Trish Broome

@trish-broome | contributor
Trish is the Cancer Editor at The Mighty. She lost her father to stage 4 lung cancer in August 2016, and previously worked at a children’s cancer research organization, so she knows firsthand about the cancer experience. A lover of hip hop music, hot sauce and kimchi, she lives in Maryland with her husband, two dogs, cat and feisty 2-year-old daughter. Check her story out in the book, “A Letter to My Mom.“
Trish Broome

Before and After Photos Show Reality of Tanning Beds and Skin Cancer

As a child, Stephanie Ehrlich, now 30, was one of those kids who spent hours at the pool every day during the summer. Then, when she was 16, she started using tanning beds. “I tanned a ton,” Ehrlich, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, told The Mighty. “Most of the time, it was on a daily basis and for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. I loved being tan and how the beds made me feel.” People always told her she would get skin cancer, Erlich said, but she didn’t believe them. She didn’t think she could get skin cancer at such a young age. When she was 20, she went to her family doctor because of two weird spots on her face — one above the right side of her lip and one on her upper right eyelid. Her doctor didn’t biopsy them, but he did freeze them off with cryosurgery. He never mentioned they could be cancerous, and pretty soon the spots went away. Fast forward eight years later, when, at 28, another spot appeared on her lip. It would randomly bleed and heal, then disappear for months at a time only to pop back up again. The same thing happened to a spot on her breast. She thought it was her sports bra that was causing the bleeding, so she put a band-aid on it and it stopped. A year later, the spot on her lip started to bleed every day. That’s when she decided to see her family doctor, who took a serious look at it and told her to go to a dermatologist. “It took me a month to get into the dermatologist,” she said. “So, for that month, I did my own research to find out what this could be. Even before the biopsy, I had figured out that I most likely had basal cell carcinoma.” When Ehrlich finally had her dermatologist appointment, she ended up having three biopsies — two on her upper lip and one on her breast. Her doctor told her he thought it was  basal cell carcinoma , the most common form of skin cancer in the U.S. They were both right. The results showed all three spots were basal cell carcinoma. Erlich was told she would need  Mohs surgery  — a microscopic surgery done in stages that removes, examines and reconstructs the cancerous area. She was told not to worry because this is the “best kind” of cancer to get in terms of survival rate. “I know this is supposed to be comforting, but in that moment I was terrified to even hear the word cancer,” she said. Ehrlich had the spot on her breast removed in August 2017 and the Mohs surgery on her face in September 2017. Since all three spots were so small, she had no idea what to expect post-surgery. The scar on her breast was much bigger than anticipated, but she could live with that. It was the recovery from the surgery on her face that was traumatic. The morning of her Mohs surgery, Ehrlich arrived at 7 a.m. and sat in the waiting room with her girlfriend. During that time, a woman came out of surgery with a bandage on her nose. She told Ehrlich this wasn’t the first time she had Mohs surgery done, and that she would be OK. That gave her some comfort, as she continued to believe she would only have a small hole, similar to her biopsy. Ehrlich said she will never forget seeing her face for the first time. She was lying on the bed when the nurse who was cleaning her up asked if she wanted to see her face. Ehrlich said yes, and looked in a mirror. “I immediately began to sob because I had this huge hole in my face.” It took four sessions for the doctors to get the cancerous region removed. During that time, Ehrlich had gotten closer to the woman she met earlier, who was going back for her fifth session. As she said goodbye to her, she was devastated at the thought of both of them going through so much pain. Immediately after her Mohs surgery, Ehrlich went to see a plastic surgeon because the doctor who did her surgery wasn’t comfortable closing the hole in her face. “I sat down at the plastic surgeon’s office with my face all bandaged up and I tried to not cry,” she recalled. “At this point, I still refused to see what my face looked like and avoided mirrors. The first look was enough for me.” After the plastic surgeon took photos of her face, they discussed a plan on how to close the hole. Because the hole was close to her lip, he wasn’t sure they had enough skin to close it up without messing up the look of her lips. He mentioned a skin graft, which would include her wearing a bag-like object the size of a half banana on her face to help grow new skin. Ehrlich was, once again, devastated. Not only did she not want something that big on her face, she was a sign language interpreter and she didn’t want her clients looking at it. She also wouldn’t be allowed to move in certain ways and would have to take off work for a long period of time. She wasn’t OK with that and didn’t think it was the best solution for her. At the end of their meeting, the surgeon said he would go home and think of another solution. The next day, Ehrlich showed up at the surgery center to hear his new plan. He said they would forget the skin graft and try to use skin she already had by cutting a Y shape and literally pulling the skin over the hole. If that didn’t work, they would have to do a skin graft. She felt relieved and hoped for the best. The procedure worked, Ehrlich wouldn’t need a skin graft. The next day, Ehrlich took off her bandages for the first time. She was extremely swollen and covered in stitches, but was shocked and relieved by the progress her surgeon had made. Ehrlich asked her girlfriend if she could see the photo taken right after the cancerous spot was removed. Once she saw it, she cried. “I couldn’t believe how one little spot could have spread into such a massive spot,” she said. “Still, to this day it is shocking, and I’m still amazed at what my plastic surgeon was able to do.” Ehrlich has had several follow-up visits with her plastic surgeon and things are healing nicely. She uses a silicone treatment during the day and sleeps with a silicone sheet at night to help with the scarring. She’s currently looking at laser treatment options to help with the scarring. You can see her healing process below: September 15, 2017 September 18, 2017 After getting her stitches removed. October 3, 2017 November 2, 2017 December 6, 2017 January 3, 2018 Ehrlich is happy to report that, as of her last routine check, she has no new spots and needs no biopsies. Although she will continue these skin checks every six months, she’s grateful for how things turned out. Now, instead of going to tanning beds and spending time in the sun, Ehrlich enjoys going to hot yoga and spending time with her fiancé and their family of animals — two pugs, one Shiba Inu, one African grey parrot and one Hahn’s macaw. She is also a marathon runner who enjoys spreading awareness about skin cancer prevention and the importance of getting your yearly skin check. One thing she no longer enjoys: tanning beds. “My number one piece of advice would be to never use tanning beds,” she said. “And if you have used them or have been exposed to the sun often, then please go in for a yearly skin check.”

