Imagine being a fun-loving, 20-year-old college student and then having your whole world turned upside after one doctor’s visits. That’s exactly what happened to Emily Black. Shortly after her 20th birthday, Emily’s mother noticed an irregular mole on her back. At a dermatologist visit, the mole was removed, but Emily was left with heartbreaking news–she had melanoma.
Within 2 years, the cancer spread and had progressed to metastatic melanoma, a very serious form of the disease. She was told she had 6 months to a year to live.
After testing many medications, the Texas resident enrolled in a clinical trial and amazingly her sickness stabilized, giving her a “new lease on life.” Nine years later, Emily has beat the odds and is here to tell her story.
SHEfinds: How did you feel when you received your diagnosis?
Emily Black: I felt scared, anxious and most of all, too young to be dealing with this. I had no idea that skin cancer could be deadly. I had no clue that it could spread from your skin and travel through the lymph nodes and go straight to vital organs, even your brain. I was overwhelmed by all that I had to learn about my disease. Looking back, I am so thankful for my loving and supportive family and friends who helped me get through that frightening time.
SF: Tell us about the treatment process.
EB: First, doctors removed as much skin that had cancerous cells as they could. I was left with some pretty big scars. Eventually, they ran tests to find out that my case was advanced–the melanoma had spread to my liver and lungs. Nine years ago, there really wasn’t much available for treatment, much less a cure. I enlisted in clinical trials–experiments–because I really didn’t have many options. Some of the drugs made me sick, and others made me very sick. I even lost my hair permanently. But I am so grateful for the opportunity to sign up for those trials because they kept me alive.
SF: What message would you like to get out there for others regarding skin cancer?
EB: I want to spread the word that no one is immune from skin cancer. This is a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, skin color or geographic location.
SF: How has the diagnosis changed your life?
EB: Simply stated, I am not the same person that I was before I was diagnosed. The last 9 years have been extremely difficult, challenging and scary, but I have learned about life and what’s really important. My Christian faith has deepened, and I believe I have come out stronger. My strength to get through each day has come from God.
SF: Do you have any tips for staying protected?
EB: It’s easy to protect yourself from skin cancer, but I will admit that it isn’t always fun. Put on sunscreen before you head out the door. Avoid mid-day sun exposure. Get checked out by a dermatologist. Yes, it can be a hassle, especially when you’re surrounded by friends who are carefree in the sun. But I promise, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through a melanoma diagnosis. I have survived to tell my story.
SF: Where are you today?
EB: Currently I am off treatments in a stable condition. My most recent clinical trial was 3 years ago, and it shrunk my tumors drastically. I am finally starting to feel good again. I’m so grateful for the research that’s been done to help people like me. I’m thankful for those that dedicate their lives to finding a cure and creating amazing drugs that help those of us with melanoma. My doctors still monitor me closely with scans and skin checks. I’m working a part-time job and by God’s grace, enjoying married life.
SF: Any quick beauty tips you have for staying protected?
EB: I always wear sunscreen with zinc, even under my makeup. And, have you heard? Tanning beds are out and sunless tanners are in! And I’m not talking about that stinky lotion that turns you and your palms orange. I’ve gotten to know some really great products over the years but my favorite product line is Fake Bake. Definitely check them out to see their line. I get compliments all the time, and it always delights me to say that it’s not from laying out all day!
SF: Anything else you would like to add?
EB: I would like to mention something to those newly diagnosed or who are currently fighting melanoma. I want to tell them not to give up or feel discouraged because there is hope! New research is being done every day. Doctors and pharmacies have made advances from where they were just a year ago. Stay strong in your battle and continue to be proactive in your path to being cancer free!
Visit FacesofSkinCancer.org to learn more about Emily’s story and to hear from others living with advanced skin cancer. It’s worth it to protect yourself from the sun, so find a dermatologist in your area to schedule a skin cancer screening today.
This post is sponsored by Genentech.