Skin Cancer Personal Stories: Robyn

Real People with Real Stories

Robyn Miller is a 34-year-old mother who was diagnosed with an extremely rare type of melanoma when she was 31. As a one time avid user of tanning beds, she now wants to warn others of the potential dangers of ultra violet light. Robyn's six-year-old son has heart disease and has already undergone three open heart surgery operations in his short life.

"My story begins November 16, 2001 . I have had a lump in the center of my back for a number of years - if I were to guess, at least five. Each time I was at the doctor for whatever reason, I would have them check it out just to make sure it was nothing to worry about. Each time I was told not to worry, it was most likely a lypoma (fatty deposit).

By the summer of 2001 I noticed that this lump had become much larger and somewhat painful. When sitting at work, it would bother me against my chair back, so I decided to have it removed. My doctor sent me to a plastic surgeon who removed it under sedation in December 2001 and I was called into his office about a week later with the results.

The pathology labs in the Lehigh Valley had difficulty identifying the specimen. It was sent to the Armed Forces Labratory in Washington who identified it as a Malignant Blue Cell Nevus (a rare form of cancer that they placed in the melanoma category). I consulted with a radiologist at that time to talk about radiation, however she suggested that a further wide excision was necessary and would be quicker than radiation.

I was an avid tanning bed user for years. I would usually stop from November until February but would tan the rest of the time. The radiologist said that the use of the tanning beds certainly played a large role in accelerating the size and condition of what may have just been a Lypoma.

In February 2002 my second surgery included a wide excision with skin grafting off my leg and a sentinal lymph node mapping that showed them to remove lymph nodes from under my arms. I am very happy to say that the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. This surgery was well tolerated, however there were still margins involved.

At this time I went to see an oncologist in my area who said he did not feel comfortable treating me because he had never seen this kind of cancer before. That evening I went home and researched all the main cancer hospitals in the US on the web. To make a long story short, I ended up choosing Slone Kettering Cancer Center in New York . I have been going there ever since March 2002.

Since March of 2002 until today, I have had five more surgeries due to the spread of this cancer (all on my back) They all form as a lump and are always deep when finally recognized on the surface. I am currently recovering from my last re-excision one week ago. I go to get stitches out next Thursday in NY. The Slone Kettering Cancer Center is wonderful but two hours away from me, so each visit is an exhausting one until I return home.

As of today, there is no other treatment available for melanoma other than finding problem areas and cutting them out. It isn't until they spread to major organs or lymph nodes, that there are more forms of aggressive treatment.

Looking back on my past and not knowing what my future holds with this cancer, I would have stayed out of the tanning beds and just walked around a little paler than everyone else. Now when I go to the shore, I need to be covered with sun lotion and under an umbrella. A sun burn in any area now is even more dangerous. I can't change what has already happened to me but perhaps I could change the minds of others that are considering using ultra violet light to make them look temporarily good."

- January 2005

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