I’ll never forget the day my life changed forever from one single phone call.
“You have melanoma,” my doctor said. “We need to get you into surgery as soon as possible to remove it.”
And that’s about all I could register.
My mind froze. As the doctor continued to talk, this heavy darkness overcame me and my body started to tremble. Random words and phrases I heard were cancer, no ulceration, lymph nodes, and you’re lucky we caught it early. But I didn’t know what any of this really meant.
All I kept thinking was, this can’t be real. I’m 8 months pregnant. How is this happening to me?
And then we hung up the phone. It was final. I cried more than I think I ever have in my life.
Of course I was angry, screaming into the pillow multiple times as I felt my baby inside of me moving. I knew she felt my panic. I was scared and I feared for her, too.
For the longest time, I tried to seem happy, acting like I wasn’t bothered by what this all meant for my life moving forward. But on the inside, I couldn’t stop thinking, “will it strike again? If so will it be worse?”
These thoughts, along with so many others, were constantly going through my mind, that it started to pull me into a depression like I had never experienced before. Instead of always seeing the positive side of things, I noticed myself always seeing the negative first, as well as other things.
I wasn’t recognizing the person I was becoming and I couldn’t stand it. So, I became determined to fix it.
I decided to start praying differently than I had been before. I asked God to take control; to make this right and help me make sense of it all, asking him to show me what he wanted me to do with all of this.
And then, one day soon after, it hit me. I would use my photography to share with others this horrible cancer. Of course!
And I have to say, it’s amazing how God works. After my diagnosis and up until this point (8 months later) I didn’t want to pick up my camera at all. I was actually starting to think photography was just another passing “creative phase” of mine and I was becoming bored with it.
But He took this talent I had, the talent He gave me and used it for His good. And let me tell you, this was different! I wanted to tell stories with my lens, something I had never done before and I was super intrigued.
Immediately, I started to imagine a slideshow of images telling the story of different women affected by melanoma.
To find people for my project, I used social media and right off of the bat I had quite a few volunteers. It was upsetting to think of how many people were able to help because of this cancer, but that was confirmation that this was something I should continue to move forward with. And in the end, I decided to feature six women, myself included, and tell our stories in an eye opening, yet positive way.
My goal was for people of all ages to become aware that melanoma can happen to people of all ages and that it’s treatable if caught early enough. Before my diagnosis, I thought this was a cancer that developed in the later stages of life. Like when you’re old.
But in my research, I realized melanoma affects a wide range of people, both men and women, and so many when they are young… 20s and 30s young. I was shocked.
I also came into contact with many women who were diagnosed with melanoma while pregnant (me included), or just after, when their hormones are going nuts. And although there is no definite research proving that your chances for melanoma increase while pregnant, to me, cancer seems to be able to grow at a faster rate while our bodies are producing growth hormones to grow a child. Why would it not grow other things? It just makes sense.
So I also wanted to share that getting your skin checked routinely, while pregnant, should be a top priority during those delicate 9 months, along with everything else.
In the end, this project has been extremely therapeutic for me and it has closed the end of this small chapter.
Ironically, it has also started a totally new one for me and my photography.
I have discovered a love of being a storyteller with my lens and documenting the everyday. I also discovered a need to give back to my community with personal projects throughout the year. I’ve also had multiple people tell me that they went for skin exams after seeing the video and had moles removed.
But to top it all off, the most amazing thing of all is this one woman. A woman who reached out to me explaining that I saved her life. She had a mole on her body that she was questioning for quite some time and when she watched the video, it urged her to see a dermatologist.
That mole ended up being stage 2 melanoma and was successfully removed before it spread to her lymph nodes. With just that response alone, this all feels completely and totally worth it.
To show your support for Melonoma Awareness and Skin Cancer Awareness month, tag your favorite photo of you or someone you know being sun aware using the hashtag #sunaware on Instagram.
Here are some examples of how to be #sunaware:
- Wear long sleeves
- Wear a floppy hat
- Use sunscreen
- Wear sunglasses
- Avoid the sun at certain times of the day
- Step into the shade