“I wear black for melanoma awareness.” I proudly wear a T-shirt with those words emblazoned across the front in honor of a dear friend of mine who died five years ago from this most serious type of skin cancers. Charlie was one of those people that lived life with gusto and always tried to make his diagnosis easier on everyone else.

Halfway through Charlie’s four-year battle with cancer, my doctor contacted me to say they had found something suspicious in my annual mammogram screening. An ultrasound revealed the same abnormality, so my doctor ordered a breast MRI.

I’m claustrophobic and the thought of lying face down in a narrow tube for up to an hour caused some anxiety. I was slightly stressed about the procedure, as well as what they might discover, when I walked into the Goldschmidt Cancer Center, where the receptionist welcomed me, checked me in and asked me to have a seat until my name was called.

I was lost in my thoughts as I found the nearest chair and sat down. A kind and familiar voice broke through my concentration.

Charlie.

He was sitting in the middle of the waiting room, clearly the life of the party for the men and women sitting near him. He called my name and asked me to join “the group.”

Smiles and laughter from these brave men and women to whom the cancer diagnosis had been given months or years earlier, felt like a hug. My MRI came back “clean” from cancer that day, and I have not had an abnormal mammogram since.

Charlie had a mole removed from his back in May of 2010. It was sent to a pathologist and everything came back clear.

In January of 2012, he noticed there was a growth where the mole had been removed. He went back and had that growth removed and sent to a pathology lab. It came back showing melanoma.

Charlie had surgery to remove a large area on his back. The surgeon had a difficult time believing the cancer wasn’t there the first time with the melanoma being at stage 3C at this point.

Sadly, it turns out he was right. The pathology lab had missed the cancer.

Charlie had chemotherapy treatments for several months. In October of 2013, his scans came back cancer-free, but the celebration was short-lived.

In January of 2014, the cancer came back with a vengeance, having progressed to Stage IV melanoma. Charlie died 8 months later.

I have two friends being treated for melanoma at this time. One spent many hours in tanning beds during her teens and 20s. Not yet 40 and with a 7-year-old at home, a large portion of her scalp and face has been removed, and she is undergoing chemotherapy. The other friend is a farmer who did his best to cover his face and arms when working in the sun.

Skin cancer is horrible and quite often preventable. Be vigilant about your skin in all seasons. See a doctor immediately if you find a suspicious mole, growth or lesion.

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