These awe-inspiring stories remind us all how easy it can be to stop the deadly disease before it’s too late. How? Just by looking out for one another.
‘My co-workers saw something on my neck’
Shannon Doan-Duff, 42, Putney, Ky.
Tammy Houck, 54, Ewing, Va.
Joyce Young, 63, Tazewell, Tenn.
Shannon: I’m Irish and have tons of freckles, so it’s hard for me or even my husband to notice new ones. But this past January, a mole on my neck caught the eye of two of my co-workers, Tammy and Joyce. We were at Joyce’s desk because she keeps a stash of Dove chocolate in her drawer. Just as Joyce doled out our ritual afternoon candy fix, I turned my head in such a way that Tammy spotted the mole.
Tammy: I’d never seen a mole like this—a slanted, pointy, rectangle shape. I knew Joyce had had skin cancer in the past, so I asked her to take a look.
Joyce: Eight years ago I had an itchy red patch on my arm that turned out to be cancer. I had it removed and haven’t had any recurrences. Shannon’s spot was different—light brown with darker areas—but it definitely looked like something she should get checked out.
Shannon: At first I tried to dismiss it, but Joyce and Tammy refused to accept that. I could tell how concerned they were by the looks on their faces—looks I’d never seen in 11 years of knowing them. So I left Joyce’s desk and called my doctor to make an appointment. I got the shock of my life when I was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer. While further tests would need to be done to know how advanced it was, doctors warned me that the average survival rate for stage 4 (the most advanced stage, when cancer has spread to other parts of the body) was only four to nine months!
Joyce: The next time I saw Shannon, she was waiting to find out which stage of melanoma she had. I had never seen her so scared. I told her, “We’re in this together. We’ll face whatever comes our way and get through this.”
Shannon: Thanks to my friends’ insistence that I take that funny freckle seriously, my melanoma was diagnosed early, at stage 1a. After a wide excision two weeks later, doctors said there was no evidence of melanoma—the tumor was gone. I was in my oncologist’s office when I got the news. My co-workers were the first people I called to share my relief.
Tammy: That day, over the phone, Shannon told me tearfully, “I owe you the biggest thank-you of my life.” That meant a lot to me, but in all honesty I feel like what I did was no big deal. I just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time to notice.
Joyce: Shannon’s always taking care of everyone but herself. That’s why we need friends: to take care of one another.
Shannon: The three of us celebrated with lunch at our regular Italian restaurant near our office, where we split a piece of “peanut butter explosion” cheesecake. Thanks to Tammy and Joyce, I will be able to see my daughter graduate from college in three years. They have given me the most valuable gift of all: time. I also learned the importance of knowing your family’s health history. It turns out my uncle and great-grandfather had melanoma, but no one ever told me! Now my daughter gets skin checks regularly, so Joyce and Tammy saved not just my life but potentially hers, too.