SkinCancerNet Article
Melanoma Diagnosis: Stepping Stone for Miss Maryland

Patient Profile
“Things happen for a reason,” says Brittany Lietz, who wears the scars from her melanoma surgeries as confidently as her Miss Maryland 2006 crown. “Being diagnosed with melanoma,” she says, “had hidden benefits.”

Melanoma gave Brittany’s life new direction and purpose. In the course of her treatments, she has had the opportunity to speak with many nurses and observe them in action. These first-hand experiences prompted Brittany to change her major from pre-med to nursing. Today, Brittany attends the University of Maryland School of Nursing and firmly believes she will be a compassionate and capable nurse because of her personal encounter with skin cancer.

Having melanoma also led Brittany to fine-tune her platform for the Miss Maryland pageant. Switching from cancer awareness to skin cancer awareness and prevention allowed a deep-seated passion to shine through during competition.

This passion continues to shine through. Being crowned Miss Maryland 2006 has given Brittany an opportunity to reach a large number of people. “Skin cancer is a preventable disease,” she tells folks as she crisscrosses her home state. To convey this message, Brittany staffs booths at health fairs and speaks to students at high schools. She talks about her use of tanning beds and shows people her numerous scars to add emphasis. She explains what a pain it is to cover up all the scars before competition. Her efforts to raise awareness of skin cancer are making a difference.

Brittany’s Message Changes People
Teens walk up to Brittany after listening to her speak and say that they will never set foot in a tanning salon again. At health fairs, people tell her that they now realize the importance of regular skin cancer screenings and will get them. Brittany’s message also had quite an effect on the women with whom she competed for the title of Miss Maryland 2006. After listening to her story, not one of the contestants used a tanning bed to get ready for the Miss Maryland contest. Like Brittany, they relied on self-tanning sprays. She hopes to have the same effect on her fellow contestants in the Miss America 2007 pageant.

Trading Tanning Beds for Sunscreen
Brittany speaks to as many people as possible because she wants to prevent others from getting skin cancer. During a telephone interview with the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), Brittany said, “My parents encouraged sunscreen use. I used it while growing up, but when I turned 17, I wanted to be tan. I started using tanning beds. Before long, I was at the tanning salon four times a week. I never felt dark enough.”

Her mom did not support Brittany’s tanning-bed use and repeatedly advised her to stop. Brittany confesses, “Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I had listened to my mom. Instead, I continued to use tanning beds up to the week before my first appointment with a dermatologist.”

It took a diagnosis of stage II melanoma to convince Brittany to trade tanning beds for sunscreen. Today, Brittany encourages everyone to stop tanning and apply sunscreen daily. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I have,” Brittany explains.

During her first surgery, Brittany had a melanoma the size of a nickel and a large margin of normal-looking skin removed from her back. To find out if the cancer had spread, the surgeon also removed seven lymph nodes. “I was frightened and in a lot of pain, receiving treatment for something that I could have prevented,” says Brittany. The surgery left a scar several inches long.

Since then Brittany has had more than 20 suspicious lesions removed. Today, she encourages everyone, including people who have been diagnosed with skin cancer, to slather on the sunscreen.

If You’ve Been Diagnosed with Skin Cancer
As a melanoma survivor, Brittany feels a special connection to others who have been diagnosed with skin cancer. When asked during her interview with the Academy, what she — as a nursing student and melanoma patient — wants others diagnosed with skin cancer to know, she said, “People diagnosed with skin cancer must take an active role in their own care and treatment.” She advises everyone diagnosed with skin cancer to:

  • Seek the care of a dermatologist. “If you are not seeing a dermatologist, ask for a referral. This is first and foremost,” says Brittany. “I had two physicals between the summer of 2004 when my mom first noticed the odd-looking mole and April 2005 when I was diagnosed by a dermatologist. Primary care physicians often do not receive the training needed to recognize skin cancer.”
     
  • Keep all appointments with your dermatologist. Brittany explains, “This really can save your life. Skin cancer comes in so many shapes and sizes. While rare, there are non-pigmented lesions, red melanomas, and skin cancers that resemble scars. Dermatologists have the expertise to recognize these less obvious skin cancers.”
     
  • Stop tanning and using tanning beds. If you worship the sun or use tanning beds, stop. “So many people believe that a tan is healthy. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Brittany.
     
  • Wear sunscreen every day. When Brittany speaks to people, she tells them, “Protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen every day. I do now.”
     
  • Don’t blame yourself. “Cancer is so common today,” Brittany says. “Like me, you can be very healthy and develop skin cancer.”
     
  • Influence someone. “You don’t have to stand up in front of a group of people to influence someone,” says Brittany. “Talk with your family, friends, and neighbors. Explain what happened and encourage them to protect their skin from the sun and not to use tanning beds.”
     
  • Educate your primary care physician. Brittany tells people, “If your primary care physician was not the one who diagnosed your skin cancer, be sure to let this doctor know. Your primary care physician may have noticed the mole or spot, but not have been concerned because of your age or the appearance of the lesion.”

You also may want to follow Brittany’s example and look for a hidden benefit. Down as you may feel, finding a hidden benefit may lead to a positive outlook and self-confidence as it did for Brittany.


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

While her diagnosis of stage II melanoma at age 20 came as a shock, Brittany found hidden benefits.


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Page last updated 10/6/06

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