“I would have died and left my four kids behind. I would have never spotted him,” Kelly Avery said. News weekcrediting her friend with saving her life not once but twice.
When Avery, 43, noticed a bump on the back of her arm in early 2018, she asked Gary Blanchfield, with whom she worked at a nursing home, to take a look. After taking a look, he was more concerned about the small brown mark next to the bump and urged Avery to have it checked immediately.
The caution in her friend and colleague’s voice was striking, so Avery knew it must be serious. She began to worry that it might be melanoma.
The mother of four from Tampa, Florida, said News week that she was “nervous and a little scared because it’s one of those silent cancers.”
“I got so many sunburns when I was younger, which predisposes you to melanoma,” she said.
Because the small, painless mark was hidden on the back of Avery’s arm, she said she would never have seen it herself. Without Blanchfield’s intervention, the outcome could have been very different.
“It was brown and about the size of a pea. It was raised and the edges weren’t even, so it was a little choppy around the edges. Gary told me to get it looked at because It looked like melanoma, but I didn’t even know it was there,” Avery said.
“I went to my appointment and the nurse practitioner looked at the spot and told me she was going to biopsy it. I had to go back two weeks later to have it removed because they didn’t “They didn’t want to wait any longer. The doctor said he had grown in those two weeks and he told me that if I had left it for a few months I probably would have been in a very bad situation.”
Following the biopsy, Avery was diagnosed with melanoma in August 2018, the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most typical sign of skin cancer is a noticeable change in the skin, which may be a growth, sore, or the appearance of a new mole.
For melanoma, the area will have an irregular border and uneven color tone and may change over a period of weeks or months.
An increase in melanoma cases in recent years has led the American Cancer Society to estimate that approximately 97,610 new cases will be diagnosed in 2023, resulting in 7,990 deaths. Although the average age to receive a diagnosis is 65, melanoma can occur at any age and is common in young women.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of melanoma or detect it early. Dr. Jonathan Leventhal, director of the onco-dermatology program at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, said UV exposure is the main risk of skin cancer and the importance of sun protection is not should therefore not be underestimated.
“UV exposure is the greatest environmental risk factor, so prevention involves avoiding UV skin damage,” Leventhal said. News week. “Avoid tanning beds, protect skin outdoors by seeking shade, wear protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or higher, and reapply frequently.
“Other risk factors are genetic and include a large number of moles and fair skin, which predisposes to sunburn, as well as a family history of skin cancer. Anyone with these risk factors and especially Personal history of skin cancer or atypical moles should consult a dermatologist. “Early detection of skin cancer can save a life,” he said.
If people are concerned, Dr. Leventhal advises them to think of it as “the ugly duckling sign” when looking for moles or lesions. If they stand out from other moles or marks, he implores people to see a dermatologist if they have concerns.
“I shaved my whole head so they could look for more.”
Shortly after his diagnosis, Avery had to remove four square inches of skin from his arm, but the fear of developing more cancer cells only intensified afterward.
When a comprehensive skin exam revealed seven more areas with abnormal cells, she became concerned about new marks or changes in her body.
“I was nervous and afraid there would be others they didn’t see, so I shaved my whole head so they could look for other melanomas on my scalp. J I was very nervous that there was something up there and that they could do it. “I didn’t see it, which was extreme,” Avery said.
“The diagnosis made me paranoid, and it still is. I always look at the different freckles I have all the time and want to get them looked at. I’m going to get them looked at every six months now and I always point the finger at the little ones. It shows because I’m so paranoid about it.”
Blanchfield may have saved Avery’s life in 2018, but that wasn’t the end of his heroic efforts. Several months later, while showing her the scar from the melanoma surgery, he noticed another small mark, this time on the wound.
“I showed him the melanoma scar he found and told him the doctor said it saved my life. He looked at it and said, that’s a beautiful scar, but you need to get it checked and he showed me a scar. “It was a spot on the scar. So, I ended up going back to the doctor and it was melanoma, which means Gary saved me twice. “
Sadly, Blanchfield passed away in 2020. Avery fondly remembers him as the reason she is still here today, as she might never have had the mark checked on her skin otherwise. While Avery has biannual skin checks to make sure there are no other developments, her children are also examined because people with a family history are at greater risk.
“Looking back, knowing that he actually saved my life makes me very sad. I would never have known it, and no one else would have seen it either because it was exactly where usually found my shirt,” Avery said. News week.
“Melanoma has a genetic link, so my children also have skin checks every year. When my son was 8, during his first check-up, they found an abnormal mole on his wrist and they had to remove it .Then they did a second scraping, going deeper because otherwise it would have turned into melanoma.
“He was only 8 years old. That’s so young. It shows that you need to be vigilant and wear sunscreen.”
“A good way to honor Gary’s memory”
In August 2023, Avery decided to share her story on TikTok, under the username @shrinkingwhilegrowing. Alongside the series of images showing how a small mark led to a huge surgical scar, Avery said Blanchfield “will always be (his) hero.”
The video touched many hearts online and went viral, generating over 438,000 views and 5,000 likes.
“I didn’t expect this reaction to my post on TikTok, it really took off,” she said. “It was a very positive reaction and there were people who were happy that I had it checked because a member of their family had died of melanoma.
“A lot of people were saying they had places they were going to get checked now too, so it was a good way to honor Gary’s memory.”
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