- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - May marks skin cancer awareness and prevention month.

Although not the only type of skin cancer, melanoma is the most aggressive type that can travel to other organs in the body.

According to the At Melanoma Foundation (AIM), melanoma is the least common, but most deadly skin cancer, accounting for about 1 percent of all cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer death.

In 2016, it is estimated that there will be 76,380 new cases of melanoma in the United States and 10,130 deaths from the disease.

Melanoma survivor, Holly Rinehart, encourages people to keep up with preventative screenings, but more importantly, she encourages everyone to know their own body.

Due to cancer experiences within her family, Rinehart has always been very aware of preventative screenings.

“My father was diagnosed with colon cancer my senior year of high school. He battled it off and on for 20 years before passing away from the disease,” she said. “My mother is a survivor of breast cancer. So I have always been one to do all my wellness checks, blood work, and preventive screenings - including skin checks with my dermatologist.”

Every year, Rinehart would complete a skin check with her doctor, and every year everything always looked good, until 2012.

“It was the summer of 2012 that I happened to notice this mole on the top part of my thigh. For some reason it stood out to me. (It) looked a little darker than the other moles,” she said. “Of course, I do have fair skin and light-colored eyes. At first, I didn’t worry about it. (I) just thought since I was so pale that was why I noticed it.”

As time went on she thought that the mole on the top of her thigh began to change.

“… Like it is spreading, not a lot, but getting a little bigger,” Rinehart said. “I wasn’t overly concerned about it. It wasn’t as large as a pencil eraser, but I did start to monitor it. I knew my annual skin check was in January 2013 and I would just point it out to the doctor then.”

When the new year rolled around, she went to visit her dermatologist.

“She completed my skin check and said everything looked fine,” Rinehart said. “I then pointed out the mole that had been concerning me, and said ‘Even this one?’ She looked at it and said ‘Yes.’”

However, something just would not let her agree with the doctor and leave.

“I think back now and wonder if it was my dad - always my protector when alive and now my guardian angel,” Rinehart said.

After questioning the mole the second time, her doctor got the magnifying equipment out and again said it looked fine.

Rinehart replied with the changes she saw. “It has gotten bigger. (It) seems to be growing, spreading out,” she said.

The doctor then asked if she would just feel better if she shaved it off.

So it was removed.

“We scheduled a follow up appointment just to do a quick check to make sure it was healing fine,” Rinehart said. “I left the office relieved that it was off of my body, but not really worried because the doctor did not appear to be concerned.”

Two weeks later she went in for her follow-up appointment.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘Holly, you had every right to be concerned about that mole, I was not, but you were and you have saved your own life. You are diagnosed Stage 1 malignant melanoma. You have cancer,’” Rinehart said.

She was stunned, and she had to schedule an appointment with a surgeon to have it removed.

“I remember driving home that day repeating the word cancer over and over in my head,” Rinehart said. “I knew very intimately what that word meant. I had seen it up close with those that I loved the most.”

After hearing the news, Rinehart’s family doctor called to share that he was a melanoma survivor, and to stop by his office to prepare her for what to expect.

“Feb. 14, 2013, I had surgery to remove the melanoma,” Rinehart said. “I was very lucky, or I believe very, very blessed.”

Luckily, the melanoma had not spread to her lymph nodes and she would not require chemotherapy of further treatment.

“I left the hospital with 15-20 stitches and a good part my upper thigh removed,” Rinehart said.

Her husband, Rick Rinehart, said she always remained positive, and after her surgery, she joked with her friends that her stitches and scar were from a shark bite and she had survived.

“A good friend who owns a T-shirt shop even made me a shirt that said ‘I survived the shark bite’ on the front and ‘Melanoma Survivor’ on the back,” Rinehart said.

Throughout Rinehart’s experience with skin cancer, she was grateful for her friends and family who stood by her every step of the way, adding that they were very important.

“Of course they provided emotional support as well as taking me there and bringing me back and forth,” Rinehart said. “Of course following through will all of my appointments since I have been diagnosed with melanoma, and now a survivor of it, I would go back for the first year every three months for check-ups, and now I go back every four months.”

Rinehart hopes sharing her story helps others.

“The fact is most people don’t think skin cancer is anything to worry about, just shave it off,” she said. “Melanoma is called the ‘Beast.’ It’s silent and it can be deadly. It can spread to lymph nodes and organs if not caught in the first stages.”

She has learned a lot about melanoma.

“I am vigilant with myself, my family and my friends,” Rinehart said. “I tell anyone who will listen (to)?go get a skin check, wear sunscreen and stay away from tanning beds.”

She also wants to tell those experiencing skin cancer to never give up.

“I was a lucky one because I was only Stage 1, but the biggest thing is prevention,” Rinehart said. “I was one that never really want to the tanning beds, but my senior year I went maybe ten times for prom and that was it, but they said that could also factor in.”

Rinehart wants to do more to get information out about melanoma.

“Did you know your chance of melanoma increases by 75 percent if you have been in a tanning bed before the age of 35,” she said. “Check your own skin (and) know the signs.”

If a mole is not asymmetrical, has an irregular border, has varied color, is large in diameter, that appears to be evolving, or one that bleeds, itches or painful, Rinehart says go get it check out.

“Know your body,” she said. “You just might save your own life. I did.”

Coming from the other side of the situation, Rick Rinehart said the best thing that can be done to help someone with skin cancer is listen.

“Just always encourage them and try to go seek the best medical advice you can and just listen,” he said. “Listen to what they tell you, always keep a strong faith through prayers and hope for the best.”

___

Information from: Times West Virginian, https://www.timeswv.com

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