Bringing New Meaning to Fun in the Sun: Moving on After Melanoma

Billie Elder loves the outdoors. It’s how she was raised – spending days walking her dogs, swimming, soaking in the sun. It’s how she raised her own children. And, it’s how she planned to begin her retirement.

  When it came to plans, Billie had big ones: travel, a house renovation, and active dogs she loved taking outside. With children, grandchildren and friends in Florida, Georgia and Texas, Billie and her husband were looking forward to the road ahead.

But Billie’s intuition was telling her something wasn’t quite right. Her energy levels had waned. She was exhausted and having trouble breathing. When everyday activities like taking a shower and going out to dinner became more than Billie could bear, she knew she had to see her doctor.

After several tests and multiple visits with her primary care physician and a dermatologist, Billie got the answers she needed; but it wasn’t what she was hoping to hear. A suspicious spot on her arm turned out to be melanoma.

Billie was devastated.

‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’

Melanoma appears to be on the rise throughout the world due to increased ultraviolet exposure from the sun and tanning beds. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 4,200 Texans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year.

Billie knew the dangers of a melanoma diagnosis, but when she met Dr. Hareesha Vemuganti, medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Round Rock North, she said things began to look up.

“Billie came to me thinking she had metastatic melanoma, but we found she had local disease,” said Dr. Vemuganti. This means the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes or other parts of Billie’s body.

Hareesha Vemuganti, M.D., Texas Oncology – Round Rock North

Dr. Declan Fleming, a surgeon with Texas Oncology Surgical Specialists–Round Rock, removed the tumor. During the process of treating her melanoma, Drs. Fleming and Vemuganti uncovered other health issues including anemia, which had long gone undiscovered.

“Getting diagnosed with melanoma was scary, but from the minute I met Dr. Vemuganti I trusted her,” said Billie. “I just knew that if there was something wrong, she was going to do everything in her power to make it right. I could see that she had my best interest in mind. After my first visit at Texas Oncology, I told my husband I knew everything would be okay.”

Billie said she experienced the same feelings when she met Dr. Fleming during a surgery consultation. “He made me feel calm. You can tell that if

Dr. Declan Fleming, Texas Oncology Surgical Specialists–Round Rock

there is any trace of cancer, he’s going to be the one to find and remove it.”

 

From a medical perspective, Dr. Vemuganti said Billie was experiencing extreme symptoms. She was struggling to breathe and unable to complete daily activities without stopping for rest breaks. Getting back to optimal health as she began retirement was important to Billie and to her care team at Texas Oncology.

“Many patients come to a physician thinking that this is the end of life and expect the worst. However, in this case, the patient was surprised to know that she would have quality time with her family for many years to come,” said Dr. Vemuganti. “Billie is a wonderful person. It was a great pleasure to know and treat her. We will continue close surveillance through regular visits to ensure she stays healthy.”

A new chapter, a fresh start

Billie said she is grateful to Texas Oncology for giving her an opportunity to live the retirement she dreamed of but wasn’t sure she would experience after first being diagnosed. She’s also thankful for all her friends, family, church members, and total strangers who reached out to offer comfort and prayers.

Her energy is back, and she and her husband are preparing to hit the road this summer to spend time with family.

One thing that’s changed?

“Sunscreen,” said Billie. “Growing up, we didn’t think too much about it. I actually used to put baby oil on my skin to get tan during the summer – a lot of us did that. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sunscreen. I tell people now to put on sunscreen

Billie Elder is looking forward to the road ahead and spending time with
her grandchildren in Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
(Photo: Billie Elder)

and cover up. It’s so important.”

It’s a message she’ll carry with her as she marks items off her travel bucket list. Next up: Ginnie Springs, near High Springs, Fla.

The best treatment of cancer is preventing its occurrence or detecting it early when it may be most treatable. Sun protection over the course of a lifetime is the most important aspect of prevention. Currently, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater for any sun exposure of more than 20 minutes, paying particular attention to the face, ears, hands, arms and areas not covered by clothing or shaded by hats. Performing selfexams may help monitor for changes to the skin. For more information on what to look for during a self-exam, visit TexasOncology.com.