Pro Football Hall of Famer Gets Personal about Melanoma
by Laura Shipp
Former Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history. In addition to being inducted into both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame, Troy is a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback and a Super Bowl MVP. During his twelve consecutive seasons with the Cowboys, he led his team to a remarkable three Super Bowl victories.
Now he’s teaming up with the cancer advocacy community for a new initiative aimed at educating people about advanced melanoma. It’s called Melanoma Just Got Personal. And for Troy, melanoma is personal. He’s a survivor.
Coping recently caught up with the NFL legend, who talked about his stage II melanoma diagnosis and what he’s doing now to raise awareness about the disease and support those who are in a fight for their life.
As an athlete growing up in Southern California, Troy spent more than his fair share of time in the sun. But he never thought much about skin cancer until 1998 when he noticed a suspicious spot on his back. He brought it to the attention of his dermatologist, had a biopsy, and a week later was told he had cancer. Fortunately, Troy’s melanoma was caught early, and his doctor was able to completely remove it surgically.
Advanced Melanoma Is Not a “One-Size-Fits-All” Disease. It’s Personal.
- Advanced melanoma can vary from person to person because of various genetic changes that may be present in the tumor.
- Melanoma is one of the cancers with the highest frequency of mutations, and mutation testing is recommended for people who have advanced melanoma.
- For example, the BRAF mutation is found in about 50% of advanced melanomas, making it the most common mutation.
- There are treatments available that are designed to target cancer cells with the BRAF gene mutation and treat this particular form of advanced melanoma.
“[The melanoma] just happened to be in a place where I could see it when I was getting out of the shower,” Troy says, acknowledging his good fortune in spotting it early. “I still sometimes wonder what would have happened if it was in the middle of my back where I couldn’t see it. That’s the most disconcerting thought.”
Troy admits that at the time he wasn’t too familiar with what melanoma is and how lethal it can be. But after talking to his doctor, he got a quick education.
“[The melanoma] just happened to be in a place where I could see it when I was getting out of the shower.”
That was nearly 20 years ago, just as the World Wide Web was going mainstream in the U.S. Now people have near-constant access to an abundance of health information online. And Troy says his approach to his diagnosis would be different if it happened today, especially with the advances in melanoma treatment that have occurred over the past few years.
“If I were to be diagnosed right now,” he says, “I would immediately start trying to gather as much information as I can, and find out what mutation of melanoma I have and what’s the best course of action.”
He reveals that part of the reason he signed on with this new initiative is to help others have access to the kind of information he would want if he were diagnosed with advanced melanoma today. “I don’t doubt for a second that this campaign will extend lives,” he asserts, “and I have an opportunity to play a small role in that. I’m really happy about it.”
When I ask Troy what he has learned from facing cancer, which he says is the toughest opponent he’s ever gone up against, the hard-edged athlete gets a little reflective. “As a cancer survivor, you realize that every day is special, that life is precious,” he says. “It sounds cliché, but it really hits home once you’re affected with something like this. It’s devastating news, but there’s hope. It’s important that we all have that.”
Melanoma Just Got Personal – an initiative of Novartis Oncology, melanoma survivor Troy Aikman, AIM at Melanoma, the Melanoma International Foundation, and the Melanoma Research Foundation – aims to help people living with advanced melanoma learn more about their disease, raise awareness of this rarely discussed skin cancer, and rally support for those fighting for their lives. Learn more at MelanomaJustGotPersonal.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2016.