Caitlin Govero was first diagnosed with melanoma at just 25 years old, something initially she didn’t take too seriously. “I thought they would cut it off and I would be just fine. I was ignorant.” This marked the beginning of her journey with melanoma, one that is unique but all too similar to the over 900,000 melanoma warriors in the United States today.
After her diagnosis, she had the malignant mole removed on her right hand, and continued her life tending to her child and their farm in Farmington, Missouri. In April 2015, she was blessed with a daughter and quickly fell into the routine as a new mom of two. It was right after, four months later, she noticed a swollen lymph node under her arm. “The ironic thing is that week I read a post about a man who discovered he had melanoma under his arm by noticing a swollen lymph node the size of a softball,” she stated. Concerned, she went to her primary care doctors several times for them to dismiss her worry, attributing her swollen lymph nodes to everything from an infection to extra hormones from her recent pregnancy. She remembers her gut telling her that waiting for the lymph node to pass was a “terrible idea”. Her intuition led her back to her dermatologist, who luckily took the abnormality serious. As she deep down expected, the lymph node turned out to be stage 3 malignant melanoma.
Caitlin describes the emotions debating between treatment options, in the end deciding on participating in a trial study for a new drug, Keytruda. “At this point, I had two small kids- a six year old and a four month old. I knew I couldn’t be sick with these two kids.” Her determination drives her to travel to Chicago every three weeks for infusion treatments, which started in November 2015 and ending this November 2016.
Reflecting on this process, Caitlin described many worries that come not only dealing with a melanoma diagnosis, but also the risk associated with being diagnosed shortly after a pregnancy. Studies have shown “women with melanoma who were pregnant at the time or were recently pregnant were nearly seven times as likely to experience metastasis- the spreading of the cancer to other parts of the body — than women with melanoma who were not pregnant. They were also more than nine times more likely to have a recurrence of their cancer over the next 7.5 years.” This is especially alarming, considering melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25-29, which for many is prime pregnancy age.
Luckily, she sought comfort through her family, close friends, and Facebook melanoma communities, including one many know, “Melahomies.” Many experienced similar stories to her, dealing with a pregnancy or post pregnancy diagnosis. “I was so scared being a mom for a second time and having a baby and going ‘how did this happen’. I met other people who have helped me through it because not only did I have to get treatments, but my 4 month old had to get a CT scan to make sure she was clear.”
Still, she is very open explaining her journey in the hopes it will inspire others to become more proactive in their skin health. “Tanning is like smoking- people don’t care until they get cancer. But tanning is just as bad as smoking and you are just as likely to get melanoma from tanning as you are lung cancer from smoking. I feel like it’s so funny that some people are all about health and fitness but then they go to the tanning bed. That’s not healthy and that’s what bugs me the most.”
Her scars from surgery have become a walking lesson to those who believe melanoma is a quick fix. “If other people online can see my scars and what I’m going through, maybe they will see melanoma as more serious. In your head you reason ‘Oh it can be cut off its fine’ I know because I used to think that way. But it’s not.”
Honesty: a radiating quality that is certainly refreshing; she comes off as a resilient soldier who won’t let melanoma bully her from living a full life. At the same time, she is all but open to feeling a full range of emotions, even if at times its nervousness. Her story became much more real, and at the same time, a resounding indication of the character she possesses.
At the end of our conversation, I finished with one last question I ask interviewees. “Fill in the sentence: I am ________.” She pondered for a moment, seemingly perplexed on how to answer. I gave her a couple of examples, be it adjectives like adventurous, courageous, or brave. She gives a quick laugh and answers, “I don’t feel I am brave because I am nervous.”
There’s a pause but she quickly responds back, “But I am strong. I’ve been through a lot in a short amount of time. The stress of having a baby on a new mother is one thing and then add on the weight of cancer. It adds on not just me, but my husband, our children, and close friends to help take care of me after surgery. They all have been a great support system. But, I am strong because it takes a lot to go through of all this.”
For more information on how you can connect with those who have been diagnosed with melanoma, please visit Melanoma’s Research Foundations page and learn more about MRF’s Phone Buddy Program.