One of the more difficult tasks when educating the public about melanoma, is helping to dispel the notion that it’s a “whites only” disease. While it’s true that whites are statistically much more susceptible to melanoma, it can develop in any person from any race.
What’s also not widely known is, for various reasons, while whites are more likely to get melanoma, once contracted blacks are more likely to die from it. Black people also have a greater tendency to develop melanomas in areas that don’t often see the sun. These places include beneath toenails and fingernails and on the soles of feet. A famous example of this is popular Reggae singer Bob Marley, who died at age 36 from a melanoma that began on his big toe.
To help illuminate these points, we’re going to share the story of Jacqueline Smith, a young black woman from New Jersey whose story was chronicled by writer Kellee Terrell (cited below).
Her tale begins the same unfortunate way that the tales of too many melanoma patients do. She found a skin growth that was misdiagnosed -in her case twice- by two different doctors. This highlights the importance of seeing a dermatologist rather than a general practitioner after a suspicious skin growth is discovered. With melanoma, the speed of diagnosis and treatment means everything. And a dermatologist has much greater training and experience with skin cancer than a regular doctor does.
Fortunately, Jaqueline didn’t let it go. Upon returning home from college she got a third opinion. This time, the doctor sent her to an oncologist (a doctor whose specialty is cancer) where tests determined she had Stage 3 melanoma.
Jacqueline relates that her initial reaction to learning of her diagnosis was nearly identical to what we’ve described in our opening paragraph. She thought melanoma (skin cancer’s most lethal form) was exclusive to whites. She recalls that in grade school she was told not to bother with sunscreen, because her skin tone made sunscreen unnecessary.
A surgeon excised Jacqueline’s cancerous lymph node, but within three years her cancer returned to give her the fight of her life. She underwent more surgery and was subjected to exhaustive treatment. Her odds weren’t good. But now, a decade later, she’s beaten those odds on her long-term prognosis by 5 years.
Jacqueline still has concerns that her cancer may return one day, but they’re not slowing her down.
Like many people who experience melanoma either first-hand, or through a cherished relative or friend, she was inspired to help others learn the truth about the disease. She’s focusing on the black community, and is working hard to dispel the myth that melanoma only impacts whites.
We wish this brave young woman continued success with all of her educational efforts.
*Information source article: “Black Woman Shares Skin Cancer Survival Story: ‘Please Don’t Think It Can’t Happen To You’”, an article written by Kellee Terrell, contributing writer to Hellobeautiful.com
Facebook: Melanoma Education Foundation