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Trying to cope
The next month was a whirlwind. I was having terrible anxiety attacks and couldn’t eat or sleep. I visited one oncologist who was supposed to be the best in Philadelphia, but all he did was scare the crap out of me and recommend that I go back to the South Jersey doctors who got me in this mess because they were not successful in removing my cancer in the first place! However, I tried one oncologist he recommended in South Jersey who was such a kind man; however, he only had less than a handful of patients with melanoma and did not seem very knowledgeable about current treatment methods. Finally, someone told me that the place I had to go for melanoma was the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. That was the best decision I ever made! I was introduced to the best doctor who got my insurance to approve immunotherapy. Out of all three doctors I saw, she was the only one to ever mention immunotherapy. First though, I had to get all my lymph nodes removed from my leg as a precaution and thankfully melanoma was not found in any of the other lymph nodes. I then proceeded to have four immunotherapy treatments every three weeks and began physical therapy for my leg from the lymph node dissection surgery.

After all that was done, I got a PET scan in March of 2015 and it was all clear! Wonderful news! I wish I could say all was rosy, but to be honest now that I wasn’t busy fighting this monster anymore, I was terrified of it coming back. It took me months with the help of antidepressants (and lots of prayer!) to get through it and start living my life again. Cancer doesn’t just mess you up physically, it messes you up mentally too!!

Sharing the sun-safety message
While going through this process, I really had to believe this happened to me for a reason. I grew up at the Jersey Shore. My high school was literally on the beach. I knew my kids would eventually be going to school there and going to the beach after school and on weekends. I knew I had to reach the kids so they could enjoy the beach without it coming back to hurt them later. Luckily, my 16-year-old niece had written a paper about the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation to spread awareness to her class. I started researching locally to see if we had an organization in my area doing the same thing and found nothing. I couldn’t believe it. How do we live at the Jersey Shore and not have an organized way of spreading this life-saving information to kids!
The next thing I did was reach out to the superintendent of the schools to see if they discuss the dangers of the sun in health class. He said they touch base on it, but my now 13-year-old son says he has never heard this message in school. That is when I contacted Maryellen at the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation to see if she would be willing to come all the way to New Jersey to help teach these children the importance of sun safety. She was more than willing to do so, but several months later I am still trying to get the PTO and the superintendent to give me a date when Maryellen can visit us with her message. It is so frustrating! However, I will not give up because I don’t want any child to grow up and have to deal with this terrible diagnosis when it is one of the most preventable cancers around.

I will keep you all posted on this journey to educate the kids in my community on melanoma prevention and to stop this ignorant thought that skin cancer isn’t a big deal!!!!

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