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#GetNaked: It Saved My Life.

Guest blog post by Karolina Jasko, a melanoma survivor, Miss Illinois USA 2018 and dedicated advocate for melanoma prevention and embracing a confident self-image.

Being an 18-year-old girl in high school is something that’s incredibly overwhelming. There is always a lot of pressure: pressure to get good grades, pressure to fit in and pressure to be perfect. So when I found out that I was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 18, and would have surgery and be left with scars, my whole world turned upside down.

When I was in high school, one of my favorite activities was going to the nail salon. There was something about having gel acrylic nails that made me feel really good about myself, like many women. During one of those trips, I was getting a fresh set, and as an acrylic got removed from my right thumb, my nail technician asked me “What happened?”. I looked down and saw a straight vertical line on my right thumbnail. I looked up at him, shrugged, and said “I have no idea.” We both then decided it must be a bruise. I must have closed a door on my hand, or dropped something on my finger. Long story short, we didn’t think anything of it. A couple of days after getting my fresh set, I noticed my thumbnail was red and swollen. I went back to the salon later that day to get the acrylic nail taken off, assuming I received some sort of infection from the nail salon. As soon as my nail technician removed the nail, we saw the black vertical line we both did not think much about once again. They assured me there was no way the salon could have given me an infection and recommended I go see a doctor.

The following day, my mother and I went to my primary care doctor and were given a referral to see a dermatologist that same day. My doctor tried to calm our nerves as he told us that this vertical line is often a sign of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. This was a big deal due to the fact that my mother had melanoma twice before. As soon as I was told that was the case, I automatically told myself I had to be strong and brave. I couldn’t show my family, especially my mother, the pain and confusion I was feeling because she was struggling with this enough for the both of us. The last thing she wanted was for her illness to be given to me or my brother.

When we saw the dermatologist a couple of hours after my primary care physician, he took one look and sent a photo to a surgeon from the dermatology department at the affiliating hospital. Within minutes, the surgeon notified me that I needed to drive over immediately for a biopsy. Once I arrived, I was immediately seen by the surgeon along with about 6-8 residents trying to learn what was happening with my finger. Everyone was surprised with the location of the melanoma, along with my age.

Everything was moving so quickly and the amount of people in the room was overwhelming. I could see my mom fighting back tears and pacing back and forth. I reminded myself to stay calm and that everything would be alright. I received the biopsy result a few days later and was notified that I needed surgery to get rid of the melanoma. The surgeon told me that I was lucky the infection occurred and it was a sign from God that it did, because it caused me to be treated before the melanoma was able to worsen or spread. That was when I learned about the life-saving importance of melanoma early detection and how important it is to be aware of any changes on your body. He also told me I need to stop getting my nails done because the UV rays were what could have caused the melanoma to come out so early on and in that area. The UV rays did not cause the melanoma, due to the genetic factor, however it definitely did not help.

I had surgery a week or two after the biopsy and it was terrifying. Going into the surgery they did not know how deep they would have to go and if they would even be able to save my finger. Thankfully, they did. The melanoma was successfully removed along with my whole nail matrix. I was told my fingernail would never grow back and I would have to attend numerous physical therapy sessions and deal with scars on my thumb and my groin due to a skin graft that had to be taken.

I had two more surgeries on my right thumb due to my nail growing back and they had to go in deeper each time. I’ve gone through the process of physical therapy and my thumb healing three times at the age of 18 and 19. And as thankful as I am for my melanoma being treated so early on, and knowing it could have been a lot worse, I was still a girl in high school and I struggled with confidence issues. I constantly had the fear that people were looking at me differently, and that my scars were very visible. Even after my thumb healed, I still wore a band-aid for months trying to hide the fact that I did not have a nail. I was afraid to wear a bikini due to the fact that I had a big scar on my groin.

Since then, I faced my confidence issues by competing for and winning the title of Miss Illinois USA 2018. Throughout this experience, I was able to use my voice to speak on behalf of melanoma patients, girls with insecurities about not being perfect, and those with scars. I was able to walk the Miss USA stage with the scar on my groin, my thumb, and even a big scar on my chest that I received from a later biopsy. I realized that I have no reason to look down on myself and think that I am not beautiful. I also realized that when it comes to my health, it pays to be proactive and I am committed to regular skin checks and a yearly visit to my dermatologist.

I am melanoma free, and not a day goes by where I don’t appreciate that.

Karolina is a melanoma survivor because she caught it in time, and she wants more people to share a similar outcome. Make a commitment to your own health by pledging to #GetNaked once a month for a self-check and scheduling a yearly full body exam by your dermatologist. Make a commitment to the patients, survivors and caregivers of the melanoma community with a tax-deductible gift to support melanoma research, education and awareness: