Melanoma Survivor: ‘Relay For Life Saved My Life’

photo of Josh Davis wearing a Relay for Life tee shirt

Josh Davis is getting ready to celebrate another year of surviving melanoma skin cancer. He recently wrote on the American Cancer Society Facebook page: “I was diagnosed with melanoma almost 6 years ago at the age of 20. I found mine on my scalp thanks to a dare to shave my head at my local Relay For Life. I will celebrate 6 years of being cancer free in July. We all know Relay For Life is a life changing event, but for me it was a LIFESAVING event in 2009.”

Davis was only 12 years old the first time he took part in the Relay For Life event in Beaumont, Texas. American Cancer Society Relay For Life events are held every year in communities around the world, raising money to invest in research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers. Davis didn’t know much about cancer at age 12, but he needed service hours for student council in middle school. He figured he could complete all his hours in one shot while raising money for a good cause. But when he got to the event, he found out it was so much more.

“Seeing the survivors, and the survivor lap, and luminaria bags for babies up to grandparents made me realize cancer doesn’t have an age range. It can affect anybody. I saw it affected people in my community and it hit home that this is a serious issue, which could potentially impact me. I wanted to do something about it,” said Davis.

And Davis did do something about it. He volunteered for a local Relay For Life golf tournament, joined a recruitment team, and took part in fundraising activities. By age 19, Davis was co-chair of the Beaumont event and a volunteer for his college event at Lamar University.

photo of Josh Davis with his friend after shaving his head at a Relay for Life event

In 2009, Relay For Life of Beaumont Texas began a few thousand dollars short of its goal. Hurricane Ike had come through the area the year before and done a lot of damage. The economy had taken a hit. But Davis was determined to succeed, and was willing to put his hair on the line to do it. At the kickoff ceremony, Davis announced that if the goal was met, he would shave off all his hair, which he had already dyed purple for the occasion. The idea worked, and Davis’ co-chair, who happened to be a hairdresser, shaved his head on stage at midnight under the stadium lights.

Two spots

Davis was washing purple dye from his head the next day when he noticed 2 spots. They were scaly, asymmetrical (one side didn’t match the other), had unclear edges, and were not all one color. No matter how he searched online, the results kept coming back melanoma. Davis went to a dermatologist (skin doctor) who performed a biopsy then sent him to MD Anderson Cancer Center. After the results confirmed he had melanoma, Davis went to his local American Cancer Society office to get information on this type of skin cancer, and then went to work.

“I got upset at first, but the reality was the cancer was there. Being upset and crying about it and not continuing on with life wasn’t going to do any good, so I joked about it. I moved on, got it taken care of, and carried on with life.”

In July 2009, Davis had surgery to remove the cancer, some healthy skin around the cancer, and nearby lymph nodes. Tests showed no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes. Davis’ doctors said that because the melanoma was found at an early stage, they were able to surgically remove all the cancer and Davis wouldn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

“The key is early detection. That makes what you have to go through a whole lot easier,” said Davis. “Getting checked is easy to put off, but that can get to be a serious issue.”

‘Know your skin’

"Cancer doesn't pick an age, gender, or race. Everybody is susceptible. Teens, kids, and college students think they're invincible, but they're really not."

Josh Davis

Davis continues to serve on Relay For Life committees, and since adopting his boxer puppy Mia, has served on Bark For Life committees too. He’s shared his story at training events in the East Texas area, and looks for opportunities to spread the word about early detection of skin cancer.

“Cancer doesn’t pick an age, gender, or race. Everybody is susceptible. Teens, kids, and college students think they’re invincible, but they’re really not,” said Davis. “Being outside, going to the beach, and using tanning beds are all reasons to check your skin. Just know your skin and anything that doesn’t look normal – get it checked.”

“I never wanted this to happen, and cancer is never a good thing. But it’s been a very positive experience for something that is so negative because I’ve met lots of neat people,” said Davis. “Even if my experience helps one person, it’s worth everything.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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