Melanoma Survivor

Melanoma Survivor Focuses on Prevention

Twice afflicted with melanoma, Kathy Sallee is a survivor determined to follow safe sun practices and avoid a third bout with the disease. Kathy retired from her career as a physical therapy technician and now spends her time cooking, gardening, traveling, reading and shopping at garage sales and thrift stores. Together, she and her husband Dave, have two adult children, a dog and a cat.

Early in my life, I spent a lot of time in the sun. My family and I lived in a small town, and swimming was our main form of entertainment during the summer. I never used sunblock because I didn’t really know what it was, and during my teen years, I actually used a mixture of baby oil and iodine to help improve my tan—big mistake!

Several years later at age 33, it caught up to me. A TV segment about skin cancer prompted me to check all of my moles, and one on my left shin stood out. It was darker and looked different than my other moles; it had also been kind of itchy and was peeling.

I decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist, who had me schedule an appointment with an oncologist after seeing my mole. A biopsy led to a diagnosis of Stage II superficial spreading melanoma. Given my history with the sun, I can’t say I was surprised.

About two weeks after my diagnosis, I returned to the doctor for a wider excision of the biopsy site as well as a skin graft from my right hip to cover the excision. The graft didn’t take well and took a long time to heal. Changing the dressing on the open wound was perhaps the worst part of the entire process. It was extremely painful when it stuck, but I worked through it with the help of my mother.

A year later, I discovered a lump in my left groin. I had it removed and biopsied, and the results revealed metastatic melanoma that included local lymph nodes. I underwent a second surgery about a week after my diagnosis, which consisted of a lymphadenectomy with a hyperthermic cisplatin limb perfusion. I tolerated the surgery well and was in the hospital for about five days.

Less than a week later, I wound up back in the hospital with an infection, treated with antibiotics and a three-night stay. The only other side effect I experienced was lymphedema in my left leg, which was treated with manual lymphatic drainage therapy, bandaging, a compression stocking and a sequential compression pump. I still use my compression pump every morning before I put on my compression stocking, and I try to bandage two or three times a week, which helps relieve discomfort and fatigue. Due to the swelling, my left leg is larger than my right, so shopping for jeans and slacks is a challenge. But at least I have my leg!

I followed up with an oncologist for about 10 years, and I continue to see my dermatologist yearly. I’ve had a few more moles removed from my back, but thankfully nothing else has come back as cancerous.

Because of both my history with skin cancer and a medication I’m taking that increases my sun sensitivity, I’m especially careful and sun savvy these days. I no longer go out in the sun for any length of time without wearing sunscreen. I also wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves when necessary.

Throughout my journey, my faith, family and friends were very important, and they still are. I appreciate the little things in life now more than ever, and I enjoy every day with which I’m blessed. While I did have a couple of “pity party” days, I tried to stay positive for my family and myself. I didn’t want my children or husband to be scared that I wasn’t going to make it. I think a positive outlook helps tremendously in any illness or difficult situation.

My best advice to others diagnosed with skin cancer is to understand your disease and available treatments so you can make good decisions for yourself. And, of course, I advise everyone to stay out of the sun without protection and avoid tanning beds. It’s not worth risking your life for a good tan.