Melanoma warning signs and stories from survivors in central Virginia

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer
Now that it's summer-- doctors want you to know the warning signs of a common form of skin cancer.
Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 6:49 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In 2023 alone, the American Cancer Society says almost 100,000 people in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Dale Nester is a survivor: many would say it’s a miracle he’s still alive.

“I am extremely lucky. Lucky, blessed. I had a 2 to 3 percent chance of making it five years,” said Sandston resident Dale Nester.

In 2016, Nester was in his 30s and enjoying the prime of his life, but then something changed.

“My daughter was about to be born, and I was starting to feel sick all the time, really run down and tired, which is unlike me. I would work 10, 12 hours a day and then come home and work four or five more hours on the house,” said Nester.

Doctors gave Nester antibiotics to treat what they thought was an illness, but he just kept feeling worse, and lymph nodes in his neck grew larger.

It was not until he mentioned a growing mole on his head to his doctor that she suspected something more sinister was up.

“She took a look at it and she was like, I don’t like the look of that. And she got me into a dermatologist the next day and, three days later, they called me back to come in and told me I had an aggressive form of melanoma,” said Nester.

It was a devastating diagnosis at what was supposed to be a joyous time.

“I found out about three weeks after my daughter was born,” he said.

Nester had lymph nodes and a tumor the size of a slice of bread removed from his neck during a 14 hour surgery.

“The surgery itself was risky. It was. There was a possibility not to use my left arm and, you know, not making it through the surgery,” he said.

Then he was told the cancer was in stage four.

“That turns everything upside down,” he said.

His condition improved after six months of grueling immunotherapy treatments at UVA Health.

More than six years later, Nester’s cancer is now considered inactive.

“I just try to stay focused on my faith and happy, and focus on the positive. You know, I had a little newborn daughter that I was able to use for physical therapy for my arm,” said Nester.

Nester worked in construction most of his life and usually wore sunscreen.

But one day, he fell asleep on the beach for 45 minutes and got a nasty second-degree burn.

Shortly after that, he fell ill and noticed the growing mole.

Now he tells everyone he meets about the importance of sun safety.

“Always, always use sunscreen. I mean, I wear a hat pretty much if I’m out in the sun. I always wear a long-sleeved shirt if I’m going to be out in the sun any period of time,” he said.

Bill Evans, a fourth-grade teacher from Fredericksburg, is also a melanoma survivor.

His cancer journey started at the same time the world went into lockdown.

“I had a small bump in my neck and basically it started getting larger and larger. And so we were because of COVID. We were afraid to go to any emergency room. We waited a couple of weeks, and it kept getting larger. And finally, I went and got it checked out, and they immediately set me up with an oncologist to take a look,” said Evans.

Bill Evans is on a mission to raise awareness.

Evans says doctors were unable to find where exactly his melanoma originated. But it spread to his lymph nodes, and he endured a lengthy surgery to remove them from his neck.

“Melanoma is just so brutal. So, yeah, not having the point of origin really was kind of tricky,” he explained.

An avid cyclist, Evans kept competing in races even though he had more than one year of immunotherapy treatments.

“My wife looked at me and said, one day at a time. I’m racing my bike three years into this,” said Evans.

Evans wishes he had taken precautions in the sun sooner in life and is also on a mission to raise awareness.

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting time spent in the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Put on SPF 30 or higher sunscreen with broad UVA and UVB protection, reapplying every 2 hours.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and tight-knit clothing.

You can get a sunburn whether it’s hot or cool outside, sunny or cloudy.

Also, know the A, B, C, D and E signs of melanoma.

If you have a mole that’s Asymmetrical, has an irregular Border, an uneven Color, has a Diameter greater than six millimeters, or is a new or Evolving mole, get it checked by a doctor.

Melanoma is much easier to treat when caught at an early stage.

“You have to stay protected because it’s no joke. I mean, I never thought that at 30 or 38 years old, I would be in that type of situation,” said Nester.