In recent months, it seems like there have been countless close calls with people and melanoma. This was the case for 39-year-old Texan mother Bethany Greenway, too, but the call was a bit too close. What started out as a simple liver spot was different from the usual dark one that doctors most often warn people about. As a mom of two beautiful girls and daughter who watched her own mother battle melanoma, this was something both familiar yet frightening.
Bethany Greenway’s Battle with Melanoma
Back in 2014 was the first time Bethany noticed a liver spot above her left eye. But it was not until she was pregnant with her second daughter that she spotted a difference. A mole had started to grow in the center and occasionally it would ache.
“I had what I thought was a liver spot start growing on my forehead,” said Bethany in an interview with TODAY. “It looked no different than a giant freckle.”
She blamed pregnancy hormones for the spot, seeing already has many freckles. Little did she know, the spot would end up turning into a three-year battle with the deadliest form of skin cancer. But Bethany made the best decision she could have and visited her dermatologist for a skin check.
Under the assumption that the liver spot was benign, a sobering biopsy eventually revealed the spot itself was melanoma and the mole in the middle was even worse. Desmoplastic melanoma, a rare form of the cancer that looks like a flesh or white-colored lesion.
The Next Steps Bethany Took Were Life-Saving
Not wasting any time, Bethany chose to have the cancerous spot removed and last August, she went through two surgeries. Doctors got rid of the skin and underlying muscle around it, which was close to the bone and explains the aching sensation she felt. Her lymph node near the left ear was removed as well after they found melanoma cells present.
The two surgeries left Bethany with a gaping gash on her forehead which was covered with a skin graft that doctors took from her thigh. For her body to more quickly accept the new patch of skin, they also sewed a growth-like yellow compression onto her forehead.
Bethany’s Journey to Recovery
During the healing process, to reduce the risk of other possible melanoma cells spreading, Bethany went through immunotherapy infusions and radiation on her neck and head. Although these treatments burned the inside of her mouth and made food taste like poison, she endured it for her 2 and 5-year-old daughters.
“For me, it’s worth it to go through this year of suffering for another fifty or sixty years of watching my children grow up and being present for my kids and my husband.”
About one year after her surgeries, Bethany’s skin graft has healed well. While a scar is visible, she uses false eyebrows and make-up to camouflage them, as well as hats and sunscreen to ensure the sun “won’t be touching [her] face again.”
Now, She’s Raising Awareness About Melanoma
She chronicles her experience on Facebook with a “Melanoma photo diary.” It’s chock full of detailed photos from her surgeries and healing process, all of which have continue to help her process the reality that she’s now a cancer survivor and how that shapes her life.
It isn’t clear whether tanning was the cause of Bethany’s melanoma but, she said, “It makes me ill [to watch other people tan.] Please stop frying your skin… Please stop sun bathing and going to tanning salons. A tan isn’t a healthy glow – it’s damaged skin.”
Tips for Melanoma Prevention
Bethany’s case is “an extremely important point. Dark is by no means requisite to a diagnosis of melanoma,” according to Dr. Julie Karen, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “Any spot that is changing – enlarging, not healing, changing colors, whether darkening or otherwise, becoming crusty, scabby, with altered borders – is suspicious and warrants immediate attention.”
Desmoplastic melanoma only appears in less than 4 percent of melanoma cases. Because of this, doctors can often misdiagnose it which should give you even more reason to be on the lookout for any spots that may change.