Trish Broome

Superhero-Themed Radiation Masks Comfort Kids Diagnosed With Cancer

Undergoing radiation therapy for cancer can be scary, especially for young children. And wearing the claustrophobic radiation masks used during treatment can be even scarier. To make the process less traumatizing — and much cooler — for young patients, two former art students, Hilary Sturrock and Fiona McCulloch, who now work as clinical technologists, started designing character and superhero-themed radiotherapy masks. The idea for the masks started in the U.K., when Lorraine Whyte, a practice education radiographer for the NHS, approached Sturrock and McCulloch. She told them about two centers in England that were painting radiotherapy masks, and wanted to know if they would be interested in doing the same thing at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Center in Glasgow, Scotland. With their art backgrounds and a burning desire to use their skills creatively, both women said yes. They started using water-based acrylic paint to create the custom-fit masks. “We sat and did a couple of practice masks — a butterfly and the Hulk — and it all took off from there,” Sturrock told The Mighty. “We paint whatever the child requests, anything from wild animals to fairy gardens.” The first mask created was painted by McCulloch for a child who had to have general anesthesia for every appointment. She loved the mask, and soon after wearing it, no longer required sedation. Sturrock’s favorite reaction comes from a 15-year-old who initially said he was “too old” to have a mask painted. After several weeks of treatment and only a few days of radiation left, she received a call that he had changed his mind. The patient was a big comic book fan and had requested a Spider-Man mask, so Sturrock decided to paint a scene from a comic. From the feedback she heard, she thinks she hit the nail on the head. “The most encouraging thing about this was that apparently the patient always closed their eyes when they were having treatment,” Sturrock says. “Now that the design was painted, they could see the reflection of their mask in the treatment machine and had their eyes open throughout the time, watching Spider-Man as the machine head moved around them.” To date, the clinical technologists have painted seven masks, including characters such as Batman, the Hulk, Pikachu and more. An eighth mask is currently being developed. Sturrock hopes the masks continue to help and inspire patients and their families. “I am always in awe of how strong and determined these children are, for what they endure and in how much they trust,” she said. “We will continue to paint as long as it is required, and have no problems painting masks for whoever will benefit from it — young or old.” All photos courtesy of Hilary Sturrock

Trish Broome

Transgender Man Emmet Paul Finds Skin Cancer While Transitioning

Editor’s note: This post contains graphic post-operative photos. When 23-year-old Ottawa resident Emmet Paul, also known as Scotty, started transitioning last year, he had no idea his desire to undergo top surgery would potentially save his life. Paul’s cancer story began five years ago at the age of 18 when he noticed a weird dark spot on his left breast. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. “At first, I thought it was a stain or something,” he told The Mighty. “But it didn’t come off in the shower. I ignored it thinking it was a beauty mark. In fact, my friend and I even jokingly called it ‘Monroe.’” Fast forward to 2017, when he finally decided to get “Monroe” checked out as it had gotten much bigger — about the size of a nickel. Its colors had also started to change, and instead of being one dark brown spot, it was now light and dark brown with some yellow mixed in. “It was no longer a perfect circle,” he said. “Instead, the edges had started to fade and spread. It was completely flat and smooth though, no bump or wrinkling or anything.” Paul went to his family doctor for a physical and was sent to a dermatologist to get the spot checked. After taking a lot of pictures, she recommended a biopsy because the spot hit all the criteria for melanoma. “She told me there [were] two choices I could make when it came to the biopsy,” he said. “One being a scooping sort of incision that would be a more shallow cut and wouldn’t leave quite as large a scar, or a full deep incision that would take the entire piece out but would leave a large scar.” Paul decided to have a full biopsy since he was saving up for top surgery, and because the section of skin that would be scarred would most likely be taken off during top surgery. He wasn’t worried about what it would look like in the end. The biopsy removed a large elliptical shape around the spot. When the biopsy came back, he was told he had compound nevus with architectural disorder (compound Clark’s nevus), which are unusual looking moles that are benign. In Paul’s case, the cells they removed were pre-cancerous. Had they not taken the entire section out, there’s a good chance the remaining spots could have metastasized or resulted in further surgeries. Paul was told he wouldn’t have to worry about the spot again unless the area changes drastically. However, the surgeon said the testosterone hormone therapy he is on could play a part in the growth of melanomas, so he’s going to talk to the endocrinologist who oversees his hormone therapy and see what she says. After mentioning that his mother passed away from lung cancer that started in her abdomen and spread, Paul’s dermatologist advised him to keep an eye on other spots. The surgeon told Paul his mother’s case sounded like melanoma, and if she did have it, he and older brother would be genetically predisposed. “I was told to keep a close eye on any other spots on my body because there is a high chance I could get more,” he said. “My brother is also getting his skin checked out because he is at the age my mother was at when she started getting really sick and wants to make sure that he doesn’t have one either.” Recovering from the biopsy was difficult. Paul has been wearing a compression shirt for the past three years to give the illusion of a flat chest, but during recovery, he couldn’t wear it, which led to severe body dysmorphia. “I ended up in a pretty bad depressive state for a week and didn’t want to leave my house, as I am a very masculine looking person but am rather busty, with a 36DD chest,” he said. “Luckily, the recovery didn’t last too long, and I’m much more comfortable now.” Today, when Paul isn’t serving up a smile at Tim Hortons, juggling or writing movie reviews with his best friend, he can be found working on his own crisis prevention forum for people living with mental illness and crisis situations. He is especially focused on clients who are non-verbal. He also hopes to use his knowledge of social work and addictions to work with transgender people in the criminal justice system, as he’s interested in how the government and judicial system treats trans inmates. For Paul, sharing his story is more than just personal. He wants his experience to raise awareness about the dangers of skin cancer. He encourages people to “check well and check often,” and to know their body well enough to know when something changes. If it does change, don’t wait to get checked, even if it turns out to be nothing. What’s truly close to his heart is Paul’s desire to encourage other transgender people to be wise about their health. He says the transgender men he knows don’t give themselves breast checks or get Pap tests for cervical cancer. “As hard as it can be for people with severe dysmorphia (as I have and many trans people have) to check those parts of your body or get them checked by doctors, it’s so important for sexual health and general health to get checked regularly,” he added. “Luckily my spot was pretty visible, but not everyone is as lucky.” For more stories like this, like Cancer on The Mighty on Facebook. Do you have a skin cancer story to tell? Share it with us here. All photos courtesy of Emmett Paul

Trish Broome

Holly Butcher Shares Facebook Post Before Passing Away From Cancer

“It’s a strange thing to realize and accept your mortality at 26 years young.” Those are the opening words of a Facebook post from Holly Butcher, who eloquently wrote about accepting her mortality and loving life without the “small, meaningless stresses,” after being diagnosed with a rare cancer. The 27-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, passed away from Ewing’s sarcoma the same day the heartfelt post was shared. Ewing’s sarcoma starts as a tumor in the bone or soft tissue, and is most commonly found in adolescents and young adults. When it spreads, the 5-year-survival rate is only 15 to 30 percent. Her post gave readers an honest look at her diagnosis and life. That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy… I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands. After some self-reflection, Butcher gets to the core of the post: a heartfelt plea to others is to stop worrying about things that don’t matter, and to start caring about things that do. You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.Let all that shit go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more. Butcher continued to share what she means by “enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone.” These moments include cuddling with your dog, asking friends if they are OK, working to live (instead of living to work), saying no to things you don’t want to do, and telling loved ones how much you love them, every chance you get. She ends the post by asking readers to help extend the life of others by regularly donating blood. It’s what gave her extended time with her loved ones. “Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year — a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.” Shortly after Butcher’s post was shared, her family announced she had passed away. A testament to the words she wrote, Butcher’s post has received over 71,00 likes and reactions and has been shared over 55,000 times to date. “You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.” Header photo courtesy of Facebook

