By Liana Jacob
MEET THE brave woman who was diagnosed with SKIN CANCER THREE TIMES in THREE YEARS after initially mistaking her spot for ACNE.
In 2008, musician, Jeska Forsyth (35) who lives in Austin, Texas, USA, noticed a mark on her upper forehead, assuming it was a acne spot, she watched it carefully for the next year, but it had still not disappeared. By this point, it dawned on her that it could be cancer; fearing this was true, she chose not to book a doctor’s appointment.
Her mum began to worry and urged her to book a doctor’s appointment, however, Jeska was apprehensive due to not having health insurance. In 2014 her mum insisted that she would pay for her appointment and that she had to check out the spot that wouldn’t disappear.
In October of that year, Jeska was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, also known as rodent ulcer, which is one of the two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer. At this point, she was a mum to a four-year-old girl and the thought of not being there while she grew up devastated her.
She had to undergo surgery where they would remove the spot and sew up the wound, as well as a month-long topical chemotherapy treatment; she had to apply the chemo two times a day to her face. Soon the spot disappeared but she would go in for a check-up every six months to check on her health.
“When I was twenty-four years old I noticed a mark on my upper forehead and proceeded to watch it for the next two years,” said Jeska.
“The spot wasn’t much larger than my tiny fingernail, but I noticed that it would go through cycles. It was appearing like acne, then it would get crusty and eventually it would turn into a scab and fall off only to reappear a few days or weeks later; it just never healed and went away.
“Honestly I really did wait a little too long to be seen for that first suspicious mark and kept putting it off out of complete fear that it would be what I thought it was – cancer.
“Eventually my mother told me that I had to go to the dermatologist, and she offered to not only pay for the appointment but also she accompanied me.
“At this point in my life, I was a new mother of a then four-year-old little girl and that’s what gave me the motivation to be seen as I wanted to stick around to see her grow up.
“The dermatologist told me that I would need to schedule a day procedure that could be done right there in her office, so I did, then the waiting game started.
“Waiting for that first appointment to have something removed was insanely scary and I remember walking into the office and finding it surreal.
“The removal of the basal cell carcinoma went really well; I remember the weird sensation of having my forehead cut on and the weird sound it made when the doctor was cutting it off. But I moved on with check-ups twice a year.”
However, just a year after her first diagnosis, in February 2015, she noticed another spot that would not go away and immediately went to the doctors.
They did their annual full body check and she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, another type of non-melanoma skin cancer. This piece of news did not come as such a shock to her, as she had a little bit of experience with it.
She had a biopsy where her spot was cut off as well as a few other spots on her face which were frozen off. She was told that she had to undergo another round of topical chemo. Ever since, she continued her diligence when it came to checking her skin.
A couple of years passed without any more signs of spots until December 2017 when she found a small pink spot on her right shoulder while she was doing a self-body scan. It was very small but due to her careful monitoring, she managed to spot it early. She mentioned it to her boyfriend who panicked due to her history of skin cancer and demanded that she made an appointment.
Her dermatologist wasn’t worried as she didn’t think it looked threatening or scary, but Jeska requested they did a biopsy anyway. A week later they called her and told her that she had skin cancer again, this time it was amelanotic nodular melanoma, a rare cancer of the skin which accounts for five out of 100 melanoma cases. This type of melanoma has a 65 per cent reoccurrence rate.
She was urged to visit the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre where she would get the area treated, however, due to the fact that she had no insurance, she couldn’t afford the surgery which would have cost her £15,300 to £19,200 ($20,000 to $25,000).
She applied and got insurance from Obamacare but this wasn’t accepted by the hospital, so feeling hopeless, she did her research and she was finally connected to a teaching hospital in San Antonio, Texas, who not only accepted her insurance but she could afford the surgery.
The surgery was successful, and they were able to remove the cancer and she has been very attentive to her skin, making sure to never ignore any signs in the future. She now takes every precaution possible, such as; wearing hats, long-sleeve shirts, sun cream and doing self-scans at home.
She now wants to raise awareness of skin cancer and the importance of taking care of your skin through her Instagram account: @jeska_bailey_forsyth.
“When I got my next diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma it was scary because it had only been a year since the first one and I think it was then that I realized I would be checking and treating skin cancer my entire life,” she said.
“Being diagnosed the third time with skin cancer was the scariest, ‘life flashes before your eyes’ moment because I had requested the biopsy after being told it didn’t look threatening or scary but we decided to biopsy it anyway thinking it wasn’t anything.
“I remember going completely numb while listening to the doctor over the phone and really couldn’t collect any more of the information she was giving me after the initial disclosure of melanoma and that I needed to seek help as soon as possible.
“I was told I needed to pack my bags and go straight to MD Anderson where I could get the area treated. The problem was that I didn’t have insurance and MD Anderson doesn’t actually help like you think they do.
“I got the insurance they suggested from Obamacare and was then told they didn’t take it so I went into the Christmas holidays where everything was closed, feeling so hopeless.
“Eventually I was connected with CTRC which is a teaching hospital in San Antonio Texas, and not only did they accept the insurance, but I could afford it.
“The surgery was successful, and they were able to remove the cancer successfully and I received my stage one diagnosis I will carry with me for ten years.”
After kicking skin cancer for the third time, Jeska, who is from San Angelo, USA, originally, decided to move to Texas to pursue her dream of being a singer and musician.
She recollects the time she had sunburn as a child and that this could have been a contributing factor to her receiving these diagnoses.
“I remember being burned several times as a child by the sun and I know that sunscreen was not such a big deal when I was a child,” Jeska said.
“I remember my grandmother putting sunscreen on me once only to find out that she had accidentally used a tanning lotion and I got a seriously bad sunburn that time.
“I also remember being burned so badly that I had to lay on couch cushions in the living room with aloe vera all over me under a sheet and how humiliated I felt going to junior high without a bra on because the bra wire hurt too bad over my sunburn.
“I know my mum took extra precaution putting sunscreen on us all but if you have three sunburns in your lifetime that make you peel, you will experience some sort of skin cancer, or so I have heard.
“I post and try to bring awareness all the time because I didn’t know the type of melanoma, I received was even a thing.
“I always thought it was dark and changed shape and grew quickly and I feel like I knew a lot about skin cancer at that point and felt blind sighted by an enemy I didn’t even knew existed.
“Don’t wait as long as I did to go in and get checked – that was so silly of me. I want to convey a message of hope; a message that says if you are diligent and watch your skin closely you can get in early at the first signs of something unusual.”
For more information visit: https://www.instagram.com/jeska_bailey_forsyth/