It is my pleasure to introduce you to Smarty Mom, Marissa Watts. She and her husband Tyler moved to Charlotte from California a little over a year ago. She has two children, Layla (2 1/2) and Blake (10 months). They live in South Park and she quickly learned one of the best things about Charlotte – the people. When faced with a health crisis, neighbors, new friends and her church community rallied to give support to her young family. As we head into the warmer/sunnier months, Marissa shares her story of a Melonoma diagnosis and the importance of sunscreen and having your skin checked. As a fellow Melonoma survivor, I am thrilled that she is sharing her story. Smarty friends, meet Marissa!
You have a very important and timely story. Please share with us how your life changed last year?
Days before turning 29 never did I think I would say I had cancer. My life has changed drastically since being diagnosed with Melanoma and I will forever be changed. At the time, I had a 22 month old daughter and almost 3 month old son. I noticed during my pregnancy that some of my moles had changed, but I also knew that this was normal during pregnancy. There was not one particular mole that stood out to me or fit the criteria of skin cancer, but still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should go to the doctor and get checked. Lesson number one through this; listen to your instincts and, in my particular circumstance I truly think it was God telling me something wasn’t right.
I had a history of having “abnormal” moles, but never had been diagnosed with skin cancer. I do admit to lots of days laying out on the sunny California beaches and even visiting the tanning bed. I always thought I was “safe” from skin cancer because even though I was fair, I could also develop a tan.
I finally found a general practice doctor and went in to have a skin check. I pointed out a few that looked maybe a little different than others, but he didn’t seem concerned, nor did I. About a week passed and I received a call that I will never forget. My doctor said he was floored to find out the tiny little mole that looked more like a freckle, was skin cancer. I was immediately referred to a local dermatologist for a second opinion and treatment options. Immediately, my mom hopped on a plane from California….lesson two, your family loves you more then you know!
My dermatologist recommended a very aggressive surgery, removing a large portion of tissue around the mole on my right arm. I was booked into surgery the next day. I felt so helpless and scared. I was no longer able to hold my 21 month old daughter, let alone my newborn son. I had to stop nursing as well since my arm would be completely unusable and in a sling for at least a month. I had to get past the guilt of not being able to take care of my kids and focus on getting healthy so I could live a long life with my family.
My brand new Charlotte friends, husband and mom took action immediately and delivered meals, took care of me and the kids. It was amazing. I went on to research and learn as much as I could about this disease. I also wanted to make sure that this surgery would be the only step I would have to take to make sure this cancer was gone. Lesson number three was you need to insist on getting the best treatment options out there. I was lucky to have an amazing dermatologist that supported me on getting a second opinion; with some doctors, you are just another name on their list of patients to see. I decided that this was my body and my life and I wanted the best of the best to take care of me. I insisted on going to the best and was referred to Duke Medical Center. My doctors at Duke took a second look at all my test results and agreed with the procedure that my dermatologist had done. I continue to see them every few months since I am a high risk for the cancer returning.
I was beyond lucky that I caught my skin cancer as early as I did; many find skin cancers in later stages and are often given no hope and no treatment options. Melanoma is so different from other cancers in that very little treatment is even available unless you catch it early. Chemo and radiation are not even commonly offered because skin cancer spreads so fast. My doctors describe melanoma cancer cells like a bee hive. Other common cancers typically will all be heaped together in one area. Melanoma cancer cells are very aggressive and wild and can spread all over. The surgery on my arm was so wide and deep in order to have a better chance of getting out all of the cells. All it takes is one stray cell and the cancer can invade other areas of your body. I try not to focus on this though and believe that all the cancer is out of my body.
How are you doing today?
Today I am doing great. I had a very low point during my recovery once my doctors visits got a little more spread out and my mom went back to California. The anxiety and fear of my cancer returning took over me. I learned though that I had to rely on my faith in God and give all my anxieties and fears to him. I also had to learn how to become aware of any signs of cancer, but at the same time not obsess over it. It’s been a journey! I also feel more powerful by educating myself and trying to educate others.
What do you think was the biggest factor in the detection of your melanoma?
I believe the biggest factor in the detection of my melanoma was just not being able to shake that feeling that something wasn’t right. I did not ignore that feeling. Many people just don’t want to face the scary reality of what the doctor “could” find and therefore avoid the doctor or make excuses. If I would have waited any longer to go I would be in a very different position then I am in now.
