My mother's melanoma diagnosis: What a caregiver learned

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By Liz Hill


Living in southern Louisiana, my family learned to endure the heat, humidity and sun. But we struggled when it came to protection from its effects, especially sunburns.


My mom was a redheaded, blue-eyed, extremely fair-skinned woman. She had her fair share of sun exposure as a child. As an adult, after several basal and squamous skin cancer scares, she realized the value of sunscreen and, really, just avoidance of the sun. She passed those values on to me since I have reddish hair, blue/green eyes and extremely fair skin.


My mother's malignant melanoma diagnosis

Mom had a growth on her face that had been examined by a local dermatologist many times, but my mom had been advised not to worry about it. 

When the growth became unsightly in 2006, she went to a local surgeon to have it removed. Again, she was told not to worry about it.


But the pathology report came back positive for malignant melanoma. Thus began our journey with MD Anderson.


My mom's melanoma treatment and metastasis

Since the melanoma was on her face, Mom was sent to the Head and Neck Center, where Eduardo Diaz, M.D., performed four surgeries before the cancer was fully removed. I don't know who was more frustrated with this -- Mom or the doctor. Mom ended up with a skin graft on her face, but it was barely noticeable.


With no other signs of cancer, she was transferred to the Department of Dermatology, where she was a patient for two years.


Then, a tumor showed up in her liver. She began aggressive chemo treatment that required staying a week in the hospital at MD Anderson.


I was allowed to stay with her during this time. We may have grown tired of the food and beds, but the care from the nurses and doctors was superior. We were often in the hospital for holidays, but Mom never seemed to mind. She knew she was at the best place.


Through the next few years, Mom had numerous surgeries and many chemo treatments. Unfortunately, the cancer overpowered her brain and spinal cord, and Mom passed away at home in April 2010.


My quest to prevent melanoma

Because I was Mom's primary caregiver and I witnessed firsthand the ordeal she endured to survive, I now go to MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center for my annual dermatology checkup. 


One of the main reasons I go here is for the peace of mind it gives me, knowing that if they find something potentially cancerous, it will be dealt with immediately. I have asked to have a few skin blemishes removed, and even though the doctor said it was nothing to be concerned with, she removed them anyway for my peace of mind.


Even though it is a five-hour drive for me and I am done with my appointment in about 30 minutes, I know that it is all worth it because I am getting the best medical care.


I take many precautions with my skin. I use sunscreen daily, especially on my face. I wear long sleeves and a hat when working in my yard. And when family and friends come over to swim, all children must put on sunscreen (which I provide) before getting into pool.


I miss my Mom on a daily basis, but I am very thankful for the extra years MD Anderson gave us and for the peace of mind I get in knowing that the place that tried so hard to save my mom's life is doing its best to help me avoid melanoma and skin cancer.

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