Trish Broome

Mitt Romney Reportedly Treated for Prostate Cancer Last Summer

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is preparing for a possible Senate campaign in Utah, was reportedly treated for prostate cancer last summer. A source close to the 70-year-old former governor of Massachusetts told CNN, “He was treated surgically by Dr. Thomas Ahlering at UC Irvine Hospital in California. His prognosis is good; he was successfully treated.” CNN anchor Jake Tapper shared additional information in a tweet: .@MittRomney aide offers more details:“Last year, Governor Mitt Romney was diagnosed with slow-growing prostate cancer. The cancer was removed surgically and found not to have spread beyond the prostate”— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 8, 2018 Upon hearing the news, people on Twitter offered their support: Good luck to him. Regardless of political standing, I never want to see anyone suffer through cancer ????— Alyssa Z. (@alyssa_zaccaro) January 8, 2018 I hope that @MittRomney is fully healed and that he is doing well.— Angela Maloney (@musique913) January 8, 2018 Good news about it not having spread, happy to hear recovery went well #cancersucks— d_twit (@d_twit) January 8, 2018 Sending my love to Mitt and his wonderful family. Many better days to come.— Megasus (@NelsonWhoop) January 8, 2018 According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men after skin cancer. Approximately one in seven men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. One in 39 men will die of prostate cancer. Other well-known men diagnosed with prostate cancer include former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and actor Robert De Niro. Header image courtesy of Facebook

