Tea with a Titan, Episode 21: Kathy Barnard, Melanoma Survivor and Advocate

Tea with a Titan, episode 021 Kathy Barnard, Melanoma Survivor and Advocate

Guest Titan: Kathy Barnard, Melanoma Survivor and Advocate.

Tea of choice: Steam Tea’s Divine Goddess

What we cover: I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with melanoma, for more than half of my life. And one of the things that most frustrates me is how blasé people are, generally speaking, when they think about skin cancer. There are three types of skin cancers, and melanoma is the one that kills. You might be one of the people right now, walking around living your life, knowing you have a suspicious mole that you’ve been “meaning to get checked out”. Something that itches a little. Or bleeds a little. Or just looks a bit off. Or, in Kathy Barnard’s case — a weird little lump on her elbow. Or you might know someone who fits this bill. Please listen to my chat with Kathy — and then, take action.

Melanoma spreads like wildfire, and Kathy’s was no different. It spread to her lungs, her kidney, her liver, her adrenal glands, her abdomen, and her bones. She was given three to six months to live. That was 11 years ago. Today, she is cancer free and the founder of the much-respected Save Your Skin Foundation.

In the summer of 1994, I was a flight attendant. It was a brief interlude for me, in between my Bachelor of Arts and my Bachelor of Education. But ultimately, that short career in airline travel would be a life-changer and a life-saver. During take off and landing, I would sit in my jump seat, and because my uniform sleeves were short, I would stare at my arms. And I noticed this one mole. It wasn’t witchy and hairy and weird — it was just sort of different. It had a couple pieces of what looked like ground pepper dotted in the center. I showed it to my GP, and she said it was nothing but if I wanted, I could see a dermatologist. Three months later, in October, the dermatologist looked at it and said the same thing: It was probably nothing. But if I wanted, she could remove it. I figured that since I was there, I might as well. I didn’t hear anything back for all of November and into December so figured it was fine. One night, I was at my apartment in Halifax, N.S., on the east coast of Canada and the phone rang. A receptionist had found my file, and had seen that I had yet to be notified – it was in fact melanoma. I was immediately scheduled for plastic surgery and that began what has now been a 23-year recurring presence of melanoma in my life. I have had melanoma two times since. Once in 2002, which my dermatologist found on my back. And again, and most seriously, in 2012 which I found on the bottom of my foot. I was 7 months pregnant at the time, and found this wee little red dot on my toe. My dermatologist at the time assured me it was a “blood blister” and that we should just “monitor it for six months”. Chad encouraged me to get a second opinion. I did. It was melanoma again, and it had started to spread. If we had monitored it for six months, I’m not entirely sure I’d be here today.

Kathy’s story is a reminder too that we need to take it upon ourselves to not just float in the dreamy space of “oh really – it’s nothing.” If you feel it’s something, don’t stop until you know what it is. Melanoma is not something you just cut out and move on from – it spreads and it appears everywhere and anywhere. Your brain, your eyes, your lymph nodes – so really, do not wait. Hey – we go to the dentist twice a year. So go to a dermatologist while you’re at it.

Kathy’s story is one of determination and rising from the ashes, unlike anyone I’ve ever met. She will inspire you to appreciate the little details in our big lives – and to take huge action when it comes to preserving your life span.

How you can learn more:

Tea with a Titan: Subscribe via iTunes | Download mp3 of this episode