A woman, 29, who was diagnosed with skin cancer, thought she couldn’t get it
- A 29-year-old woman had a mole on her right shoulder, which turned out to be an aggressive cancer.
- Courtney Mangan said she didn’t think she could get skin cancer, partly because she could tan.
- The cancer, called melanoma, later spread to her intestines and thighs.
A 29-year-old woman who thought she couldn’t get cancer because she doesn’t have pretty features was “completely shocked” when doctors told her a mole on her right shoulder had become aggressive cancer, which would spread to her intestines and thighs years later.
Courtney Mangan from Australia told Insider that she knew about it melanoma — a rare form of skin cancer she was diagnosed with — from a young age. Her father first had it when he was 12, and her maternal uncle died of the disease, which often affects other parts of the body.
However, she didn’t think she was in danger, partly because she was a “redhead” with brown eyes – instead of green or blue eyes – and could turn black.
“I always thought my skin was a little different,” she said.
Although people with pale skin that burns easily and blonde hair are more likely to develop melanoma, the condition can affect anyone. Too much exposure to ultraviolet waves, whether from sunlight or sunbeds, is one of the “most important” causes of melanoma, British Association of Dermatologists of the state.
Mangan said her mole was where the sun hit her when she was driving her car.
“You wear sunscreen when you’re sunbathing on the beach or sitting around drinking a cocktail by the pool, but in all those casual moments, like driving a car or having a coffee, you don’t realize how harmful it is,” she said.
People with red hair are also at higher risk of developing melanoma, as are those whose family members have had the disease, like Mangan.
In the US this year, 99,780 new cases of melanoma have been reported, and about 7,650 people are expected to die from it. Data from the National Institutes of Health suggest. An estimated 17,756 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Australia in 2022. the Australian government.
A ‘rude awakening’ to how serious melanoma can be
In December 2017, Mangana’s best friend’s father, a family doctor, noticed a mole on her right shoulder and called her to see a specialist. Three days later, a specialist diagnosed her with melanoma, and within weeks she had surgery to remove the cancerous mole.
“I was a little naive about how dangerous melanoma is and how aggressive it can be,” said Mangan, now 36. “I think a lot of young people think you just cut the mole and you’re done, you’ll be safe and you’ll just get on with your life.
Two years later, Mangan discovered a pea-sized lump that she thought was a pimple under the skin of her right hand, which she showed to a doctor.
“He was so small I had to grab his finger and show him where he was,” she said. That doctor referred her to a melanoma specialist.
A PET scan revealed that the melanoma had spread to the lymph nodes in her arm. The specialist said he would surgically remove it within a few days and told Mangan that her chances of survival in the next five years were 18% if she just had the surgery.
“It was a rude awakening,” Mangan said.
The doctor said that she also needed treatment, called immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
“It’s still pretty new compared to other cancer treatments, so I was obviously, understandably, really scared,” she said, adding, “And I’m also hoping it will cure me.”
Mangan paused a potentially life-saving treatment to freeze her eggs
“It’s hard to think about your future when you’re not sure if you have one,” said Mangan, who was single at the time.
But recognizing its practicality, she has frozen six eggs that she can use when she is cancer-free for five years.
Mangan said she stopped breathing during one of her cancer treatments
Mangan started treatment at a local clinic, but 20 minutes after taking the immunotherapy drug, she felt dizzy and her heart started racing. Side effects got progressively worse with each session. During the fourth treatment, she stopped breathing.
Doctors told her they thought she was allergic to the treatment and would have to go to the hospital, not the clinic, every two weeks to get extra medication, such as steroids and antihistamines, to prevent a reaction.
“I would check in, for like eight hours, in a hospital room by myself,” she said of the sessions, which mostly took place during the COVID pandemic, when hospital rules meant she couldn’t have anyone with her. The drugs “knocked me out” in minutes, she said.
The cancer has spread to Mangano’s colon
Two months after that treatment ended, a routine PET scan found cancer in her colon, and Mangan underwent surgery to remove it. Three months later, it had spread to her thigh.
Doctors told her that the cancer was spreading quickly to other parts of her body.
In December 2021 — four years after her initial diagnosis — doctors offered her another immunotherapy treatment with serious side effects.
“The doctors even told me, we’ll be surprised if you get more than two doses before your body shuts down and you have to go to the hospital, inflammation or autoimmune diseases and a whole host of issues,” she said.
The cancer is ‘gone’, but Mangan is still receiving treatment
Mangan received all four doses of immunotherapy without any serious side effects and scans showed the cancer was “gone”.
He still takes immunotherapy once a month for an hour, and will do so for at least two years.
This makes her forgetful, her joints are painful, and she often gets ulcers and oral thrush in her mouth.
But the hardest part is the “mental side,” she said.
“I’m in that age group where people are getting married, buying houses, having kids. They’re in that era where you’re in your thirties and my box is just to stay alive,” she said.
Her mission in life is to share her story to raise awareness.
“At this point I have no control over what happens to my life because it’s in the hands of my doctor, but I could potentially save someone’s life if I’m very vocal and honest and authentic,” she said.
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