This is Natasha Nicole Brinkerhoff. She is a beautiful, vibrant teenager. She attended high school in a small town and is a pretty big deal. She was a cheerleader in high school and competed in the county scholarship pagaent as well. She is a joy to be around and lights every room she walks in with her great and loving personality. She is a good girl and her it radiates. In October 2009 her mom found a mole on her head that looked abnormal. They casually went to a dermatologist where they biopsed the mole and found out in a couple weeks that it was cancerous.
My, then, 17 year old sister-in-law was diagnosed with Melanoma skin cancer. At that time, she was in stage II. They caught it at the perfect time. One year ago today she went in for surgery. I had just started dating her brother and my first weekend there someone made a comment about it, but I didn’t understand how blessed she was. I thought…okay…skin cancer, you get it removed and it’s okay, right? I did not even realize my ignorance, even being in public health and taking all the health classes that I have. I researched it and learned about it in more and more classes. Skin cancer kills a surprisingly large number of people in the United States each year. How? If the cancer on the skin reaches the lymph nodes it then spread through the blood in the body. Tasha was curious and took her health into her own hands. She was proactive. She went and got the curious mole checked. She didn’t think she was able to get skin cancer when she was 17.
Below is a picture of the affected area after her surgery, I’m sorry, this picture is graphic.
She underwent surgery where they had to shave a large portion of her long brown hair from behind her left ear. She was a trooper. She dealt with the healing process well. The staples itched. Her head hurt. It sometimes would get bumped. She wore beanies and other cute hats at school and during cheerleading. She ignored any stares if anyone caught a glance of the then gruesome wound. She didn’t care. She knew what she had overcome and new the stares just didn’t matter. She was highly admired by her school staff, coaches, and fellow students. Newspaper articles were written, she was called onto stage by her high school principle. It was all touching.
Below is the staging scale for skin cancer. She was in stage II, which states that it appears to just be on the skin, but they weren’t sure if it had spread to the lymph nodes yet. That is why they cut out skin so far around the mole and down her neck. They used iodide testing to see if the cancer had spread. It had drained down her neck, so they though that skin was cancerous as well. Luckily it wasn’t, but precautions were taken, still.
Stage 0: The melanoma is in situ, meaning that it involves the epidermis but has not spread to the dermis. This is also called Clark level I.
Stage I: Based on the Breslow measurement, the melanoma is a low-risk tumour (less than 1½ mm or about 1/16 inch in thickness). Using the Clark system, this can be level II or III. It appears to be localized in the skin, and has not been found in lymph nodes or distant organs.
Stage II: The melanoma has a Breslow thickness of greater than 1½ mm (about 1/16 inch). It still appears to be localized to the skin and has not been found in lymph nodes or distant organs.
Stage III: The melanoma has spread to lymph nodes near the affected skin area.
Stage IV: The melanoma has spread beyond the original area of skin and the nearby lymph nodes to other organs such as the lung, liver, or brain, or to distant areas of the skin or lymph nodes.
I got that Staging Scale HERE.
Still, ignorant comments were made by strangers. One time at a basketball game a girl from the opposing team’s cheer squad made a comment, “Wow, you think their school would be more uniformed and wouldn’t allow some of their cheerleaders to wear hats.”
We celebrate Tasha’s recovery and her beating cancer. Her scars have healed nicely, though the skin area is still numb and her hair isn’t growing on the scarred tissue. She is still vibrant, still beautiful, still happy, still outgoing, still as radiant as ever. She is cheering now as an 18 year old college freshman. She does not dwell on her cancer but she is an awesome health advocate and is strongly against tanning beds. We need to all follow Tasha’s example. We need to spread awareness from our experiences. We need to be proactive about our health. If something isn’t right, catch it before it is magnified and affects your quality of life. What can you contribute to the health scene?