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Danielle Dahm: Melanoma Survivor

Danielle Dahm: Melanoma Survivor

I was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma (caused by tanning beds), on March 1 of 2000. But my journey really began in the mid 80’s when I was just 16. At the time, I had no clue I had turned down the road to Melanoma. I am half Chicano, and I rarely burn, but like many Washingtonians, my skin was paler in the winter.

If you only knew the price I paid for that “healthy glow”. There are comments in my yearbook about how tan I was. I’m half-Mexican and tanned easily. Why not speed up the process…so naïve. Please share my journey. Maybe it will save a life.

I began my quest to obtain that “healthy glow”—it was 1980 something. It soon became an addiction that I would satisfy in the tanning beds with the “newest bulbs”. I began purchasing unlimited packages and would go for 20-30 minutes a day, sometimes daily. This addiction lasted into my late 20’s when becoming pregnant with my third child temporarily stopped me from tanning.

During my last trimester, I showed a spot on the back of my left thigh to my family practice doctor (I found out later he was colorblind). He told me some growths are normal during pregnancy and he’d biopsy it six weeks after I gave birth if it was still there. Six weeks after giving birth to a beautiful red-headed boy, I went to my biopsy appointment, only to be told by my doctor that it didn’t need to be removed. He said to “just keep an eye on it.” So, I listened to him, after all, he had years of medical training behind him.

About a year later, we had already moved to Germany and I began to notice the growth would bleed and not heal. I had a “Health Wise” handbook and decided to look it up. Everything pointed to skin cancer. I took a deep breath and showed it to my husband. He read it and said, “don’t be silly.” The next morning, he woke up and told me “either you call the hospital or I will.” So, I called and made an appointment. During the biopsy, I can remember my doc saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I went home not giving it another thought.

While I was waiting for results, the Air Force sent my husband from Germany to Texas for training. I remember the day I got the dreaded phone call, it still feels like yesterday, though it was 13 years ago. The voice on the phone said, “we have your results. You need to come in today. Do you have anyone that can come with you?” A neighbor drove me to the clinic. March 1, 2000, I heard these words, “you have cancer, and its bad. You need to fly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. as soon as possible.” My children were just 7, 5 and 1. I had to call my husband in Texas, through fearful tears, and give him the horrible news. He was back in Germany within 12-hours. I left within a couple days. I breast fed my baby boy for the last time, right before I boarded the plane to the states, alone.

Thank God, my mom was able to fly from Washington state to D.C. to be my support. That month, in which I turned 30, I went through two major surgeries, one involving a muscle transfer in my right thigh. I was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma and given a 60% chance of surviving 5-years. In June of 2000, I began a year-long treatment of high dose Interferon. A month of daily IV therapy and then what was supposed to be 11-months of self-injection shots 3x a week. However, by March of 2001, I was down to 86 lbs. the severe flu-like symptoms had wreaked havoc on my body. I had every side effect and then some. My treatment was stopped 3-months early. That “healthy glow” I craved, had put me on this path of hell.

I urge all of you to love the skin you’re in. A journey such as mine is not worth the price of a tan. I didn’t think I’d see my kids grow up. Today, I feel blessed and know I am one of the lucky ones. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, and it’s preventable. Over 9,000 people in the U.S. will die of melanoma skin cancer this year. You have a chance to save yourself or a loved one by sharing my story and spreading skin cancer awareness. If I can save one life by my journey with Melanoma, then it will not have been in vain.

Please share my story! It’s not just skin cancer.