Debbie Bradford

After my mom passed away from melanoma in 2007, I mentioned to my dad that we should go to a dermatologist to get a skin check, as I had never been to one before. He had been to a dermatologist years before that, but at that time, melanoma was not on our minds. So we went in the Spring of 2008. Everything turned out fine, with his appointment and with mine until the dermatologist noticed a suspicious “beauty mark”/freckle on my instep. It had been there for years and I didn’t think anything of it. I had put sunscreen on it for the past several years, but not before that, as sunscreen wasn’t as stressed to be used as it is now. The freckle was very small, but it had spread out a bit and changed color slightly, but still, I didn’t think anything of it. However, my dermatologist did think something of it, thankfully, and did a biopsy. The result came back as melanoma, the beginning of Stage 2. Obviously, I was very upset because my mom has passed away from melanoma just a few months prior and I was still dealing with that, as we were very close. After I looked at the situation less emotionally, I was very grateful that the doctor noticed it.

So the dermatologist referred me to a surgeon at Rhode Island Hospital who was great — I felt so comfortable with him. The tests I had before the surgery to see if the melanoma had spread all came out negative, so I was very relieved, but still very scared to have the surgery, as I hadn’t had surgery since I was 6 years old to have my tonsils taken out! The surgeon told me that he’d have to do some grafting though because of where the freckle was on my foot — the instep. If he didn’t do the grafting, he said that I’d have trouble walking. So, of course, I agreed to the grafting.

He took the skin from my thigh and put it on my instep. He needed enough to cover a larger area than the small beauty mark which was removed. There were 22 stitches on my thigh from the grafting. The outpatient surgery went totally fine and I went home the same day with a walking boot that I had to wear for several weeks to make sure the grafting adhered to the area where the melanoma was. I even slept with the boot, as I was afraid to take it off! I wanted everything to heal properly. A visiting nurse came to my house once a week for a few weeks to change the dressing, etc. I would also see the surgeon and his assistant every few weeks and everything always looked fine when they examined the area where he did the surgery.

I had to have another pathology test a few weeks after the surgery to make sure the melanoma was gone and the results were negative. I was so grateful that everything worked out so well. When the doctor told me that I didn’t have to see him anymore and just see my dermatologist twice a year, I asked him what else I should do. He said, “Just live your life — you can’t worry. Just wear sunscreen, avoid the sun during peak hours, and see your dermatologist.” Sound advice, for sure!

Because of my mom’s melanoma, my own melanoma was caught early on. If she had not had melanoma or if my dad and I had not gone to a dermatologist, who knows if I would be writing this!

After that whole experience, I started googling around the internet to see where my dad and I could “do something” to help others. We didn’t want to have a golf tournament or walk, but wanted to bring awareness to melanoma in some way. I was so lucky to find the Melanoma Foundation of New England (as it was then called) and immediately called Amy Mason, telling her of our interest. My dad and I went to their offices in Concord, MA where we also met Deb Girard. And, as they say, the rest is history!

My mom was always involved in so many things and I’m the same way, so working with IMPACT Melanoma on events was no problem. It just came naturally to me. Since 2008, my dad and I have organized fundraisers and awareness events in Rhode Island, including 9 years of Martinis for Melanoma, with our 10th year coming up in 2021. I have volunteered at events that I did not organize as well, such as the nurses’ conference and the nails conference. I have also given presentations to an elementary school in Rhode Island and a senior center in Massachusetts. In addition, I have volunteered at many of IMPACT’s signature events, such as Shades of Hope and the golf tournaments. I teach at a university in Massachusetts and brought Your Skin is In to the students there as well.

I love being involved with all of these events, as I know that I’m helping people and they appreciate it so much as well. As we say, awareness is key. If you are aware of something, you can do something about it. I always want to be involved with IMPACT, as nothing can be closer to my heart than preventing melanoma.