What advice do you have for other women about protecting against melanoma?
Through all of this I want others to know that when you think of skin cancer you may think of this dark black raised mole on your body, which is absolutely nothing like what mine was. Mine was a tiny little flat brown with a slight red tint to it. It was hard to tell if it was a mole or freckle. The most important thing though was it looked different from the others surrounding it. Take a look at your body, if something stands out to you and just does not fit in with the surrounding areas, go get checked! Also, melanoma is the number one cancer for women in their late 20’s! Melanoma is also more common then breast cancer in women ages 30-34. Sadly, melanoma is also the most underfunded of all cancers by federal and private agencies. One person every hour dies of melanoma. Make sure you always wear your sunscreen, especially if you are going to be in the sun longer then 30 minutes! They make amazing self tanners now, so there’s no need to tan.
You have a young children – how did you talk with them about your illness and treatment?
Because both of my children were so young, they really had no idea what was going on. Today, my daughter does point to my scar and says “mommies owie”.
What was the biggest help to you as you went through treatment?
The biggest help I have had through this journey has been number one GOD. My faith has grown in miraculous ways and continues to daily. I also have an amazing family and my extended family, my life group at church. It’s amazing that at the time we had lived in Charlotte less than a year and were overwhelmed by the many blessings and prayers we were given. We truly believe God moved us to this city for a reason, and this was one of the reasons.
You have not been in Charlotte very long. Were you able to find a good support system here?
We moved to Charlotte in December 2009 and getting connected shortly after with our church, Forest Hill and getting plugged in to a life group, as well as meeting moms in my neighborhood and joining in on a neighborhood playgroup has been a huge blessing. I went from being a full time teacher to a stay at home mom when we moved here, so I definitely was blessed to have these two groups in my life.
What is your favorite family time activity?
Our favorite family time activity is continuing to explore this amazing city. There are a million things to do in this town and they are all family friendly. We absolutely love living here. With spring here we are looking forward to many days picnicking at Freedom Park, one of our favorite spots!
Favorite mommy-time activity?
Tuesday morning lifegroup, bi monthly MOPS meetings, bow making night with other mommies with girls, and monthly socials with my life group! Every month we do something different. So far, my favorite has been going to Charlottes 24/7 prayer house followed by dessert at Amelies!
Favorite lunch spot sans kids?
Hasn’t been able to happen yet, but if it did I would choose Brio!
Favorite place to score kids clothes and shoes?
www.zuilly.com, www.ebay.com and Kid to Kid on Pineville Matthews.
Favorite date-night spot?
Cabo Fish Taco! Amazing food and margaritas!
Favorite place to take the whole fam to dinner?
With our kiddos we love going to Rusty’s, which also happens to be right around the corner from our house.
Favorite boys/girls after school activity?
Noah’s Art Open Art playdates for $5. Also love going to Berewick Rec Center.
Best book you’ve read lately?
The book I am reading now that I LOVE is “The Fitting Room” by Kelly Minter.
My all time favorite movie is “Can’t buy me Love”
Best summer tip to hang with your kids?
Always make sure you have more than enough of everything, including plenty of juice, snacks and SUNSCREEN!
Minivan or suv?
SUV-Honda Pilot! We are trying to be eco friendly and save money by having one car! My husband takes the light rail to work every morning.
Best birthday party you’ve attended/hosted?
My friend Angie throws the most amazing birthday parties! She decks out everything from the party favors to the treats. We are looking forward to her son Mason’s “bug hunt” party in a few weeks.
Funniest thing your kids have ever said to you?
The funniest thing my daughter does on a daily basis is every time she sees an airplane in the air she points and says “look, Mora is in the airplane” Her grandma (my mom) is called Mora (Swedish for grandma) and Layla literally believes she lives in an airplane.
Favorite CSP article so far?
I love looking on CSP to check out what’s going on around town for the week.
I could not live without my……
day planner! So many groups and play dates to go to and keep track of!
Best kept secret in Charlotte?
Still exploring and learning all that Charlotte has to offer, but one of my favorite memories from last spring was taking my daughter Strawberry Picking to Halls Family Farm on Providence Road. My daughter ate her way through the vines! Also the Toddler Yoga storytime at ImaginOn library.