Melanoma Survivor

Melanoma Survivor Credits Daughters with Early Diagnosis

Jennifer Holt is a Stage IB melanoma survivor. She spent more than 20 years working in the financial services industry before taking a part-time job at the local senior center. Now taking a leave from work, she lives with her husband, Robert, and dog, Buster, on a small farm in the country. An amateur photographer, she also plants pumpkins every year and enjoys sharing them with friends and family in the fall.

I have fair skin, blue eyes, reddish-blonde hair, and a lot of moles and freckles. At the urging of my daughters, I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist for a full-body check to put everyone’s mind at ease. The doctor removed two moles, labeling one more suspect than the other.

Within three days, the nurse called to inform me the mole they’d removed from my left arm was indeed Stage IB melanoma. She advised me that because of my diagnosis, my care would be transferred to a different doctor who would soon be contacting me about the next steps.

I was somewhat stunned. I didn’t think my initial appointment would actually amount to anything. The nurse had cautioned me to be leery of stories on the Internet and told me to not get worked up with all the horror stories out there. I still did a little research, but I restricted myself to reading only from trusted, reputable resources. I also decided not to seek a second opinion because I trusted my medical team and had faith that they were properly trained and knew what was best.

I initially only told close family and friends about my diagnosis. Until I had more information from my next doctor and knew exactly what I was up against, I didn’t feel like answering questions for which I really didn’t have the answers.

As promised, the new doctor called and scheduled a surgery—a wide local excision at the cancer site on my left arm and a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see how far the cancer had spread. Fortunately, there was no residual cancer at the original site, nor was there any indication of cancer in any of the five removed lymph nodes. No further treatment needed. Hallelujah!

The surgery was completed on an outpatient basis, and the length of my incision was about seven inches. I had to be cautious for a few weeks after the surgery, and my doctor told me to not lift anything. The surgical site was a bit sore, but I guess that was to be expected. I also still have some lingering numbness from the sentinel lymph node biopsy, but it continues to improve. Other than that, I had no issues and felt like everything went very well.

I now see the dermatologist every six months and the surgeon every four months for a skin check. I also have regular chest X-rays.

Through everything, I leaned on my family. We’re very close-knit, and I’m thankful for all the support they provided.

These days, it’s not uncommon for people to ask about the scar on my left arm (which is a bit unsightly). When that happens, I’m happy to talk about my cancer experience, but I’m not really one to shout it from the rooftops. I do, however, always remind people of the importance of using sunscreen, especially on babies and children.

I’ll be forever grateful that my melanoma was caught early, before it had a chance to spread. More than anything, this experience taught me that it’s OK to listen and learn from your children, despite the initial difficulty of accepting the role reversal of parent and child. If my daughters hadn’t urged me to schedule that first appointment, who knows where I’d be today?

Humor has always helped me cope and look at things with a more positive attitude. My daughters and I now share a lot of laughs debating whether mom or daughter knows best. With my scar, we also joke about unusual body markings; who needs tattoos anyway?

My best advice to those who’ve been recently diagnosed with melanoma is to take it one day and step at a time. I’d also encourage everyone to take a notebook to all doctor appointments. Even if you think you’ll remember everything, you won’t. So don’t be embarrassed to write it down and look at it later. Most important, do whatever you can to keep a positive attitude. You can beat this.