This week on People Profile: Sharon Chung (Melanoma Survivor)

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Caucasians are the primary victims of skin cancer. However, everyone, regardless of skin color, can fall prey to it. Unfortunately, many patients and even some physicians are under the impression that non-Caucasian people are immune to this disease. That is one reason people of color are diagnosed with skin cancer at later stages. These delays mean that skin cancers are often advanced and potentially fatal, whereas most skin cancers are curable if caught and treated in a timely manner. Tragically, this is what happened to our own legendary reggae musician Bob Marley: What was dismissed as a soccer injury under his toenail turned out to be an aggressive form of melanoma that ultimately caused his death at 36. Bob’s story reminds us why both medical providers and the public need to be educated about skin cancer and skin of color.

This week on People Profile we are speaking with Sharon Chung who is a survivor of melanoma.

Dr. C

Welcome to People Profile Sharon, please share with us the experience leading up to your diagnosis.

 

Sharon Chung

Hi Dr. C, thanks for having me. It all started by while I was in the process of helping a friend clean up a house prior to moving- in, I bang my forehead on an open cabinet door.  As we say in Jamaica I saw mini-mini (stars) . It took the wind out of me. Two weeks after that incident, I was backing out of my driveway remembered that I had bulk pick-up curbside and looked out my still closed window and there go the stars again after my face collided with the glass. By then I felt in my gut something was wrong and it was God’s way of telling me that I need to go check myself out.

Dr. C

Yes, sometimes we need to pay more attention to what our bodies are saying. What was your first reaction when you were told that you had cancer?

 

Sharon Chung

I didn’t have a dermatologist at that point, searched the yellow pages, after calling several I got an appointment for six weeks’ time. I should point out that at the time all I had was just a small bump on my forehead. Walked in for an appointment, explained to the doctor why I was there, she examined me and flippantly said and I quote “I don’t think it’s anything serious but for the heck of it let’s do a biopsy” Of course the mood changed once she did the punch because that result was needed. All this happened on Thursday, Monday 10am I’m at work and got a call from the doctor who immediately informed me to sit down because she had some bad news. My immediate response was, “just give it to me straight”.  She said you have level 5 melanoma, of course I don’t know what the crap she’s talking about. I heard words like aggressive, rare, act now, surgical oncologist,  CT/brain scan. Then she said, I will make some calls and get back to you. My world was turned upside down with that call.

Dr. C

Wow! How did you find the strength to go through the treatments, Sharon?

 

Sharon Chung

My world came crashing down on May 1st, 2006, after all the scans and MRI’s etc. I learned that I had stage 2b melanoma on my face,  sitting down with plastic surgeon,  surgical oncologist and my son to learn about my fate was the hardest thing,  being told of all possible scenario was hard and the follow-up after surgery with 8 weeks of radiation was too much for my then 18-year-old son (to this day he’s afraid of my sitting in the sun for any given time ) luckily my older son came up from Jamaica just before surgery. I had to do this for my boys.

Dr. C

Yes, it is very important that you get the boys involved. What did friends or family members do or say that meant the most to you?

 

Sharon Chung

My boys were my major support system being a single mom since 1994, they for me, me for them. I should mention Dr. C that this one particular girlfriend Kaylyn who was there throughout and especially on the day when the bandages were being removed and I was afraid to look in the mirror that the plastic surgeon handed me. Others knew not the severity of my situation, I even showed up at a fundraiser one week after surgery for someone who had passed away from cancer.

My concerns towards my children were at the forefront of my recovery, they all had so much potential that I was hell bent on being around to reap the benefits of my labor. Nothing but a positive outcome was acceptable.

Dr. C

Absolutely, what is the worst thing someone said to you while you were fighting this monster?

 

Sharon Chung

I had always smoked,  especially when I’m stressed and God knows I was, under those circumstances, and even though it was for my own good, I got upset when one person said you don’t want to cure one cancer to die from another. But for the most part, everyone was very understanding.

Dr. C

Yes, that comment was a little insensitive (even though it sounds technically correct…lol). What kept you fighting?

 

Sharon Chung

Yea, yea, yea, whatever! lol..What kept me fighting? My children and the very thought that all earlier signs were from God telling me that there’s work for me to do here on this earth. It wasn’t my time to go yet.

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Dr. C

Did you ever think that you will lose this battle?

 

Sharon Chung

Thank God I found out when I did, if I had waited 6 more months then I wouldn’t be here telling you my story.

Dr. C

Yes finding that out at the right moment indeed. How did you spend those times?

 

Sharon Chung

I spent my down time reflecting on what could have been and spending time with the boys. .You know one can’t spend enough time with family because you’re working all the time to make ends meet.

Dr. C

Yes of course not. Whom do you remember a lot during those days?

 

Sharon Chung

I think back to Bob  (Marley ) and all the dark skin people in this world who lost their lives to melanoma because of the misconception that only Caucasian can get the most lethal of skin cancer.

Dr. C

What was your motivation?

 

Sharon Chung

I was being considered as a guinea pig / case study for dark skin cancer, I’m happy and highly motivated that the awareness of this kind of cancer is being looked at now as an everybody crisis.

Dr. C

How important was it for a family member or friends to be with you?

 

Sharon Chung

Family is everything to me Dr. C, and I have some dear friends too, not a lot because I  consider myself an introvert,  don’t make friends easily but when we do become friends hopefully it’s for a lifetime. I cherish my alone times now that kids are all grown and fly the coop but I’m happiest when they are around.

Dr. C

Did you learn anything new while you were in the hospital?

 

Sharon Chung

I took that time to learn about melanoma cause before then I was under the impression that you had to be white to get it and the fact that I’m not really an outdoor person made me question how the heck I got it.  My baby boy is in his second year of medical school and I would like to think that my experience with cancer is what motivated him to go into medicine.

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Dr. C

What message would you like our reader to take from your experience?

 

Sharon Chung

I would like readers to be aware of any changes on their body,  no matter how small, mine was not bigger than a pimple,  anything that changes color, size and shape. Black people get skin cancer too even the most lethal of them, melanoma. Dark skin people have been dying of melanoma because it was not picked up early enough it’s very aggressive and travels through the lymph nodes to your organs all because it was not being looked for. Please don’t ignore your body and what it’s telling you.

Dr. C

Absolutely, and on a different note, did you enjoy yourself at the People Profile Awards? Are you planning to attend in June 2017?

 

Sharon Chung

I enjoyed the People Profile Awards function immensely, looking forward to a bigger and better show come 2017. Side note….me love see me Jamaican them all dressed up to the tee.

Dr. C

Lol….Sharon it was an absolute pleasure having and sharing your story with us. Take care my friend.

 

Sharon Chung

Welcome hon, me fingers tired from typing lol

 

 

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