Team Dragon Slayer
My name is Valerie Benkov. I am a stage 3 recurrent Melanoma Warrior. My sister Diane is a ten-year Stage One Melanoma survivor. Because of her I had started and had been regularly going to the dermatologist for a few years. I had several biopsies over the years, and all were fine. In April 2016 on my chin a new mole appeared, it changed very rapidly over 6 months. Never did I expect to hear the words, “you have Melanoma”, this was November 2016. The mole was on my chin and a punch biopsy revealed it was more than 1 mm in depth and Mohs was not an option. The depth was critical to possible lymph node invasion. A full chin excision was needed. I was terrified from the beginning and looked at my husband with tears streaming down my face wondering about him, wondering about our two boys.
I prayed a lot, I asked for signs from my dad who at the time was just passed one year. My father was the toughest person I knew, and many will tell you I am very much like him. My dad answered me. I was out one day just few days after the Melanoma diagnosis. I noticed a large poster advertisement. It was a portrait of young girl maybe 8-10 years old, she held a knight shield and sword. The tag line was, be the slayer of your own dragons. I knew this was my dad reminding me how tough I was, and I had this. It was from that moment on I grounded myself with strength, fierceness and positivity and never looked back on worry or fear. I would be the Dragon Slayer of my Melanoma.
December 18, 2016 was chin excision first surgery which was five hours and included a sentinel node biopsy. 14 nodes where removed, all where clean, no melanoma found. December 23, 2016 I was back in surgery because the margins were not clear, and more dermis needed to be removed from up under my lip. The second surgery was 3-hours long which include the start of reconstruction of my chin.
Fast forward 15 months of healing and continued visits to the dermatologist I was clean. March 2018, I woke up to a lump in my neck. I knew immediately in my mind Melanoma was back. After a needle aspiration confirmed the tumor in my neck was in fact Melanoma, the Dragon Slayer yielded her sword once again. I interviewed 3 different medical institutions both for surgical and oncology opinions. I ended up choosing MSK and on May 1, 2018, I had a six-hour surgery. I did not have one tumor in my neck there was a second tumor hiding behind the one we knew was there. I had bilateral neck dissection to remove all the lymph nodes level 1, 2 and 3. I began Immunotherapy treatments on May 7, 2018 and received the infusion treatments every 4 weeks.
The Dragon Slayer is winning. As I prepare to walk my First Walk with CCMAC I WILL BE ONE YEAR MELANOMA FREE and I will be done with Immunotherapy. I slay for me. I battle for my husband and two boys. I will always be a WARRIOR to raise awareness. Melanoma is a cancer that most have little to no knowledge about and hopefully I can impact someone else.
Thank you for supporting my team.
2019 Run / Walk
The Dragon Slayers
The Female Winner, Overall
Team Captain: Valerie Benkov
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