“As you may have seen, I have skin cancer, the deadliest kind…”
The rest of the message became a blur as I physically reacted to this news from my client turned friend Caroline McEntee. How does this happen to such a vibrant woman who I saw go through a style and confidence transformation that showed her remarkable love of life and desire to make the most of it? How is she coping? I couldn’t imagine. I had questions.
She asked that I spread the word that May is Melanoma Awareness Month, and of course, I agreed. She also kindly agreed to answer my questions so we all can prevent (or at least detect) this serious and sneaky problem and understand the impact that such a diagnosis has on your life and style.
Thank you, Caroline. LIVE STRONG and keep rockin’ that signature style.
We’re all with you!
Thea: Caroline, when did you first suspect you needed to see a doctor?
Caroline: The scary thing about it is that I didn’t suspect anything. Brendan, my husband, saw a spot on my back that concerned him and insisted I get it checked out. I never listen, but for some reason I did this time, thankfully. The spot on my back was nothing, but during my skin examination the PA noticed an odd spot on my left forearm and asked about it. I called it my hot spot – I used it as a “barometer” of sorts. When it got red, I got out of the sun. She said it needed to be biopsied. I wasn’t terribly concerned and she didn’t seem to be either, just being cautious.
Thea: Was the Melanoma diagnosis a total surprise?
Caroline: Totally blew me away. The spot did not look like a “mole” in the typical sense. It looked like a freckle more than anything. I always knew that moles were dangerous but I thought moles were big, black and hairy! Not just a freckle-looking spot.
Thea: What thoughts ran through your head after hearing the diagnosis?
Caroline: This can’t really be happening. Melanoma is the deadliest of the skin cancers. I can’t die. I’m a nurse. I never do things halfway – of course I’ll have the worst prognosis. Oh my goodness, how do I tell my kids? How soon can I get this out of my body?
Thea: How has this diagnosis changed your lifestyle so far?
Caroline: Never ever in the sun without protection – i.e., hat, sunblock, sleeves – at a minimum. Only drive my car with the top down during the early morning or late evening hours. Try to eat a more non-alkline, low sugar diet (that’s the hardest part). Now I have to plan my life and my activities around my surgery schedule which does complicate things a bit. Trying to slow down, stop and smell the roses, be positive. I have very good cancer survivor role models so I use them for inspiration when I’m feeling down. I cry and laugh a lot. Sometimes at the same time! I look at my skin daily and try not to be terrified of everything I see. I take a lot of pictures of things that look suspicious and then look at them again later for reassurance or need for investigation.
Thea: What is the treatment strategy MD Anderson outlined for you and how long will it take?
Caroline: At this point, because I do not have clear margins (areas that are cancer free from my last surgery) I will require between 2 and 5 surgeries over the next year to reduce, and hopefully remove the cancer field from my forearm. The swelling from each surgery will act as its own tissue expander so as to minimize the need for skin grafting. Because there is not a lot of excess skin on the arm they will only remove a very small portion with each surgery, biopsy the tissue that was removed, and continue until the margins are clear. My entire body is checked thoroughly at each pre-op visit for anything that looks different.
Thea: What are your tips for our readers on how to prevent and detect possible Melanoma?
Caroline: Stay out of the sun as much as possible. When in the sun always, always, always wear a hat and sunblock. Avoid the peak sun hours 10am to 3 pm and don’t be fooled by clouds. Schedule an appointment for a skin assessment with a dermatologist you trust and have your skin checked annually or as advised by the doctor. Moles sometimes look like age spots or freckles. If you are concerned about anything you see or feel, get it checked out.