Melanoma diagnosis at 18 inspires Sioux City woman - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Melanoma diagnosis at 18 inspires Sioux City woman to help others cope

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Some have overcome great adversity to get where they are today. Imagine that challenge being cancer and getting the diagnosis when you're still a teenager.

A Sioux City woman who's been in those shoes was inspired to help others with the fight.

Sara Locke often answers the phone at Wrenn's Plumbing, her family's Sioux City business. But sometimes the person on the other line needs a different kind of help.

"I've been there, so I can listen to them. I can be a sound board," she said.

Sara sometimes gets calls from people with cancer. They know it's a disease she's familiar with. Doctors diagnosed Sara with stage four melanoma when she was 17.

"It was the size of a pencil eraser and the same color as my skin," said Locke.

She discovered the skin abnormality in the middle of her back while picking out her dress for her senior prom.

"Because I was 17 and a little vain, I bugged my family doctor, Dr. Rhodes, and he was kind enough to shave it off and send it in for testing. And they came back and said it was not cancer at this time. But, there were some abnormal cells. And so within a few weeks it grew back."

The next doctor visit though came with a shock.

"When my parents were explaining it to me they were telling me what it was and I didn't understand what melanoma was. I just didn't have a clue it was a cancer," she said.

Sara spent her 18th birthday in surgery.

"And I went in, in the morning and the first thing I ever signed for was that surgery."

Doctors removed a patch of skin twelve inches long and three inches wide from the middle of her back. They also took dozens of lymph nodes under her arm. Her scars still remain.

"17 staples and all these stitches. And I thought, I was marred. I mean just tears."

Sara admits even then she still didn't comprehend the seriousness of the situation.

"Until that first day at the cancer center, when I was with other cancer patients, then I really understood how sick I was."

She underwent daily treatments for a month, followed by a year of injections. Hair loss and fatigue set in, all the while she was defiant against the disease attacking her body and those who cared for her most.

"I was a rebel before I was diagnosed, but once I was diagnosed there was no stopping me because tomorrow didn't matter. I wasn't living for tomorrow because they already told me I might not have it," said Locke. "In reality, I was alone. I was lost. I was hurt. I was scared. I didn't know if there was a future so I didn't plan for it."

At age 19, only a few months after finishing treatments, Sara found herself pregnant. That created a whole new set of realities and fears.

"I'm pretty sure if you look on that package it says do not get pregnant," she said about the drugs she was taking to fight the cancer. "Are they going to be sick, because of the drugs in my body. How long are they going to be here?"

Her son Brady is now ten and healthy. And so are her two daughters ages five and two. These days this married mom considers her cancer a blessing. It's connected her with people who are coping with the very same questions she struggled with.

Sara said, "To be someone they can turn to that's not scared of them and that's not scared of what's coming or what might have been. And, who can understand the fear they have, helps me and it helps them."

It's also taught her to treasure each moment, because life can change in an instant.

When it's my time to go, whether it's cancer or a car accident or old age, I just want to leave this earth a better place and I want to leave a better place for my family.

Sara is working on a degree in psychology with the hopes of one day counseling cancer patients and their families. She's been cancer free for 11 years, but still gets skin checks every year. She also brings her kids to the dermatologist twice a year for skin checks as well.

Here are some facts about skin cancer:

Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 15 to 29 and often shows up in the legs.

The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Roughly 90% of those skin cancers occur on the face.

The best way to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays is by using sunblock with an SPF of at least 30.

If you want more information about skin cancer click here.

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