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
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
Biopsy Three Weeks Before Her
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Reflecting on Years of Intense Sun
“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.
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,”
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.”
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology