More than skin deep: Beating skin cancer

Author: , Anchor / Reporter, @Melanie_Falcon, MFalcon@wfmz.com
Published: Feb 27 2013 08:43:00 PM EST   Updated On: Mar 01 2013 06:19:55 AM EST

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. Statistics show that melanoma accounts for less than five percent of skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

Sam and Heather had it all: They'd been dating for a while, he was a Muhlenberg Township Police officer, she was a Berks County detective, and they had just celebrated his 30th birthday.

Two days after Heather threw him a surprise party, Sam got a call.

"They didn't beat around the bush, they came out and said you have melanoma," he said.

He had been to the doctor just days before for a routine visit when he had them take a look at a mole on his back. After the phone call, there was no time to process his diagnosis. He explained, "The next day I had all sorts of pre-op stuff I needed to do."

Doctors found that the melanoma had spread to a lymph node in his armpit, and Sam had to have surgery on both that and his back. He said, "After he [the doctor] did the incision on my back, they went in and made another incision in my armpit and pulled out that lymph node where the melanoma was."

Sam is one of the lucky ones. One in 10 people who get melanoma die from it. "It's the walking dead. You could have something and you don't even know," Sam warned.

Sam said many people who knew him were surprised he had melanoma so young, but statistics show it's actually the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29.

Doctors say to do what Sam did and keep an eye on your skin.

Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala, chief of hematology and oncology for St. Luke's University Health Network, said, "If there is a changing lesion or mole on your skin, definitely go get that looked at by a professional."

Dr. Agarwala said prevention is ideal, mainly not getting sun burnt, especially if you have the five risk factors: fair skin, light-eyes, light hair, lots of moles, and family history.

"I was 5 for 5," said Sam.

Now, he's on a mission to make sure others get checked. His now-wife, Heather Calabria, said, "After all this happened to him, I said 'maybe I should go get checked out too.'"

Sure thing, she had skin cancer too. Sam explained, "She actually had something taken off between her toes. It came back borderline but they went in and took more out and it was completely fine after that."

Sam now gets checkups every three months and the two are happily married.