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Melanoma Survivor Relishes Every Day

Article date: May 28, 2003

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"If I do one thing to make a difference, it's worth it."

 

When Linda Talbott was a child in Pratt, Kansas, she spent most days outdoors, playing in sun so fierce, she got blistering sunburns on more than one occasion. But it was the 1940s, and no one thought much about the damage such extreme sun exposure might cause.

Now a six-year melanoma survivor, Talbott wants to make sure everyone gets the message about sun safety.

“Prevention is my middle name,” says Talbott, 64.

The grandmother of two spends most of her time working to raise awareness of the dangers of melanoma -- and the simple habits that help prevent the disease or find it early.

Talbott also would like to see skin cancer awareness programs included in public school health classes, and national public service announcements that warn people about the dangers of overexposure to the sun and tanning devices. And she’s working to set up free skin cancer screenings twice a year in Kansas City, Missouri, where she now lives.

Her mission has taken her all the way to Capitol Hill, where she represented Missouri as an ambassador during the American Cancer Society’s Celebration on the Hill gathering last September.

But Talbott is no newcomer to cancer advocacy, the efforts people make to change a community or law for the better. She has been volunteering with the American Cancer Society since the 1970’s, and was involved with other organizations even before that, spurred by her family’s grim experience with the disease. Her grandmother, mother, sister and first husband all died of cancer, and other relatives are survivors like herself.

A Fleck That Got Bigger

Talbott’s personal battle with melanoma began in 1997. While washing her face one day, she noticed a dark fleck under her left eye that wouldn’t wash away. About a week later, the fleck seemed bigger, so Talbott made an appointment with a dermatologist.

Over the next few weeks, as she waited for the day of her appointment to arrive, the fleck grew noticeably larger. Then one day it began to bleed. Talbott rushed to see the doctor the next day.

His diagnosis was swift and devastating: melanoma.

Talbott’s doctors were able to determine that the spot under her eye was actually a second melanoma. The original was a couple of inches away, on her cheek. It had been misdiagnosed years earlier as an age spot and burned off. That meant that doctors were going to have to do an extensive surgery on Talbott’s face to excise all the cancerous tissue.

“I said, ‘Listen, I want to live. Do whatever you have to to get it,’” she recalls.

The treatment left her permanently scarred. Her eye no longer closes completely, most of her cheek is gone, and she had to work to regain proper motion in her mouth. “But, my gosh, those are minor things,” she says. “I’m so fortunate to be here.”

Making Every Moment Count

Talbott’s days are now filled with speaking engagements and other volunteer activities designed to drive home her message of prevention.

She takes every opportunity to warn people away from tanning beds, and encourage them to examine themselves for suspicious moles regularly. She has even written a book about her experiences (it is currently being edited).

And she takes time to pursue the things she enjoys: She goes dancing twice a week, and is planning a fishing outing with her three-year-old granddaughter.

“I wake up every day and say ‘Thank you for this day.’ I don’t postpone joy. I try to make every single moment count,” she says.