Trish Broome

15 People Who Raised Awareness for Cancer in 2017

Every year there are people who raise much-needed awareness in the cancer community. In 1993, before passing away from metastatic adenocarcinoma, legendary basketball coach and commentator Jim Valvano gave one of the most unforgettable speeches about cancer and sports during the ESPY awards. In 2010, cancer researchers, Larry Kwak, MD, PhD, and Doug Schwartzentruber, MD, FACS, were named two of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” for developing vaccines. Last year, former Vice President Joe Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot Initiative to accelerate cancer research. In 2017, there were some equally inspiring people who raised awareness for cancer. Some are more well known than others, but all were influential in shedding light on often overlooked signs and symptoms, as well highlighting the continued need for treatments and cures. Here are 15 advocates whose work and honesty helped others this year. 1. Bethany Greenway photo courtesy of Bethany Greenway In 2014, Greenway noticed what she thought was a liver spot on her forehead. Two years later, she was told she had two different types of cancer — desmoplastic melanoma and melanoma — and would need surgery for both. Instead of shying away from diagnosis and treatment, she chose to share everything publicly on Facebook through her Melanoma Photo Diary album. She told The Mighty the main reason for doing this is to tell people to “listen to and take care of your body, and pay attention to the changes it makes.” Greenway’s story went viral in 2017, inspiring many to get their skin checked and raising awareness for The Shade Project, a nonprofit she supports that’s dedicated to preventing skin cancer. 2. Senator John McCain photo via Facebook The Arizona Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee, made headlines in 2017 when he was diagnosed with brain cancer following a routine procedure to remove a blood clot above his left eye. He returned to work just 11 days after that diagnosis and voted down the GOP’s Graham-Cassidy health care bill. Despite his poor prognosis and recent hospitalizations, he continues to live life to the fullest and was able to give his daughter Meghan away at her wedding in November. His diagnosis helped raise awareness for his rare and aggressive form brain cancer, known as glioblastoma, and put it on a path toward better treatments. 3. Sarah Anderson photo courtesy of Sarah Anderson In December 2009, when she was 18 years old (and six months pregnant), Anderson started experiencing what she thought was a toothache that wouldn’t go away. She was then told she had stage 4 invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the lower right jaw and neck (head and neck cancer). Through more than seven surgeries that consisted of removing her lower jaw and putting part of her leg bone and skin on her face, she’s remained a fierce and fiery advocate for cancer patients. Today, Anderson is cancer-free and hosts her own Facebook Live show to help others with cancer. Every Friday at 6 p.m., she talks about her journey, sharing messages of hope to thousands of fans. 4. Julia Louis-Dreyfus Chemo #2: finito. We are NOT fucking around here. “I’ve got the eye of the tiger. The Fighter dancing through the fire cuz I am a champion and your’re going to hear me ROAR.” Thanks to @mrtonyhale & @timothycsimons & @katyperry for their hilarious and loving inspiration.A post shared by Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@officialjld) on Oct 19, 2017 at 5:14pm PDT On September 28, 56-year-old Louis-Dreyfus, best known for her roles as Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” and President Selina Meyer on “Veep,” shared the news she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she wrote. It was a devastating blow to the beloved actress’ fans, who showered her with support and humor on social media. Since her announcement, Louis-Dreyfus has shared updates on her chemo, inspiring messages of hope and proof that she’s still enjoying life with her family despite treatment. The actress is proof that breast cancer can happen to anyone, and why early detection is key. 5. John Polo photos courtesy of John Polo On August 31, Polo shared a photo on Facebook of his wife Michelle in her wedding dress with the caption: She loved that dress so much. While at hospice, she would talk to people about how great the wedding was going to be. She wasn’t coherent enough to realize that she wasn’t going to make it to there. Michelle died without me ever seeing her in that dream dress. His post was dedicated to his wife, who he lost a year earlier on January 22, 2016, to  proximal-type epithelioid sarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. The post went viral, prompting thousands of shares and comments and nationwide news coverage, helping to raise awareness for the rare cancer. Since sharing, Polo has written a book and often gives speeches about love, loss and grief. He also shares his story on the website, Better Not Bitter Widower. 6. Tamra Judge I work out ???? hard for this Booty. I was planning on competing again in November at 50 years old, but I’m not sure that’s happening ???? now. it looks like God has a different plan for me. Im showing you this picture because this is what melanoma looks like. I don’t want sympathy, I want you to save YOUR ASS and get your skin checked . This was just a small black flat freckle…. I had no idea! Ill be fine because my faith is strong and my Ass ain’t bad either???? Thank you @cacoastalderm ❤️. I’ve been a little sad , worried and pissed off. But we caught it early and that makes me happy ???? Happy birthday to me. #saveyourass birthday party in Cabo not sounding like a good idea now ???? #awareness.#skincheckA post shared by Tamra Judge (@tamrajudge) on Aug 27, 2017 at 6:48pm PDT You might think 50-year-old “Real Housewives of Orange County” star Tamra Judge would be the “butt” of jokes after sharing a revealing selfie on Instagram, but the reaction was just the opposite. After sharing that the “small black flat freckle” on her rear end was melanoma, a type of skin cancer that kills an estimated 10,130 people in the U.S. annually, she received thousands of comments of support and even inspired fans to get their own appointments about concerned moles. Today, Judge is cancer-free and remains a positive force in the cancer and fitness community. Her main point of the post comes directly from Judge: “I don’t want sympathy, I want you to save YOUR ASS and get your skin checked.” 7. Tracie Marie While the majority of people believe that Breast Cancer is a pink ribbon, a pink Pom Pom, a pen with a pink ribbon, a tote with a pink ribbon, an encap at your local Walmart engaging you to be a “part of the cure. First, a hard reality, you are not being part of the cure, you’re just throwing your money away to propaganda, uniforms for NFL cheerleaders, and kiosk after kiosk with items from handbags to ziplock bags. It’s all a hoax. They are not trying to fight the cure. Most of their funding goes to advertisement, 6 figure CEO salaries. And when I asked for help, I wasn’t given any, DENIED. Denied by the very people who claimed they would help me in their “advertising”. A pink ribbon isn’t the men and women fighting for their lives with metastatic breast cancer. I cannot comprehend how people can not grasp the simple concept that if you cure stage 4 you cure them all. It’s that simple. You will not have to worry about dying because, there’s a cure if you get to that point. Breast cancer is often very sexualized. Showing models with fake scars, beautiful bodies and breasts with the strap so perfectly dangling from her shoulder. That’s not what Breast cancer is. It’s CTs, surgeries, amputations, biopsies, MRIs, X-rays, radiation, chemo, IVs, blood tests, fear, worry, hate, anger, confusion, sadness, loneliness, medications, check ups, anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain. It’s so much more than a pink snickers bar because it “supports us! We do not receive free brown jobs. We have reconstruction. Expanders places to stretch your skin to fit the implants, complications, tram flap surgeries, sometimes our bodies reject the implants, some choose to go flat, some reconstructions are amazing and look fabulous, some look completely deformed. However, in no way did any of us receive a free boob job. We amputated them and had foreign objects placed in our skin to resembles the breasts we once had. We tattoo our nipples on, we get prosthetic ones, or we go with out. But none of it was free. Save the Tatas, save 2nd base, no bra day with a bunch of nipples poking out in no way supports those with Breast Cancer. This is what a lot of cancer really looks like!A post shared by Tracie and/or Elvira ???????? (@screamqueen13) on Oct 7, 2017 at 6:59pm PDT On October 7, Marie, a breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy, bravely shared a photo of her surgery scars and shed some honest insight on the “pinkwashing” culture surrounding the disease. She said firmly believes the pink ribbon had lost its meaning to survivors and metastatic cancer patients, stating: “It’s become a marketing scheme and a moneymaker. It has gone from pink ribbons for awareness to pink dollar signs lining the pockets of so many.” Her post was shared over 180,000 times in less than two weeks, raising conversations about cancer organizations and putting her favorite organization, Metavivor.org, on the map. She told The Mighty: “I’m definitely not afraid of sharing myself. I don’t have money. I have nothing to give. But I have a voice, I have a way with words, I like to write and talk. So I’m using what I have to give.” 8. Pitbull photo via Facebook What do a chart-topping rapper and his private plane have to do with raising awareness for cancer? As it turns out, a lot. Back in September when Hurricane Maria brought 155 mph winds, massive flooding and knocked out power for over 3.5 million people, Pitbull was one of the first celebrities to use his star status to help the residents. Using his private plane, he helped bring cancer patients from hospitals in Puerto Rico to the U.S. for treatment. Soon after, celebrities like Mark Cuban were also lending their personal planes to the relief efforts. When asked by the New York Daily News why he did it, he said, “Thank God we’re blessed to help. Just doing my part.” 9.  Holly Christensen and Bree Hitchcock photo courtesy of Bree Hitchcock “These wigs invite children into the world of make-believe and out of the scary world of cancer.” That’s what cofounder Bree Hitchcock said about her nonprofit, The Magic Yarn Project. Based in Palmer, Alaska, it was created after cofounder Holly Christensen learned a friend’s daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. She created a Rapunzel wig made out of yarn and mailed it to her. Children and families loved it, more were made and the rest is history. To date, over 4,200 handmade (with love woven in) wigs have been shipped to children around the world for free. You can help create more wigs for pediatric cancer patients by becoming a “Magic Maker” or donating to the organization. 10. Lindsey Stirling Tonight’s dance was so special. I love you Dad and I know you were there with me. Vote for us by calling 1-800-868-3407. (You can call 11 times per line)A post shared by Lindsey Stirling (@lindseystirling) on Oct 9, 2017 at 6:18pm PDT In October, violinist and “Dancing with the Stars” contestant Lindsey Stirling honored her late father with an emotional performance of a Vienna Waltz. Stirling’s father, Stephen, passed away from throat cancer on January 24. In an emotional montage before the performance, she shared memories of the last year of his life. In an Instagram post, Stirling added, “Tonight’s dance was so special. I love you Dad and I know you were there with me.” The performance not only left a lasting impression on the judges and audience, but it also helped raise awareness for a type of cancer that according to the American Cancer Society , will cause about 3,660 deaths this year. 11. Justin Birckbichler photo courtesy of Justin Birckbichler “It’s sometimes hard to have such a stiff conversation and it’s certainly not a ball to do it, but you would be a nut to not sack it up and do it. Don’t get teste about it.” That’s what cancer survivor and pun extraordinaire Birckbichler has to say about testicular cancer. Approximately one in every 263 men will develop testicular cancer during their lifetime. He started his cancer awareness blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor (ABSOT), in 2016, and has been an avid advocate ever since. He told The Mighty, “Since testicular cancer is so underrepresented and rarely discussed in society, I realized this project has a true purpose and was necessary, both for myself and for others who might read the blog.” Today, ABSOT is one of the most honest, humorous and educational personal blogs about testicular cancer. 12. Shannon Doherty Breast Cancer Awareness month. This image is so personal to me. I had started chemo. Was using a cold cap in hope to not lose my hair. End result was clumps in my hands. I was sick, felt like I was losing myself. Gained people and lost people. Got weak and got strong. Felt ugly and yet more beautiful inside than I had ever felt before. I remember this like it was yesterday, like it was a minute ago. Cancer has so many phases. Shock, denial, acceptance, anger, resentment, rebellion, fear, appreciation, beauty. Remission. Even then, the phases keep coming. Cancer is with you forever. Those who have experienced it know that even after you’ve kicked it’s ass, it still impacts you, in good ways and bad. You still go thru the roller coaster of emotions. You still need support and love. And you can still grasp life and live, live live. #cancer #cancerslayerA post shared by ShannenDoherty (@theshando) on Oct 12, 2017 at 9:23am PDT During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the former “Beverly Hills 9021” and “Charmed” star shared an emotional photo on Instagram highlighting the physical and emotional trauma of chemotherapy. “This image is so personal to me,” the 45-year-old posted. “I had started chemo. Was using a cold cap in hope to not lose my hair. End result was clumps in my hands.” Doherty, who revealed she had breast cancer in 2015, started publicly shared her journey on social media, from her first day of radiation treatment through to her remission. Since her diagnosis, Doherty’s been actively involved in the cancer community, raising awareness for Stand Up to Cancer , an organization that funds research and treatments for patients. 13. Zach Bolster “She was an incredible person. She spent her whole life taking care of her family.” That’s how Bolster remembers his mother Gloria, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in December 2016. While his mother was in treatment, Bolster noticed how many cancer patients didn’t have a ride to chemo. So when his sister mentioned how Uber could be the answer, he came up with the idea of ChemoCars. It was launched it in March 2017, in memory of Gloria. ChemoCars offers free Uber and Lyft rides (all funded through donations) to  cancer  patients to and from chemo in Charlotte, North Carolina. To date, the nonprofit organization has provided more than 2,000 free rides in the Charlotte area, and Bolster and his team are working to launch a pilot program in Charleston, South Carolina early in 2018. 14. Bethenny Frankel 100 PERCENT of the donations we are raising go to women and families in need in the Houston area. #thisisacrisis #bstrong #workingforyoutexas To donate click the link in my BIO – Bethenny.com/Bstrong For questions e-mail: BStrong@bethenny.com For updates tune into my Facebook Live at 3pm ESTA post shared by Bethenny Frankel (@bethennyfrankel) on Aug 30, 2017 at 6:40am PDT The second “Real Housewife” to make the list this year (this one from New York), Frankel told People in September she noticed a growth on her face getting bigger. “I guessed it to be a basal cell carcinoma and had it lanced and removed. The doctor confirmed it is indeed basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, and says while it is cancer, I am lucky to have it removed — so it won’t affect my overall health.” She later shared a close-up of her face after Mohs surgery , a micrographic surgery where surgeons remove the thinnest possible layer of the cancerous tissue. Through her diagnosis, treatment and recovery of the most common form of skin cancer , Frankel continued to raise awareness for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts through her B Strong: Find Your Yes — Helping Women in Crisis Charity. 15. Kari Cummins photo courtesy of Kari Cummins The 35-year-old mother of five did more than just make the world think twice about “underground pimples” — she made people want to get checked for skin cancer. After being diagnosed with both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma , Cummins showed the world graphic photos the Mohs surgery that left a quarter-sized hole in her face. Her main reason for sharing her now-viral story was to make sure others don’t their skin for granted like she did when she was younger. She told The Mighty, “I just want others to realize that their health is in their own hands and they have the power to take control of it and do something to change it.” Do you know someone who raised awareness for cancer in 2017? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Trish Broome

