Renee | Toronto, ON
“I’m 49 years old and I’ve been a teacher since what feels like the beginning of time, but I’ve been a freckly and spotty person for even longer. Ever since I was a teenager, doctors have always been checking my skin, like I was a scientific specimen.
It got to the point where I just wanted to forget about it. I had so many spots that it felt impossible to watch them all. It was my husband, many years later, who actually noticed the change in a spot on my back. We sent a photo in to the doctor’s office and I got a call the very next day from the doctor himself. He said, without even seeing it in person or doing a biopsy, he was 99 percent sure he was looking at melanoma. Within a week I found myself meeting with a plastic surgeon.
It was almost an out-of-body experience hearing her describe not only how much of my back she was going to have to remove, but also the skin grafts and lymph node biopsies that would follow. I was in a lot of pain and discomfort after the surgery, just feeling useless, but figuring at least the worst was over. And then they discovered cancer cells in my lymph nodes and my diagnosis changed to stage III melanoma. My whole life, I had thought of skin cancer as something that you just cut out and that was that. But here I was getting CT scans of my entire body.
“My whole life, I had thought of skin cancer as something that you just cut out and that was that.”
It was very hard for me to begin thinking of myself as a cancer patient. I’d always led a very healthy and active lifestyle — running, cycling, lifting weights. The gym was my community. And in the end, it was the gym community that helped me get through my treatment. And, later, it was the gym community that stepped up and took part in fundraisers like the Seven Summits Snowshoe Challenge with me.
Today, I’m recovered and my scans look good, but I’m very aware that things could change at any time. So, from here on out, I’m making sure that I experience everything fully. I’ve taken up triathlons. I’m signing up for all these crazy races. All those things I was planning to do one day when I had the time or the money, I’m doing them now.”