Why We Run: Jennifer Conner (JMT2019)
I have been a dermatology PA for over 13 years and have seen melanoma affect people of all ages and skin types. I have held the hands of a young mother, teenager, and elderly patient while counseling them about their melanoma diagnosis and it never gets easier. One of my most memorable melanoma patients was a gentleman who once came to my office for a few spots on the hands and just happened to mention that he was seeing his primary care doctor that same day for a lump in his neck that had persisted for several months. I felt the lump he described and quickly realized it was a lymph node that was firm and not mobile, which is usually not a good sign. He wasn’t due for a skin check, but I decided we should look him over more thoroughly that day. When I found his melanoma tucked under the fold of his ear, my heart sunk. Thankfully, his melanoma had not gone farther than that lymph node and he counts himself as a very fortunate survivor now many years later. I will never forget he and his wife crossing the finish line, hand in hand, at a local melanoma run/walk the following year. The entire staff of our dermatology practice was at the finish line cheering for them and crying cheers of joy that his story turned out to be a happy one when we knew it very well could have gone the other way.
As I reflect on this story of melanoma survival and the others who have not been so fortunate, I feel incredibly honored to dedicate my training and Chicago Marathon miles to melanoma awareness through Jack’s Fund, and to also have a career where I can make a difference for melanoma patients every day. I encourage everyone to get a full skin exam at least once a year, especially if you have a family history of melanoma, history of sunburns, tanning bed exposure, and any new or changing spots on your skin. When I’m not busy running this month, working, or spending time with family, I will be volunteering at free skin cancer screenings in my area. May is the time to look for a skin cancer screening event near you or call your local dermatologist to schedule an appointment. Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer are often silent and can easily go undetected if you aren’t getting your skin checked regularly. Wishing all of the Chicago Marathon runners best of luck with your training and on race day. I’ll see you there, wearing my sunscreen of course!
Jennifer Conner (JMT2019)