Tamara King shares the important message of a breast cancer/melanoma link and the importance of early detection
Although Tami King may have ties to “royalty” in name only, her fierce battle with breast cancer, waged with unparalleled grace and grit, have made her the “queen” of many, many hearts.
Tami, who has worked for Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery for six years, and is the location supervisor of offices in Islamorada and Marathon, is one of an estimated 300,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
“Working with the nation’s premier dermatology practice, what I’ve learned is that women who have had breast cancer also have up to a 2.5 times greater risk of developing melanoma, skin cancer’s deadliest form,” said Tami.
Spreading that message has become her passion professionally and personally.
Tami’s Battle Begins
Tami went in for her regular mammogram in July 2021. “They found a mass and I was referred for an ultrasound and other follow-up testing, as well as a breast biopsy. “I learned I had Triple-negative, BRCA-positive breast cancer, the same as my maternal aunt.” Having worked in a cancer center in Ohio, she knew that diagnosis was bad.
Genetic counseling revealed this hereditary form of breast cancer likely ran in her family, and she shared the news with her sister. Fortunately, her sister does not have the gene.
Tami had to wait five months between her biopsy and surgery. She underwent a double mastectomy the week of Christmas and was hospitalized twice for various complications.
“I was supposed to start chemo in February, but I couldn’t because of the antibiotics I was on. Through all of this, I worked. I needed that. I even brought my IV pole to work.”
Eventually she was able to start chemo. “You gain weight and your hair falls out, and that sucks,” said Tami. “But the support I received from everyone was amazing. My husband, brother-in-law, son, my husband’s fishermen friends, even a friend of ours who is an electrical engineer working in Egypt, shaved their heads to show me their love and support.”
Tami felt a “cloud in her brain” lifted when her chemo was finally completed. She has had to work with a pain specialist to deal with her bone pain and takes medications to keep her blood count high enough.
“We live in paradise down here. Since everyone knows what I’ve been going through, and since our practice has been talking about the breast cancer/melanoma link on a national basis, I’ve seen patients, friends, and people I don’t even know coming in for their Total-Body Skin Cancer Exams.
“Everybody is susceptible to skin cancer – whether it’s a basal or squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma,” said Tami. “Unless you’re a hobbit staying in your house you’re exposed to the sun. It can cause skin cancers from the top of your head to your toes, even behind your ears. Bob Marley died of melanoma because he got skin cancer between his toes.”
Tami faces more treatment and surgeries in the future. Breast cancer and melanoma Facebook support groups have helped her, and she is currently part of the melanoma warrior’s support group, melanoma women’s support group and the South Florida breast cancer support groups.
“Because I work for Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, if I’m asked a question that has to do with skin cancers or melanoma, I can ask my providers for information, or help schedule an appointment for the person asking the questions. To me, talking about what’s happening is therapeutic. A lot of people see the chemo scarf on my head and are afraid to ask questions. I don’t mind talking about it.”
How does Tami cope with the pain, the fear, the ‘what next’ and the ‘what ifs’?
“You can’t just stop. You have to push through it. At the end of the year, I should have my new breasts, my hair should be growing back, and I should be able to say, I conquered!”
Tami wishes every time doctors prescribed mammograms, they would also recommend annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exams with a dermatologist. “I get my skin cancer exams every six months, now.”
Early Detection and Prevention Saves Lives
Both breast cancer and melanoma survivors should be vigilant and take extra preventive and early detection measures to reduce their risk of developing a second cancer.
Melanoma risks can be reduced by avoiding tanning beds and excessive sun exposure. If you plan to be in the sun or in reflective areas (water or snow), cover up with a hat and dark, dry, tightly-woven clothing. Special UPF-rated clothing, clothing which protects against UV rays, is also available. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays will help protect the eyes and delicate skin around the eyes. For exposed skin, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30 or above that blocks UVA/UVB. Apply sunscreen frequently and liberally and follow the product’s instructions.
Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and minimizing alcohol intake can help reduce breast cancer risk. To detect breast cancer early, women over 40 should get yearly mammograms and all women should conduct monthly breast self exams.
See Something Suspicious? Check it Out.
Moles or other growths that are asymmetric, have irregular borders, vary in color, are larger than a pencil eraser, or those that are changing in size or shape, bleeding or itching should be checked by a dermatology specialist. Know the ABCDEs of melanoma:
- A is for Asymmetry
- B is for Border Irregularity
- C is for Color
- D is for Diameter
- E is for Evolving
And Take it From a King…
“If you want to live as long as the Queen did, take care of yourself and your skin and have all your testing,” said Tami.
If you haven’t had your annual Total-Body Skin Cancer Exam, schedule one today, at 866-400-3376 (DERM).
BOOK ONLINE 866-400-3376
Throughout the month of October, Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery is offering free skin cancer screenings to women who have or have had breast cancer . Go to AdvancedDerm.com/Pink or call 844-987-3376.
*Call for available locations and to schedule your skin cancer screening. Limited availability. This preventive skin cancer screening is not tied to the provision of any additional services or purchase of goods.