Advocating for Myself

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As a stage 3A melanoma skin cancer survivor, I’ve learned valuable lessons about self-advocacy during my journey. Looking back, there are two critical points that underscore the importance of advocating for your own health.

Childhood Trauma and Fear of Doctors

My relationship with doctors and hospitals began early. Losing my father to multiple sclerosis (MS) when I was just 12 years old left a lasting impact. Hospitals, once places of hope, became triggers for anxiety. Consequently, I avoided checkups and family doctors out of fear. My young mind concluded that doctors couldn’t save people, so why bother?

Ignoring Warning Signs

In my early 20s, I started seeing a dermatologist annually for skin checks. Biopsies were routine, but I remained blissfully unaware of what skin cancer truly looked like. Then came 2019—a year marked by a global pandemic. During this time, I noticed a mole on my shin growing in diameter. Dismissing it as insignificant, I skipped my skin check in 2020.

By 2021, the mole had expanded to the size of a penny and became dry and flaky. It was melanoma. My dermatologist diagnosed me at 27 years old and referred me to an oncologist. The recommended treatment was Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug. However, my journey took a painful turn.

The Painful Reality of Immunotherapy

After about 10 Keytruda treatments, I began experiencing sharp stomach pains every morning, followed by uncontrollable diarrhea. Desperate for answers, I turned to my oncologist. Her response? Pepcid, Gas-X, and Pepto. She insisted it wasn’t related to immunotherapy. As a healthy person with no prior health issues, I hesitated to trust her.

For six months, I endured debilitating symptoms. I couldn’t leave home for fear of accidents. My weight dropped to a mere 106 pounds. My oncologist remained dismissive, denying any link to Keytruda. Frustrated, I finally sought a second opinion from a gastroenterologist. The diagnosis: colitis.

A Wake-Up Call and a New Beginning

But the worst was yet to come. After completing Keytruda, I was hospitalized for pancreatitis. Looking back, I realized that advocating for myself earlier could have prevented much of this suffering. I wish I’d asked for a second opinion sooner or sought a new oncologist. After my pancreas attack, I immediately called my trusted surgical oncologist. He referred me to a new oncologist and I promptly scheduled an appointment for their earliest availability. It took courage, but I eventually found a better healthcare provider.

My advice to anyone facing health challenges: don’t wait. If something feels off, if your doctors aren’t listening, or if they dismiss your symptoms; take action. Starting over isn’t failure—it’s an opportunity for a safer, happier beginning. Your progress isn’t lost; it’s a chance to prioritize your quality of life and well-being.

Remember, you’re your own best advocate. Trust your instincts and seek the care you deserve.

By: Brittanny Groover