SkinCancerNet Article
Winning Her Battle Against Stage III Melanoma

“If you are diagnosed with melanoma, seek treatment and follow your doctor’s advice. Don’t say, ‘It’s just skin cancer.’ Melanoma can spread rapidly and is a serious disease.”

Kimberly Dahlgren
6-year survivor of stage III melanoma

At the age of 28, Kimberly Dahlgren was diagnosed with stage III melanoma. She believes she is alive today because she took a proactive approach to treatment and follow-up care. She learned all she could about treatment options, complied with her doctors’ treatment recommendations, and continues to keep all appointments with her dermatologist. When she spots a new lesion, she is back in his office long before her next scheduled appointment.

Biopsy Three Weeks Before Her Wedding
In early April of 2000, melanoma was the last thing on Kimberly’s mind. She was enjoying life in Arizona. Busy with a full-time job, Kimberly was also preparing for her fast-approaching wedding set to take place at the end of the month in her home state of Florida. She was planning a honeymoon in Holland. That nagging itch on her back did not concern her. She had no idea that the itch was a symptom of melanoma.

That nagging itch did concern her fiancé. When he looked at her back, he saw an unusual looking mole. He urged her to see a doctor.

Three weeks before their wedding, Kimberly stepped into a doctor’s office. During that appointment, the doctor performed an excisional biopsy in order to remove the entire mole and a margin of normal-looking skin.

When the biopsy report came back, it read “malignant melanoma, Clark Level V.” This meant that melanoma had penetrated the subcutis, the deepest layers of the skin.

Determined to Lead a Normal Life
The couple was advised to call off their wedding so that Kimberly could begin treatment. They cancelled their honeymoon. Not getting married as planned was out the question.

Ten days after their wedding, Kimberly underwent her first surgery. The surgeon removed more skin from her back and 25 lymph nodes from under her arm.

Life after this surgery was to be anything but normal. Kimberly found that she was unable to fully use her arm. Even more disheartening, five of the removed lymph nodes contained melanoma.

To find out if the melanoma had spread beyond these lymph nodes another surgery was scheduled. This time the news was better. The surgeon did not find evidence that the melanoma had spread further. Kimberly was diagnosed with stage III melanoma and advised to begin immunotherapy.

Determined to win the battle against melanoma, Kimberly complied with her doctor’s recommendations. She learned how to give injections so that she could give herself shots of interferon and a medication used to help prevent infection during cancer therapy.

Hoping to regain full use of her arm, she also started physical therapy. “I really had to work at regaining my mobility,” Kimberly recalls. She believes her positive attitude and willingness to tough out the physical therapy allowed her to regain full use of her arm within three months.

Unexpected News
Slowly, a more normal life began to emerge. Kimberly learned she was pregnant. She and her husband were elated, but worried. Had the shots harmed the baby? Would she be able to carry a child to term? Kimberly immediately stopped giving herself the injections. 

On February 22, 2001, she gave birth to a healthy and happy boy. The Dahlgrens named their son Eirik. 

More Unexpected News
While Kimberly quit giving herself the shots after learning that she was pregnant, she continued seeing her doctor regularly for skin examinations and medical tests. She never missed a scheduled check-up.

Just before Eirik turned 2, Kimberly was having a routine CT scan. This time the unexpected news was not good. The scan showed a mass in her chest. Kimberly underwent another surgery. This time, the surgeon removed lymph nodes from her chest. 

As of April 2006, Kimberly has not needed another surgery. Having survived for six years, she remains optimistic about her future. Through her story, she works to raise awareness of skin cancer and to advocate for more funding for cancer research.

Reflecting on Years of Intense Sun Exposure
“I tell people I feel fortunate to be alive. Growing up in southwest Florida, I was always outside,” she says. She and her friends spent a lot of time at the beach. To get that enviable deep, dark tan, they would apply baby oil and iodine to all exposed skin. No one ever talked about sun protection. No one used sunscreen, and no one ever thought about skin cancer.

Raising Awareness
Today, Kimberly spends a lot of time thinking about skin cancer — and not just her own. She devotes time to raising awareness about skin cancer. She speaks out about the importance of sun protection and urges young people to get skin examinations. She participates in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events and can be seen carrying her son, Eirik, around the track. “He, too, is a survivor,” says Kimberly.

She told SkinCancerNet, “I want to tell people my story so they realize the importance of sun protection and regular skin exams.” Performed regularly, a skin exam can detect melanoma in the earliest stages when an excision is usually the only treatment required to cure the person. “If I can prevent just one person from going through what I did, it is worth it.”


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Kimberly Dahlgren and her son, Eirik, who was born after she was diagnosed with stage III melanoma

(Photo courtesy of Kimberly Dahlgren)   


 
 

 

 

 

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Page last updated 5/1/06

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