No One is Immune: Karen's Story Part I

I’ve always been a sun lover…since I was a kid growing up in Miami, Florida. I remember my mother always telling me to wear sunblock, but I didn’t listen. After all, I had dark hair, dark eyes, and olive toned skin…a gift, as I thought, from my father’s side of the family. They were from Panama, and you know, people of Hispanic origin don’t get skin cancer.

Well, I’m here to tell you a much different story. But first, a little more about who I am. I am a wife to an amazing husband and stepmother to five incredible children and a speech-language pathologist. I also serve as Director of Communications for our nonprofit foundation for first responders, Survive First Foundation. When I’m home, I enjoy our life living on the beach. And in my spare time? Well, I’m a marathon runner, so you guessed it…my spare time is filled with training and sun exposure.

Karen and Doug Monda race finish medal

When I think about all of the races I’ve run, I think of the hundred’s of hours I’ve spent in the sun, training for the big day. I tried to be good about sunblock but truthfully was only good about it in the summer months. The fact of the matter is here in Florida, the sun is always strong.

Karen Monda and friend medals

In 2016 I was planning our wedding and living three blocks from the beach. Two months before our wedding, I noticed what appeared to be a tiny scar on the tip of my nose. I joked that I would not go to the dermatologist because we were going to get married before they cut my nose off. If I had only known how true that statement would become by waiting. With the business of life (family, work, and constantly training) and that “thing” on the tip of my nose being barely noticeable, I didn’t get myself to the dermatologist until November 2017. When I say it was barely noticeable, the dermatologist didn’t even notice it until I pointed it out. A week later the biopsy came back…positive for Basal Cell Carcinoma. The pathology read as “surface”…no big deal. Still, I was really upset. This may sound vain, but it was my face. I had never had a stitch in my life, and now they were talking about a skin graft right on the tip of my nose. I just wasn’t happy. Actually, I was scared.

After consulting a plastic surgeon, we decided we would have the procedure completed on January 2, 2018, my birthday. It was a mental struggle from Thanksgiving to January 2. I cried a whole lot. Although everyone was telling me it would be no big deal, I had this awful image in my head. My pessimism really came out. My go-to activity for stress release...running…well, that dwindled. I noticed that I never looked ahead and was always looking down when I was running because I was afraid of the sun. Eventually, I just stopped altogether. It was an awful feeling.

The day after Christmas, my husband and I flew out to Utah for the most incredible, fun-filled vacation, to take my mind off of what was to come a week later. We skied, snowshoed, hiked, rock climbed, and so much more. I wore LOTS of sunblock! No time to even think of January 2…until that flight home on the 1st.
January 2nd became the day that changed everything. As I sat in the chair, I could feel the surgeon cut my nose. I remember looking in the camera lens and seeing a pretty large hole, as they snapped a shot just before covering my nose and sending me out to the waiting area for the pathology to come back as “clear”.

Unfortunately, it did not. I wound up having Stage 2 Basal Cell Carcinoma and losing the entire tip of my nose. I remember sobbing in the chair, as they cut more because I knew the skin graft was no longer an option. I would have to have this awful thing called a forehead flap. I would also have to pull out of the Miami Marathon I was scheduled to race. Just an awful start to 2018.

To be continued...

Written by Karen Monda

Follow Karen's journey on Instagram! @karen_monda

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My 75 year old sister just had the same surgery at the University of Iowa hospital. I know what you are going through. My sister is doing fine after 3 hard months of healing. Best of luck and keep the faith.

Roberta Lawson

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