Beat melanoma through early detection
May was Melanoma Awareness Month and CANSA highlights the stories of two survivors living with skin cancer to help educate and promote early detection of cancer.
Melanoma, though less common than other skin cancers, is lethal. Exposure of the skin to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation in childhood, increases the risk of melanoma later in life. Though it may be possible to have a melanoma even if you haven’t had extreme UV exposure.
Some melanomas are extremely aggressive and progress rapidly within a few months. Early detection of melanoma is key to improved survival outcomes with five-year survival rates being greater than 90% if detected early. Anyone, regardless of skin tone can get a melanoma.
Naniki Seboni, from Soweto, shares her experience, “My melanoma was found on the lateral side of my left leg and had spread to my groin area. What I thought was a beauty spot or mole, ultimately grew to four times the size and had an irregular shape.”
Naniki always had a sensitive skin and as a child had a few bad sunburns. She was being treated by a neurologist due to anxiety and insomnia following the shock of her father’s death, when the neurologist noticed the mole and referred her to a dermatologist. A biopsy was done and she was told she had Stage 3 melanoma.
She was shocked, saying, “If anything, if you have ever heard the word ‘cancer’, it’s really associated with white people.” In denial, she avoided treatment for six months but was fortunately referred to CANSA’s Facebook support group for cancer patients, CANSA Survivors – Champions of Hope.
Naniki continues, “I sent a message on the group and complete strangers were supporting me, telling me ‘Young one you must go in, you are too young to let this thing defeat you’. I could have changed my entire destiny if I hadn’t gotten in contact with CANSA.
CANSA literally saved my life.”
Naniki had surgery to remove the melanoma and as a survivor takes good care of her skin. “I use a high SPF sunscreen for my body and face daily. I also have a skin journal and take pictures of any mark or blemish that appears on my skin to show my doctors. I’m anxious about being safe from COVID-19 as I need to protect my immune system. And I know I have to share my cancer awareness story so that I can help others.”
Sonia Katzenberg, living with melanoma over 15 years says, “I remember distinctly a couple of serious burns as a child. We fell asleep in the sun around the pool. So, I didn’t take care of my skin. When we’re young we think we’re invincible but when it happens, and you come face to face with the statistical message you don’t want to hear that. Suddenly life becomes precious. I would never have thought that sunburn or sitting in the sun could have such far reaching and silent impact on one’s life.”
Early detection is key
Gerda Strauss, CANSA’s Head of Service Delivery says, “Early detection is key when it comes to beating melanoma. While you’re at home during the lockdown, get in the habit of doing monthly skin checks using the ABCDE guidelines and get a friend or family member to check out of sight areas like the scalp, back and buttocks. Any irregularities should immediately be reported to a doctor or dermatologist.”
Strauss adds, “We’re so grateful for the successful collaboration and partnership between CANSA, Novartis South Africa and Stellenbosch University that led to an educational melanoma awareness video to share Naniki and Sonia’s stories and what skin checks to conduct. Our gratitude to Dr Bianca Tod and Dr Willie Visser from Stellenbosch University for their valuable educational input. And to Novartis South Africa for their continuous support of our SunSmart campaign and health awareness activities.”
“During the lockdown, we promote more use of online tools to educate and so we partnered with Miiskin. You can download this free user-friendly app for monitoring changes on skin. However, it doesn’t replace a doctor’s visit and isn’t a diagnostic tool.
CANSA looks forward to when the lockdown has moved to level 3 as then you’ll be able to book a FotoFinder screening to detect irregularities in moles at our CANSA Care Centres,” concludes Strauss.