When Bethany Greenway saw what she thought was a liver spot on her forehead, she didn’t pay much attention to it. Already very freckled, she assumed it was just part of pregnancy hormones and let it be. Three years later, after a diagnosis of melanoma, radiation and several surgeries, she wants everyone to know how wrong she was.
“I had what I thought was a liver spot start growing on my forehead,” Greenway, 39, told TODAY in an interview. “It looked no different than a giant freckle.”
The dark patch on Greenway’s forehead was actually skin cancer, and it was growing at a rapid rate. Greenway finally went to the doctor in 2014 after the “liver spot” had grown a painful, aching mole in the center. Her mother had battled melanoma as a young woman, so Greenway elected to go in for a skin test.
Her doctor thought the blemish was benign, but it certainly wasn’t. After a biopsy, it was revealed that the freckle was no freckle—it was melanoma, and the mole in the middle was desmoplastic melanoma, a rare form of the skin cancer that looks like a flesh-colored or white lesion, according to Dr. Julie Karen, a board certified dermatologist in New York, who was not involved in Greenway’s treatment.
“This raises an extremely important point,” Karen told TODAY. “Dark is by no means requisite to a diagnosis of melanoma.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the “ABCDEs” of melanoma (asymmetry, border, color, dimension and expansion in a mole or birthmark) are not hard and fast rules, as Greenway’s case clearly shows.
Cancerous moles are often expected to be large, dark or irregular in in color, irregular in shape. The visual below, from the National Cancer Institute, shows irregular moles on the left and cancer-free moles on the right:
“If you notice a spot that is different from others, or that changes, itches or bleeds, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist,” the American Academy of Dermatology website says.
Greenway has been actively documenting her experience with melanoma on Facebook, and she’s eager to warn others to protect their own skin to avoid her own fate.
Since her diagnosis, Greenway has undergone countless surgeries, radiation and immunotherapy infusions. She had to stop breastfeeding her youngest child, put plans on hold to expand her family and deal with the innumerable difficulties of facial surgery, leaving her a scar she nicknamed “Bacon” and robbing her of an eyebrow that will never grow back.
Still, she has been mostly optimistic in her journey (which you can follow here), and is doing her best to make sure that everyone knows how crucial sun protection is.
“It makes me ill [to watch other people tan], please stop frying your skin,” Greenway told TODAY. “Please stop sun bathing and going to tanning salons. A tan isn’t a healthy glow—it’s damaged skin.”
Since Greenway’s TODAY interview, she’s received hundreds of messages on social media from those voicing support for her and sharing their own stories of battling cancer. She posted an update recently acknowledging that she never set out to be an advocate, but that she’s glad she’s “inspiring people to wear sunscreen and get yearly skin checks” and that she’s “happy my message has a podium at the moment.”
She also recently shared her concerns about an upcoming vacation where sun exposure would be possible, noting that her recovering skin physically hurts when exposed to the sun. She also voice her concerns for her children and their future skin health.
Here’s hoping that Greenway’s vacation went off without a hitch—and will plenty of sun protection for her and her family.