29 Memes That Might Make You Laugh If You've Waited for Test Results

Waiting for test results related to your cancer, chronic illness or other condition can be nerve-wracking (to say the least). It’s bad enough that it took forever to schedule an appointment that started an hour late, but now all you can do is go home and stare at your phone, waiting for it to ring. Or maybe you call for your results, and you’re transferred three times and then put on hold for a half hour. Basically, waiting is not fun. “All” you want to know is what that irregular-shaped mole on your face really is, or why you have bouts of shortness of breath, or, worse, if your cancer is back. None of the above scenarios are funny, but sometimes our community finds the humor in it all. If this includes you, then you may enjoy some of the memes about waiting for test results we’ve gathered below. Waiting at Home Remember when you went in for a biopsy, CT scan or blood work a few days ago, and your doctor said she’d call back with the test results, but she didn’t? Here’s how it can feel to be at home, waiting for the phone call. 1. When you’re sitting alone in your room: photo via memegenerator 2. When you make things worse by watching an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy:” via GIPHY 3. When you try to distract yourself with some fresh air: photo via quickmeme 4. When you try to get some chores done but you can’t even focus on them: photo via jokideo 5. When you start thinking of every worst-case scenario possible: 6. When you’re having a staring contest with your pet (who has no idea why you keep staring at him): photo via ananseproductions 7. When you’ve been lying in bed, wide awake, for hours: photo via lisalancaster 8. When you’re in the shower: Waiting for THE CALL got me like… #justkeepwaiting #lularoequeueclub #lularoeA post shared by LuLaRoe Danielle Meek (@lularoedaniellemeek) on Jul 1, 2016 at 9:13am PDT 9. When you’re waiting for the laundry to finish drying: waiting for ________ test results 10. When you have an intense dinner conversation with your significant other: photo via imgflip 11. When you start talking to your dog: photo via quickmeme 12. When you start talking to your cat: photo via morelikecantcer 13. When your friends ask how you’re doing: via GIPHY Waiting at Work You’ve managed to get away from the all-consuming and worrisome feelings you had at home. But now you’re at work, and it’s still difficult to be productive when the results are looming in the back of your head. 14. When you pretend to listen to your boss: via GIPHY 15. When you call the doctor’s office calls and they repeat that you should have the results soon: photo via morelikecantcer 16. When you start to get a little snarky with everyone: photo via morelikecantcer 17. When you start giving a presentation and accidentally say something that has nothing to do with it: photo via memegenerator 18. When it feels like eight hours have gone by but it’s only 20 minutes: photo via memegenerator Waiting in Public You’ve made it through the work day. Now you want to go grab a bite to eat, or read a book in the park, but the nervousness of the test results even follows you out in public. 19. When you’re sitting at a restaurant, waiting for your friends to arrive: photo via memegenerator 20. When you’re trying to focus on what random people at a party are saying: via GIPHY 21. When you’re getting lost in thought while waiting for your Lyft driver: photo via makemeameme 22. When your friend makes a joke that you look nervous (and you are, but you’re acting like you’re not): via GIPHY Waiting… in the Waiting Room You finally received a call… but that’s just to tell you to come back to the hospital. Now you’re sitting in the waiting room, surrounded by other people who are just as nervous as you are. 23. When you’ve been waiting an hour after being told, “The doctor will be right out:” photo via livememe 24. When you realize you’re not even close to being called next: via GIPHY 25. When you’re not only nervous but also realize you have to use the bathroom: via GIPHY Calling for Results Sometimes, after you’ve waited days or weeks for test results, you just can’t wait any longer. So you make the call… and once again, you’re waiting. 26. When you start telling the admin a little too much information because he asked how you’re feeling: via GIPHY 27. When you’re trying to remain calm because they put you on hold and you’re listening to jazz music: photo via i.pinmg.com 28. When you’re on hold and you think you hear someone say something, but then you’re listening to more jazz music: via GIPHY Getting the Call You’ve waited long enough, and today is finally the day you get your results. The phone rings and you pick up. 29. When you don’t even let the person on the other line say hello: via GIPHY Have a favorite meme? Let us know in the comments below.

