When discussing the Big C, Bonnie Sedlmayr-Emerson doesn't like the term "survivor."
"Somehow the word doesn't sit right with me. I know I haven't outfoxed melanoma: It doesn't happen that way. I call myself a 'thriver,' and I have been thriving and thriving," said Sedlmayr-Emerson, 56, a team captain for the upcoming Melanoma Walk 2011.
Sedlmayr-Emerson was diagnosed with melanoma in January 2005 after her hairstylist noticed a seemingly innocuous lesion on her scalp. The cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes, so surgery and a year of treatment with Interferon followed.
Sedlmayr-Emerson is fair-skinned and spent much of her youth outdoors, but the diagnosis was still a shock for the native Tucsonan, who has always been diligent about full-body skin screenings.
"So many people have told me that they get their skin checked, but no one looks at their scalps. If it weren't for my hairdresser, I would not be here to see my grandchildren and walk with my husband and talk to you now. I think the hairdressing community can be a real asset with detection," she said.
Sedlmayr-Emerson has been quite an asset herself even though her cancer metastasized to her lungs in 2009, a discovery that was made shortly after her team, Made in the Shade, raised $3,100 for the Safe From the Sun Walkathon to benefit the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.
"This is the only organization of its kind that unites the four cores of research, outreach, education and patient care in one place," said Heather Hiscox, the institute's program development coordinator.
The institute clinic is designed to provide "one-stop shopping" for melanoma patients, bringing clinical researchers, surgeons, oncologists, dermatologists and health educators together. The institute also offers clinical studies including a tissue bank and patient registry that collects patient information and data for future research.
After months of treatment, Sedlmayr-Emerson became involved in a clinical trial using the new drug Ipilimumab last December and has not had a recurrence.
She said she has been grateful to work with researchers and physicians who are so passionate about finding innovative treatments and a cure for skin cancer.
She is also motivated to spread awareness about skin checks since melanoma is curable if caught early: In stage one and two the survival rate is 95 percent or higher.
"For me it is all about hope," she said. "I have stage 4 cancer, and there is no denying that I will be in and out of treatment for the rest of my life, but I am ever hopeful."
If you go
What: Melanoma Walk 2011 to benefit the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.
When: 2-6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arizona Cancer Center at UMC North, 3838 N. Campbell Ave.
Cost: $25 by Wednesday; $30 the day of the event. Children 5 and under get in free.
Etc.: Festivities include a family and pet-friendly, 1 1/2-mile walk, entertainment, kid-friendly activities, educational information and samples of sunscreen. There also will be a raffle and full-body skin cancer screenings from 2 to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. Each walker will receive a goody bag containing sunscreen and other items.
For registration or more information, go to www.fightmelanomatoday.org or call 626-1037. .
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com