The one word everyone fears when they visit the doctors or look up their symptoms under WebMD: cancer.
So many people know someone who has cancer or has had cancer. Andrew DeLuke knows the feeling of being that person with cancer, and being diagnosed is a different experience altogether.
At the young age of 18, DeLuke, a junior Athletic Training major at Keene State College, received the news that he had melanoma before entering his freshman year at KSC. According to cancer.org, “Melanoma is a cancer that starts in a certain type of skin cell.” It is also the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers found in people who are under 30-years-old, although according to cancer.org it is most commonly found in older adults and men are more likely to have it.
DeLuke was told by his doctor that if he had not gone tanning in high school, he would never have melanoma in the first place. DeLuke said in high school, he would go tanning about three to four times a week, because everyone at the time was doing it. He said he now realizes time he spent in the tanning booth could have killed him. During his summers in Connecticut, DeLuke also worked as a lifeguard, adding more time in the sun. DeLuke found out he had melanoma one night when his father returned home from work. “I was just about to leave the house with my friends and my dad had just gotten home from work and he was like, ‘Can I come talk to you in your room?’ And I was like, ‘I’m going, I’m going, can this wait until later?’ And he was like, ‘No, I’ve got to talk to you now.”
“He [DeLuke’s father] was like, ‘Your biopsy came back of that mole you had removed…and they found melanoma.’” DeLuke could not believe that he had skin cancer and immediately thought his father was joking. DeLuke said, “It was definitely really shocking and I didn’t really say anything for a while.”
DeLuke continued to go out with his friends after receiving the news, but another reaction came from him later that night, he said. “I was in so much shock that I didn’t just have a reaction right away. Then I remember coming home way later that night and just crying for a really long time being like, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” He said, “It was definitely a huge shock because I just had the mentality that people do, that it could never happen to me.” DeLuke said his family feared for him but tried not to show it for his own sake. “My family was shocked, but I think they were trying not to act upset or nervous about it because they wanted to be strong for me,” he said. DeLuke said support like this helps with such heavy news.
After the news of the cancer settled with DeLuke, the process of getting rid of the cancer had begun. He said, “I had to go back to the doctors and they wanted to plan out what kind of surgery they were going to do…They decided to go into where it was on my leg and remove a bunch more tissue that was around the surrounding area.”
DeLuke learned that the melanoma was at the most minute stage, but his experience during the surgery was one he will always remember. “It was weird, because I wasn’t asleep for the surgery but they numbed it so I was there kind of seeing it, and it didn’t really hurt. But, afterwards, my leg hurt for a really long time.” DeLuke said after his surgery, the recovery process was long and he had to keep the area on his leg covered for three weeks. “I couldn’t walk or anything for two days, I didn’t want to mess with the stitches or anything because they went in really far, it was at the muscle almost.” He added, “I could take a shower. That was about it. I couldn’t go in the water at work or anything.”
During the weeks of recovery to help ease the pain, DeLuke watched a lot of Netflix and relied on his friends to lift his spirits by coming over to hang out or taking him on drives.
He added that a lot of his friends were still shocked about his situation. “I think a lot of my friends couldn’t believe it was happening, because we are like, seventeen or eighteen [years old], this doesn’t happen to people your age…A lot of them cried too because they thought I would die.”
He added that his mother was very delicate with him during recovery and would often make his favorite meal during his recovery, mac ‘n cheese.
Good news came after weeks of recovery for DeLuke. While returning to the doctors office, he learned the melanoma was gone, and he was cancer-free. The tissue surrounding where the melanoma was found was all clear. His reaction to the news was good but he was still weary. He is “Definitely relieved, but still like it’s always in the back of my mind.”
DeLuke is now 20-years-old and his experience with cancer has changed the way he lives his life. “I take more precautions in my life, I think..I’m a huge advocate of sunscreening and not being in the sun too long,” he said.
DeLuke is not alone when it comes to suffering from melanoma at the hands of a tanning bed, as “The numbers are striking—hundreds of thousands of cancers each year are attributed to tanning beds,’’ senior study author Dr. Eleni Linos, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California—San Francisco, said in a written statement, according to a CBS news story. In the state of New Hampshire, no person under age 18 is allowed to use a tanning bed without parent or guardian permission. Any person under age 14 is not permitted to use a tanning bed unless given permission from a physician.
According to Dr. James Nickerson, an Oncologist at the Cheshire Medical Center, Kingsbury Pavilion, most young people don’t look down the road concerning their health. DeLuke considers himself lucky he said, “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it still left a pretty nasty scar and was a pretty serious experience for me at eighteen [years old].” DeLuke now has to visit his dermatologist every two months for a full body check. The visits have become routine for him and he always hopes for the best. Throughout the entire experience and all the tears and pain ,DeLuke said, “It never crossed my mind throughout the entire thing that it would be fatal.”
Morgan Markley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org