Melanoma Diagnosis: Stepping Stone for Miss Maryland
“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
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
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.
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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