She has a message for those who still like to tan
After a devastating cancer diagnosis, a mom is speaking out and sharing her journey through updates on Facebook. Her photos don’t sugarcoat the process of her treatment, and it’s their shocking nature that she hopes will help others be more cautious.
When 39-year-old Austin mom of two Bethany Greenway first noticed a skin change above her eyebrow she chalked it up to hormones, as she was pregnant with her second child at the time. She tells TODAY that as she’s already quite freckled, she didn’t think much of the spot at first. “I had what I thought was a liver spot start growing on my forehead,” she explains. “It looked no different than a giant freckle.”
As it turned out, Greenway had the deadliest form of skin cancer that resulted in a three-year battle where she lost flesh and muscle from her face.
To chronicle her treatment, Greenway started keeping a “melanoma photo diary” on Facebook that included frequent photo updates on the condition of her face.
Along with the photos, Greenway also shares honest worries about the future. “I’m fearful. I desperately want this to go away and be done, but I’m afraid the road ahead will be long and challenging. That the possibility of me having a third child is now gone. It makes me sad,” she writes.
She says the purpose of the photo updates is twofold — to help her work through the experience of going from a healthy, young mom to a cancer survivor, and to let her healing process serve as a warning to others who like to bake in the sun.
“It makes me ill [to watch other people tan],” she tells TODAY. “Please stop frying your skin.”
Greenway’s cancer journey began in late 2014 when she noticed the odd liver spot above her eyebrow had also grown a mole — and was starting to ache. Knowing her mother had melanoma in her 30s as well, Greenway decided to have the area checked by a dermatologist, who initially thought it was nothing.
A biopsy found that the liver spot area was melanoma and the mole was desmoplastic melanoma, which dermatologist Dr. Julie Karen tells TODAY is a rare form of the disease that presents like a white or flesh-toned lesion.
This is an important point, as Dr. Karen says a spot doesn’t need to be dark to be melanoma, which is a common misconception. “Any spot that is changing — enlarging, not healing, changing colors, whether darkening or otherwise, becoming crusty, scabby, with altered borders — is suspicious and warrants immediate attention,” she cautions.
After two surgeries last summer and removal of a lymph node near her ear that had melanoma cells, Greenway then had a skin graft to repair the area damaged by the procedures. Hence, the temporary presence of what she called “Sponge Bob’s a–hole,” a yellow compression sponge meant to protect the graft area while her face accepted the new skin.
To stop any remaining melanoma cells from spreading, Greenway underwent immunotherapy infusions and radiation to the head and neck area, a procedure that caused burning in her mouth and altered how her food tasted. The entire ordeal has obviously been no walk in the park, but her motivation for getting better is her family. “For me, it’s worth it to go through this year of suffering for another 50 or 60 years of watching my children grow up and being present for my kids and my husband.”
The skin graft was successful and Greenway is now mostly healed. She uses makeup to conceal the area and is sure to deploy hats and plenty of sunscreen when going outdoors. She says, “the giant asshole in the sky won’t be touching my face again.”
Her message to others doesn’t mince words. She pleads, “Please stop sun bathing and going to tanning salons. A tan isn’t a healthy glow — it’s damaged skin.”
It’s a message plenty of us moms can stand to hear, as I can’t count how many times I’ve slathered my kids in sunscreen while neglecting myself. We need to be just as cautious with our health as we are with our kids, and Greenway’s words are a sobering reminder of that fact.