I am thrilled to have another Guest Blogger – Stacey Escalante – A Melanoma Survivor and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer
Stacey spoke at the recent event announcing the historic Skin Cancer Call to Action in Washington, DC last Tuesday, 7/29, alongside Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak and Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Dr. Howard Koh.
A Surgeon General’s Call to Action No One Should Ignore
I was the picture of health – thirty-four years old, two beautiful kids and a full-time career as a reporter at NBC Las Vegas. I was even training for another marathon.
Like a lot of moms, I was so busy taking care of my family that I put my own health on the back burner.
So, when I noticed a small growth on my lower back I didn’t think much of it. The growth was shiny and red, but only about the size of a pencil eraser. I ignored it for months and months.
It was my mom who pushed me to go see a doctor when she saw the spot. I went, but very reluctantly – annoyed that I had to waste time at the doctor and get a sitter for the kids. I had never been to a dermatologist in my life. Thankfully, that first trip is what ended up saving my life. That small growth on my lower back ended up being the tip of the iceberg. I was very, very sick and I didn’t even know it.
During my visit, the dermatologist didn’t think the growth was anything to worry about, but cut it out because I told him it was itchy and bothering me. He informed me that they test everything they cut out, so he would run a biopsy on what he removed. Satisfied, I went on my merry way.
Ten days later my life came to a screeching halt. I was in the newsroom when my cell phone rang.
“Stacey, this is the PA in your dermatologist’s office. Your biopsy came back. You have melanoma… do you know what that is?”
“Kind of,” I admitted.
“It’s a malignant tumor. It’s cancer, and we think it’s spread to your organs. You need surgery right away,” he said.
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I had stage III melanoma, and it was deadly. I didn’t even know that skin cancer could invade your body and eventually kill you. I had no time for doctors and suddenly my life became all about doctors.
They cut the tumor out and ended up taking a chunk out of my back as big as the scoop on a soup ladle. The cancer had spread to the lymph node in my groin, which meant a second surgery. I couldn’t walk for seven weeks. But the worst part was I couldn’t take care of my family for months.
After recovering from the surgeries, my doctor had me take an experimental drug for two years in addition to regular PET scans to make sure the cancer wasn’t spreading to my liver and lungs.
If only I had gone to the doctor when I first noticed the spot – I would’ve saved my family and myself a lot of grief. The emotional, physical and financial burden of skin cancer was overwhelming!
I grew up in southern California and laid out in the sun with baby oil on my skin just like everyone else. When I was a teen I started indoor tanning. I always thought that because I’m Hispanic and have darker skin that I am immune to skin cancer. No one is immune.
Now, I’m on a crusade. I volunteer for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. I meet with state and federal lawmakers to promote issues that involve cancer awareness, prevention and treatment. For several years I worked on the passage of a Nevada law that would prohibit people younger than 18 from using indoor tanning devices. The law went into effect last year – a huge public health victory!
But there is so much more that needs to be done to fight back against the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Last week, the Surgeon General released a Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer – the first time a national action plan has been set forth with goals and tactics to reduce skin cancer incidence rates. Everyone – from policymakers and businesses to health care systems and schools – can play a role to reduce skin cancer. It is definitely time for action.
Not everyone is as lucky or blessed as I have been. But when I tell my story, I always get feedback from people who learn from my mistakes. That’s why I tell it. They inevitably find cancer at an earlier stage, where the odds are better. Don’t become a statistic. Skin cancer can kill you.