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To Marilyn, it seemed like it all started with a small blister on her neck. She knew it was there, but like most people, didn’t really give it a lot of attention. At the time, she didn’t know much about skin cancer and she couldn’t even spell melanoma.
But it had actually started long before she found that blister. As a child, she had been a swimmer, diver, and lifeguard. She was an avid beach-goer and she even used tanning lamps to achieve her perfect tan.
“I was always in the sun, never using protection,” Marilyn said. “Being tan was - and still is - cool. It makes you look better.”
To get more sun, she would go to extremes. She’d put iodine in baby oil, use sun mirrors, and lay out during the most harmful hours of the day, between 10 and 4. Little did she know the damage she was causing to her skin.
Fast forward to October of 1999. Marilyn sees her dermatologist, Dr. Michael Bigby, about the blister on her neck. It turned out to be just a pre-cancerous basil cell. By catching it early, Dr. Bigby assured her she had no reason to be concerned.
Since she was at his office, she decided to go ahead and have him check out some moles on her back. Marilyn recounts, “My mother used to call them beauty marks, so I wasn’t particularly concerned.”
“In fact,” she continued, “Two general practitioners within the previous six months had told me the moles looked okay.”
Dr. Bigby informed Marilyn one of the moles should be biopsied. He did the biopsy and sent the samples to the lab for testing. Five days later, the doctor called Marilyn with the most shocking news of her life: She had malignant melanoma.
“I had no idea what that meant,” she said. “But believe me, I was scared. All I could think about was chemotherapy, losing my hair, and dying...I couldn’t have cancer!”
The following month, Marilyn had an operation to remove the mole and surrounding skin area, leaving a six-inch scar. Fortunately, her melanomas had not metastasized or spread into the lymph nodes and the surgery had been able to remove all the tissue surrounding the cancerous cells.
By surviving skin cancer, Marilyn felt the need to help others learn from her experience. In May 2002, she organized a “Skin Cancer Awareness” Day for employees of Delta Air Lines. Since then, her program has screened more than 1,200 people, leading to the discovery of two melanomas and a number of pre-cancerous spots. Because of these screenings, lives were saved. It was then she decided to dedicate her full efforts to the education and prevention of skin cancer.
To create public awareness of the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun and educate people about preventive safety measures to avoid or lessen the chances of developing melanoma
or one of the other preventable skin cancers.