Caroline Pennington

Caroline Pennington, 17 years old when diagnosed with Melanoma

Melanoma was not part of my plan. As an athletic, healthy 17 year old headed to swim at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2021, I never could have imagined that when Covid hit my hometown in the spring of 2019 that my journey would also include that one of fighting Melanoma.

As a distance swimmer, I knew it was important to continue swimming and staying in the water, so when my grandparents who live in Texas asked my mom if we could come help them out, we jumped at the chance. When I look back upon this time, even through all of the tragedy from the ravages of Covid, the beauty of this time for me is that time literally stopped. My day consisted of getting up and logging on to go to school virtually, having lunch on the patio with my mom and grandmother, doing more schoolwork, and then heading later that afternoon to swim in a family friend’s pool that he graciously shared with me.

I was just settling into a routine when my grandmother noticed a dark mole on my left leg during one of our daily lunches and arranged for me to have a televisit with her dermatologist. The dermatologist told me I needed to come see him immediately and opened up his office so he could biopsy the mole. Two days later, my mom got the call. It was Melanoma in situ (Clark’s Level II) and I would have to come in immediately to have Mohr surgery to have it removed. I ended up having an incision about six inches long consisting of two layers of twenty-five stitches. They also had to biopsy two additional places the doctor was concerned about. Had it spread, I worried? At this time there were significant delays at the lab because of Covid and I have to say the week of waiting for the results was the longest week of my life.

After surgery not only was my calf really sore and I couldn’t walk without a lot of pain but I didn’t know if my next few years would be spent training for the Olympic Trials and swimming at the UVA or in the hospital at MD Anderson.” When the results finally came back negative and my lymphs were declared normal, my whole family breathed a sigh of relief.

If it wasn’t for Covid, I would have never been in Texas wearing shorts in April. I would have been in Connecticut going to school everyday in my leggings and it is very possible we would not have caught it in time. I think about that alot.

I know how lucky I am. I never thought that something like this could happen to me. I live in the Northeast and for the majority of the year spent the time inside out of the sun. I definitely sometimes wonder how this happened to me. My mom asked the other day if I wanted to have the scar on the back of my leg lasered to reduce its appearance, but the six inch scar on the back of my leg is a daily reminder of what I have been through that I don’t want it to go away.

I am joining IMPACT Melanoma’s Speaker’s Bureau and am becoming an IMPACT Melanoma Ambassador to get involved and spread the word among high school and college students. Wear sunscreen. And, the most important advice I would give-go to the dermatologist and get a body check every year. It can literally save your life.