources.
DENVER -- It’s summer now, and we may be tempted to lay out in the sun, soak up some rays and enjoy the season. However, living in Colorado poses a significant risk to our skin and eyes. Colorado’s elevation and particularly sunny days leave us more exposed than residents of other states. Skin cancer is the most common cancer type in the United States and in Colorado. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,830 Coloradans will be diagnosed with melanoma and 120 people will die from the disease this year alone.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can affect anyone, at any stage in their life. Rochelle was an active, healthy 27-year-old when she was diagnosed with stage-4 melanoma in 2001. When she was first diagnosed, doctors removed her tumor and tissue surrounding the area, and there was no evidence that the cancer had spread. She felt as though she dodged a bullet. Moving forward, she was much more cautious out in the sun.
Twelve years later however, she found little lumps around her body that started to quickly multiply. The biopsy came back as melanoma. Further scans showed that the cancer has spread to her liver, spleen and between her eyes. The doctor told her that the average survival rate was nine months. She underwent intense treatment and luckily, her body responded well. The tumors started to disappear seven months from diagnosis.
Unfortunately, she was again faced with her own mortality one year later, when tumors showed up on her lungs. She underwent more treatment and has now been cancer free since 2015. Rochelle’s cancer journey has been a tumultuous ride, but the experience has been enlightening for her.
Rochelle described cancer as a surprisingly liberating experience. She now has the freedom to live her life without caring what other people think. “What surprised me was my ability to be optimistic,” she said, “and somehow, I believed I was going to live. Although the doctor showed me the survival rate which was this deep drop off into the abyss, but I just believed I was going to live.”
It is essential to be aware of the symptoms of skin cancer in order to detect any suspicious marks early. Be aware of your body and monitor any changes. Notifying your physician is an important part of detecting any cancers early. The ABCDE rule is one of the ways to detect signs of melanoma.
· A is for asymmetry - One half of the birthmark or mole does not match the other
· B is for border - The edges are ragged, irregular, blurred or notched
· C is for color - The color is not the same overall and could include different shades of black or brown, and may have patches of red, pink, white or blue.
· D is for diameter - The spot is bigger than six millimeters across, about the size of a pencil eraser, but melanomas can occasionally be smaller than this.
· E is for evolving - The mole changes in shape, size and color.
Rochelle offers good advice to anyone going through a cancer diagnosis. “Keep the faith and remain hopeful. Do it your way…there is no manual for how to handle cancer. And you need to write your own story and follow your own path…life is truly too short, and it can change in a heartbeat.”
Rochelle’s advice to everyone as the summer continues to heat up? “Cover up, wear sunscreen, and don’t underestimate the power of that beautiful, bright ball in the sky. Just don’t wait…if you see something change on your skin, tell your doctor.”
Have a spot you want checked out?
The Sun Bus travels around Colorado spreading skin cancer prevention and education messaging. You can also see a provider and have your skin checked. Here are some stops the Sun Bus is making this month:
- July 19: Denver County Fair
Click here for a complete calendar of Sun Bus events.