Local woman shares cancer battle for Melanoma Awareness Month

By: Brittany Bedi
May 8, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Summer is around the corner. It’s a time where people will head to the pool or the beach. May is Melanoma Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 87,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with the disease this year.

Kristie Teal works for the American Cancer Society in Tallahassee. She’s a community manager and organized the Relay For Life event in Gadsden County. In 2016, she had a dermatologist examine a suspicious mole on her back.

“To hear him actually say it's melanoma- it's cancer- was a complete shock," said Teal.

The American Cancer Society reports that melanoma cases may rise among Floridians.

They estimate more than 7,600 people in Florida will be diagnosed in 2017.

For Teal, the first steps were to remove the mole. She went through radiation treatment on her back.

She had her lymph nodes removed under her right arm as a precaution. The cancer didn’t appear to spread to the lymph nodes. Later that year, during a mammogram, doctors discovered more melanoma.

"The PET scan after the mammogram showed that it was also in my lungs and my liver,” said Teal. “So, talk about scary, being told you have melanoma. Now being told you have stage four melanoma that's in multiple organs was terrifying."

Teal is regarded as a rare case. She went through more radiation, and is currently going through additional immunotherapy treatments.

As of her last scan, there are no signs of melanoma. Teal is still undergoing treatment to make sure all of the cancer is gone.

She credits medical staff for her health, but also said her husband and two children were her biggest supporters and caretakers.

"A positive attitude only helps your body heal," said Teal.

Local dermatologists say that melanoma cases are rising in part, due to more awareness, but also due to sun exposure. Some people are genetically at-risk for melanoma, regardless of skin color.

Dr. Kaisa Van Der Kooi is a dermatologist at Dermatology Associates of Tallahassee. She says that melanoma and other skin cancers can be prevented in most people.

"The most important prevention method we have is avoiding UV radiation, and in particular, tanning beds," said Dr. Van Der Kooi.

Regular skin exams are another line of defense, since early detection yields higher survival rates. Survival rates could reach up to 97% after 10 years.

Dermatologists look for what they call the “A, B, C, D, E’s” of melanoma.

‘A’ is for asymmetry. Normal moles will be symmetrical.
‘B’ is for border irregularity.
‘C’ is for color. Some melanoma will be brown, like a normal mole. If you have a mole that has red, white, or blue in it, get it checked out by a dermatologist.
‘D’ is for diameter. If a mole is 6 mm or wider in diameter, go to a dermatologist.
‘E’ is for evolving. If a mole is changing in shape or size, that is another warning sign.

Dermatologists recommend yearly skin checks for most people. Something as simple as a skin check can save a life.