Trish Broome

ChemoCars Provides Transportation to Cancer Patients in Treatment

If one were to describe Gloria Bolster in a few words, the words would be “dynamic, passionate and motivated.” At least that’s how son, Zach Bolster, describes her. After speaking to Bolster about ChemoCars, the nonprofit he created in Gloria’s honor, he could be described the exact same way. The story behind ChemoCars — which offers free rides to cancer patients to and from chemo through Uber and Lyft in Charlotte, North Carolina (all funded through generous donations) — began in New York, where 35-year-old Bolster worked before he received the devastating news that his mother Gloria was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. “She was an incredible person,” Bolster told The Mighty. “She spent her whole life taking care of her family. She had also beat breast cancer before, so I knew she was a fighter.” Wanting to take care of his mother, Bolster, and his then fiancé, Patricia Wu, dropped everything and moved in with Gloria. He and his family were always by her side during chemo and treatment in Charlotte, and they made sure every moment spent together was special. Gloria passed away in December 2016, just five weeks after her diagnosis. While his mother was in treatment, he realized how lucky it was to have his entire family there to support her. But he also realized how unlucky some other patients were. “I saw patients who were alone and some who were taking the bus to get to the hospital,” he told The Mighty. He wondered how these patients could get the treatment they needed without transportation. And the answer was that they couldn’t. Bolster started volunteering to drive patients to and from chemo. Then one day, while walking on one of his mother’s favorite trails with his sister, they started talking about how insufficient the transportation system was; how it’s already hard for someone diagnosed with cancer to get through each day, but then they have to worry about finding a ride to treatment or downloading an app and waiting to get there. His sister mentioned that an Uber ride could be the answer. That planted an idea in Bolster’s head. Knowing the uncertain future cancer patients have, he wanted to do something that could help them in the present. “I wanted to channel my emotions and grief into a project that could help patients now,” he said. That idea became ChemoCars, a nonprofit launched in March 2017, in memory of Gloria. Photo credit: Kate Kmetzsch Bolster realized there were two main barriers getting some people to their chemo appointments: technical and financial. Some people were intimidated by using technology like apps to book a ride, while others just couldn’t afford to pay for them. So he created ChemoCars, a non-profit that integrates with Uber and Lyft to get patients quickly and safely to their treatment You can learn more on the website. Photo credit: Kate Kmetzsch “We do everything for the cancer patient,” Bolster said. “We book the ride, monitor them through our dashboard so they get to their appointment and back home safely, and we pay for it through donations. It’s stress-free.” It’s stress-free, not only for the patient but also for the patient’s family and the staff at the hospital. That’s one less thing the family has to take on as they focus on their loved one getting better. That’s one less day a child may have to take off from work or school to drive their parent to an appointment. And that’s one less task for a nurse. “Nurses really like us because now they can focus on their job of actually helping others instead of worrying about getting transportation for the patient,” Bolster said. Photo credit: Kate Kmetzsch Today, ChemoCars has provided more than 2,000 free rides in the Charlotte area and currently works with eight treatment centers. But that’s just the beginning. Bolster and his wife Patricia hope to expand to more cities across the nation. They’re currently working to launch a pilot program in Charleston, South Carolina in early 2018. “We want to scale ChemoCars in a thoughtful manner that maintains top-tier customer service,” he said. “We want to make it easy to focus on what really matters: getting better. And we’re working hard every day to make my mother proud.” Learn more about ChemoCars on their website or Facebook page. All photos courtesy of Bolster family and Kate Kmetzsch

