Maureen Meehan, 63, has been diligent about protecting her skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays since her early 20s and regularly checking moles on her body.
For this reason, it came as a big shock to the London, Ontario, August 2017 resident when she discovered she had stage 3 melanoma – a deadly form of skin cancer, which had rapidly metastasized and spread to her lymph nodes. .
“The first thing I thought about was my daughter and husband and it was distressing to me to think that they might have to go on without me,” said Meehan. “It was really horrible and the fact that it had metastasized was really scary.”
Meehan had a birthmark on her right forearm for years, but it wasn’t until she was riding her bike one day that she noticed it felt “funny and a little itchy.” She immediately told her GP, who initially dismissed the concerns, but after follow-up and testing, it turned out to be cancer.
In 2022, an estimated 9,000 Canadians were diagnosed with melanoma and 1,200 died from it, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. That is from approx 8,700 in 2021which was already an increase of 8.5 percent compared to 2020.
LOOK | Melanoma survivor shares her experience:
Meehan had surgery on her forearm to remove the melanoma. Doctors also removed two diseased lymph nodes from her right armpit.
Now officially in remission for a year, Meehan shares her experience in spreading awareness about the importance of early detection and advocating for one’s own health.
“Once you’ve had cancer, the fear of it never goes away and that insistence on getting my mole checked literally saved my life,” she said.
So what should you pay attention to?
Follow the ABCDEs, doctor says
According to onco-dermatologist Dr. Maxwell Sauder, melanoma is a cancer that begins in the skin and generally presents as an irregular-looking mole.
“It’s actually the pigment-producing cell in the skin that goes bad and can eventually get big, but then it can spread elsewhere in the body as well,” he said, adding that melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer if it is not noticed. early.
The vast majority of melanoma is confined to the skin and can be found anywhere on the body, but common sites include your back, calves and sun-exposed areas, Sauder said.
The Toronto-based doctor suggests following the ABCDEs of melanoma. This means looking for:
- Asymmetry – If you cut a mole in half, it should look different on both sides.
- Edge – If the edge of the mole is uneven or irregular.
- Color – If the color of the birthmark is not the same everywhere, it may be three or more different colors.
- Diameter – If the mole is larger than the end of a pen or pencil eraser.
- Evolution – Any part of the mole that changes dramatically in size, shape, color, or symptoms.
For areas of skin you can’t see, such as your back, Sauder recommends having someone else look or using a handheld mirror while your back is facing a full-length mirror to check.
The thickness of melanoma is an important factor in determining whether it will spread. Most cases in Canada are relatively sparse, Sauder said, stressing the importance of early detection.
“If it’s caught early, it’s a very simple and straightforward treatment to knock it out. It’s when we let things progress, which is when the overall five-year survival rate gets lower, so catching it early is almost infinitely curable ,” he said.
Sauder recommends safe tanning practices, including avoiding tanning beds, minimizing your time in bright sunlight, and using sunscreen regularly. Meehan’s advice is not to take melanoma lightly.
“It can happen to anyone and even someone who is as careful as I am about being out in the sun. Don’t ignore or ignore it thinking it’s probably nothing because it could be something.”