Trish Broome

17 Resolutions People Affected by Cancer Are Making in 2018

With the new year right around the corner, some people choose to make resolutions. For those of us who have been touched by cancer, whether directly or through a loved one, these resolutions aren’t always about exercising or taking on more hobbies. Many of us simply want to resolve to heal after the cancer experience. Some people don’t want to make any resolutions at all, and that’s OK, too. Whatever you choose to do in the new year, do it in a way that works best for you — both physically and emotionally. We asked our Mighty cancer community what their New Year’s resolutions are for 2018. Here’s what they had to say. Currently Diagnosed With Cancer 1. Shalene G., Thyroid Cancer “Regardless of my January cancer scan results, I have resolved to create: to create more laughter, more tears, more mistakes, more healing, and more hope.” 2. Rebecca S., Metastatic Breast Cancer “For someone newly diagnosed with cancer (especially a terminal cancer like mine is), I would make a 2018 New Year’s resolution to make sure to stay present in the little moments of life that most people take for granted, and not to get caught up in the little annoyances or drama of every day life. In the long run, it doesn’t matter what somebody said on social media, how long you were stuck in traffic, or if you made an error on a big work project. Soak in the time spent sitting on the couch with family, getting coffee with friends, or taking a walk. Enjoy what it feels like to be happy, relaxed, and/or loved. Use those moments to help you get through the fear, loneliness, and isolation a cancer diagnosis can bring.” Recovering From Cancer 3. Justin B., Testicular Cancer “Prior to cancer, I was involved in about ten different side projects. I was like a dog chasing a ball (little did I know I was about to lose one). If something sounded like it would be a cool idea or help improve education, I went all in. However, there are only 24 hours in a day. If I’m spending eight of them sleeping and another eight at work, that only leaves eight hours for cooking, exercise, and leisure time. The more projects I took on, the more quickly that eight hours of freedom dwindled down as I poured myself into more and more random endeavors. Because of this, I was neglecting my relationships and things that really matter, like my personal relationships and spending time with my cat (yes, I am a cat man). About halfway through chemo, I realized this. I made the decision to walk away from nearly all of these projects, which seemed hard at the time, but now I am seeing the benefits. Ultimately, you get one shot at life (unless reincarnation is a thing, in which case I want to be a hawk or an eagle in my next life). I can’t spend all of my free time doing things that ultimately won’t have a lasting impact on my life while ignoring the people who love and support me. I shifted focus — instead of doing many random projects, I committed to doing one, and doing it well. This project is testicular cancer awareness blog entitled “A Ballsy Sense of Tumor.” Since testicular cancer is so underrepresented and rarely discussed in society, I realized this project has a true purpose and was necessary, both for myself and for others who might read the blog. While the other projects were fun, they had no lasting impression upon me as a person. ABSOT could be my life’s work. As a cancer survivor, my resolution is to continue focusing my time and energy on what matters to me, and doing it well. No more diverting energy and effort into projects I am only sort of passionate about — it’s about finding what drives me and feeding that. Along with this, I’m committed to continue focusing on the people in my life who supported me when I was at my lowest. ” 4. Annmarie O., Breast Cancer “I have never been a fan of resolutions — always felt like they get broken so fast. Then cancer swept into my life and I realized I needed them. Just today my husband and I were talking about laughter. Simply laughing every day in spite of what life is dealing out, regardless of the side effects or pain. A little laughter. Five years ago, when I was wheeled off to my mastectomy, my husband made me laugh just when I needed it. We clearly need a cure and to stop those from dying. That is a fact but through this all we need to find a moment in 2018 and laugh. Even if it is just a moment, those are what I call ‘cancer free’ times. When we can laugh and let go for just a brief time. Forget the scars, the appointments, the neuropathy… and just laugh. Here is to some laughter in 2018, because we all need a little of that in our life.” 5. Joanne E., Ovarian Cancer “I managed to complete my 2017 resolution, which was to finish chemo, but it came at a cost. My resolution for 2018 is to get a handle on the kidney issues I’ve developed. I learned this year that my life will never be ‘normal’ after everything that’s happened. And I realized this year there’s not much out there for the world to see what life is like post-chemo. That it’s not like life goes back to what it was before my diagnosis. I’m always tired, I wear out quickly, my kidneys are struggling, I’m in constant pain and I live with the feeling always that the cancer is hiding somewhere deep inside, limiting my time. So, in 2018, I intend to share my story and help others see there is no ‘normal’ after diagnosis, and more needs to be done to help survivors. Also, more research funding needs to be given to prevent others from going through this. It’s time to give back and figure out why I got this second chance, while still trying to get my health back under control.” 6. Jean C., Breast Cancer “I was diagnosed in March 2017 with breast cancer, a month after a visit to my GP on my birthday (happy birthday to me). In April, I had a lumpectomy and biopsy of the lymph nodes. In May, I had an axillary clearance. Roll onto July, and I had radiotherapy. An oncotype test revealed no chemo was needed only radiotherapy and tamoxifen for 10 years. My gut instinct from the start told me it was cancer, but I wasn’t phased by it. I knew I would kick its ass! The way I looked at was I had, and have, too many things to do before I hang up my dancing shoes. I didn’t go to any support groups. I have been very lucky in having close friends to support me, plus I had wonderful friends who had gone through worse than I who advised, helped and guided me. At each doctor’s visit I am reminded I am still in recovery even though I am doing well. I now have lymphedema. I wear a compression sleeve. It doesn’t bother me when people ask questions. It allows me to share something of my story; to empower others to make that appointment or just check themselves. Other health issues were a problem for me during this time: I have PMR, arthritis and asthma. Pain management was an issue but I found mindfulness worked. Going forward, my resolution forever more is to start crossing things off my bucket list. It started in October of this year with a holiday to Las Vegas (booked last year, and, until July, I didn’t think I was going) and a trip to the Grand Canyon. Next year, New York is on this list, but Cyprus is now more appealing. I am committing myself to celebrating my birthday every year doing something for me that does not involve a GP or mammogram while # kickingcancersass # feelingoptimistic # beingpositive.” 7. Pamela H., Breast Cancer “I need to get a better approach to dealing with the ‘What if it comes back?’ questions that sneak into my mind. I’m thinking of finding someone to talk to about this. It’s time to take care of me now that the cancer is gone.” 8. Nicole Y., Ovarian Cancer “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May. My goal for next year is to find support from others who have been in similar situations, and to work on my fears. And I want to accomplish my goals of moving on with life, getting a job, finding a relationship and just moving on.” 9. Anupriya G., Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia “I have spent a lot of time obsessing over ‘Why me?,’ ‘Why did he leave?’ and Why am I in this position?’. I moved to a new city for a new start and it has been a fantastic experience. However, I am learning how to be alone again and how to love again — especially myself. I still have side effects and chronic pain from the chemo, but I’m using my new start in life to help myself battle those residual effects while enjoying my new lease on life. I would like to stop asking questions I might never have answers to. In 2018, I would like to focus on helping other cancer patients get through their difficult time and focus on my work as a family doctor. I have a great professional opportunity, which is why I moved to this city in the first place. I have a lot to offer my patients, especially after my experience, and instead of perseverating on personal questions and focusing only on myself, I would like to give back and show all those who supported me through my illness just how far I’ve come!” 10. Tina M., Gestational Trophoblastic Disease “Was just discharged as an ‘oncology patient’ after being in remission for one-and-a-half years after having GTD. My goal this year is to try and get pregnant!” 11. Mamie J., Ovarian Cancer “My New Year’s resolution is to live each day to its fullest. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer this past year on my 60th birthday, I put on my brave face and went to battle with rounds of chemo, surgery, a full hysterectomy and more chemo. In the beginning of my battle I was strong, but toward the end of chemo treatments my body was so weak. I had to make a choice to stop chemo — for a better quality of life — because from the chemo I got neuropathy. Well, I beat cancer and I am in remission, but every day I wake up to pain and fall asleep with pain. I was lucky to have no more cancer, but the payback for that was neuropathy. So my battle continues, and it’s a battle of mind, body and soul. I choose to live life at its fullest.” 12. Bob M., Follicular Lymphoma “As a patient, I want to keep learning about my cancer. There’s so much information online. I want to take the time to find out more about what I read — what might actually help me, what is just wishful thinking, or even what is a straight up lie. I want to be able to have an informed conversation with my doctor so I have some control over my treatment and my life. As an advocate, I want to do what I can for other patients: providing information, emotional support, or just listening. There are so many places online where lymphoma patients gather with one another. I don’t want to just be the one asking questions or looking for support. I want to be the one giving, too.” Lost a Loved One to Cancer 13. Shannon L., Bladder Cancer “As I remember my mom, who succumbed to bladder cancer in 2012, my resolution for 2018 is to always trust that there is good to come. I’m now pregnant with my mom’s first grandchild, and living a really beautiful, happy life. So through any hardships I face in 2018, I want to be resolute about keeping my heart open to a hopeful future even while facing difficulties in the present.” 14. Clarissa B., Ovarian Cancer “From someone who lost two loved ones to cancer, I have three resolutions: 1. My priority is to make an effort to eat healthy, 2. Make sure to visit our family doctor regularly and 3. Read studies and research about the disease.” 15. Trish B., Lung Cancer “As the cancer editor at The Mighty, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about losing my father to stage 4 lung cancer in August 2016. It’s not easy editing and writing stories every day about a disease that took away my loved one, but I find comfort knowing there’s a community of people here who connect and help each other heal. My resolution is to continue to heal, and to do this by focusing more on the positive memories of my father, rather than the sad last days of his life. I think if I can do this, I will be that much stronger and better prepared to tell my now 2-year-old daughter in the future about the grandfather she barely knew.” 16. Katie C., Brain Cancer (Childhood Cancer) “I resolve in 2018 to try to live more in the current moment without allowing the magnitude of my loss to overshadow the present time I have with my other two children.” 17. John P.,  Proximal-Type Ep ithelioid Sarcoma, (Better Not Bitter Widower on Facebook) “I was so consumed by fear that we didn’t enjoy the moments. Granted, she was battling terminal cancer, so there weren’t a ton of moments to enjoy, but still. We didn’t enjoy the few that came along. The fear had such a devastating impact on my soul that I let it ruin the good times we could have had. I’ve learned so much on this journey — as a husband, a stepfather and a widower. As we approach 2018, I want to enjoy the moments. I’m determined to enjoy the moments.” Do you have a resolution for the new year? Share it in the comments below.

Trish Broome

Mel Gunnell Shares Photos of ‘Scab’ on Nose That Was Skin Cancer

Editor’s note: This post contains graphic post-operative photos. Mel Gunnell is a self-described “food loving, chocolate-obsessed mom” from southwest Idaho whose blog of homegrown recipes, Mel’s Kitchen Café, attracts millions of readers each month. However, there’s one post that isn’t about food recipes, tips or tutorials — it’s about her personal experience with skin cancer. Before we can even get to that cancer story, we have to go back even further to the 39-year-old’s first experience with the disease. It happened when she was pregnant with her fourth child. At a routine 12-week OBGYN visit, her doctor found a lump in her neck. “Insistent it was nothing major, I had an ultrasound that led to 14 needle biopsies,” she told The Mighty, “and the news: it was unconfirmed but could be thyroid cancer.” At just 17 weeks pregnant, Gunnell had a full thyroidectomy to remove some lymph nodes. That’s when the doctor confirmed she had two types of thyroid cancer: papillary and follicular. Papillary thyroid cancer accounts for 85 percent of all thyroid cancers, and follicular thyroid cancer for 15 percent. Both are more common in females by a 3 to 1 ratio. Gunnell underwent radiation for thyroid cancer and spent the next few years seeing several doctors (mainly because her family moved across the country). Every move meant she had to reestablish new care for managing her thyroid dosage and post-cancer treatment. Fast forward to 2016, when Gunnell shared her non-food-related blog post, “ What Happened to My Face .” After successfully establishing a loyal fan base over 10 years and realizing she could use her popularity to teach people in other ways, she decided (very nervously) to share the story of her second cancer experience. It began in the fall of 2015. After going to a dermatologist’s office to get a spot on her back checked and confirming it was not melanoma, she was hugely relieved. While she was there she asked the doctor about another spot on her body. “I asked the doctor about a tiny spot on my nose that had been there for a couple months and seemed like a scab that wouldn’t heal,” she says. “I actually felt a little silly for asking about it but figured it wouldn’t hurt since I was already there.” You can see the spot below faintly in the photo below: Her doctor was 99 percent sure it was basal cell carcinoma , the most common form of skin cancer that has more than four million cases of it diagnosed in the U.S. each year. After getting a biopsy a week later, the results confirmed it was. Gunnell wasn’t worried because it was such a small spot, and she figured she’d be out of surgery quickly. That wasn’t exactly the case. In December she was scheduled for Mohs surgery , a microscopic surgery done in stages where doctors remove, examine and reconstruct the cancerous area. During surgery, the spot decided to be problematic, and it took several cuts, removals and examinations of Gunnell’s nose to finally find clear margins. “What I was left with was a decent sized (and quite deep) hole in the side of my nose,” she says. Thanks to good meds and great doctors she didn’t feel any pain. But once she was shown the hole with a mirror and a black marker was drawn along it to show where they would need to cut to pull skin down to cover it up, she panicked a little. Or, more like a lot. She adds, “An hour later and I was the new owner of 20+ stitches front and center on my face, with more underneath the ski and lots of iodine to enhance my natural coloring.” Before she left, the doctor gave her the note below. You can probably guess if she, being a food preparer, cooker and blogger, followed its instructions. The note reads “no dishes or cooking for two weeks.” Gunnell cried the entire drive back home. (In hindsight, she now realizes she probably shouldn’t have driven herself to and from the appointment.) She kept her bandage on for several days, and the pain was unbearable, but she finally took it off. “I was still in a lot of pain; it was so tender to the touch, and the bruising and swelling were just getting started,” she says. “Plus, even though I know it could have been worse, I was struggling a bit with the emotional pain of wondering if my face would ever look ‘normal’ again.” The holiday season that year just wasn’t the same, and Gunnell remained self-conscious about her scar. She couldn’t leave her house for several weeks because of it, and even her 8-year-old son couldn’t look her in the face because it gave his “tummy the jigglies” —  something she can’t blame him for saying. She also put her food blog on a hiatus for several months to focus on healing. But the same can-do attitude that got her past her first brush with cancer finally found its way back. She started going out and embracing her “Who needs makeup, anyways?” look. She begrudgingly accepted the post-swelling and slight imperfections that came with recovery (like how her left eye slightly pulled back, making it difficult for her glasses to rest on her nose). And she healed. In the end, Gunnell is grateful for this skin cancer experience. “I never ever ever would have made an appointment for a ‘silly’ spot on my nose, but being able to ask the doctor about it at the first appointment was divine intervention,” she says. “Who knows what would have happened had the cancer had even more time to spread?” She’s also thankful she felt compelled to share her experience with readers on her blog, despite being fairly private about her personal life. It was both humbling and overwhelming to read so many personal accounts from readers who were inspired to see a dermatologist about a spot they had noticed and disregarded. “Over 75 readers have let me know that,” she says. “In some cases, it ended up being noncancerous, some had precancerous spots, and many others had basal cell diagnoses just like I did. And several ended up getting MOHS surgery, as well. While it makes me sad that others have to go through this, I’ve wondered, ‘What if I had never shared?’ and ‘What if these men and women had waited longer to see a doctor?’” Today, Gunnell is skin cancer-free and currently has no issues with thyroid cancer other than taking daily medication and seeing an endocrinologist a couple of times each year. She’s happy to have shared her experience to inspire others and raise awareness for skin cancer. Most importantly, she’s thankful for the life lessons she’s learned for her family, which includes her husband and five children. She’s thankful because she wants more than anything to stick around and have meaningful relationships with her kids. She wants to keep playing board games with them and going to their music and sports activities. She wants to finish raising them and see them raise their own children. What’s the biggest life lesson she’s learned? Wear sunscreen. If that means being the only mom on the lake or boat wearing a large-brimmed hat, carrying an umbrella and lathering on sunscreen head to toe while wearing a long-sleeve swimsuit and skirt, then she’s willing to do it. She says it’s a small price to pay to have healthy skin and be around for her family. “Get rid of the thought ‘it won’t ever happen to me,’” she says, “and start taking the simple, practical steps every day for skin cancer prevention.” For more stories like this, like Cancer on The Mighty on Facebook. Do you have a skin cancer story to tell? Share it with us here. All photos courtesy of Mel Gunnell