Amanda Hunt, 39, discovered she had stage-four melanoma that never appeared on her skin.
Hunt, a mom and lawyer who lost her job in the pandemic, is undergoing immunotherapy.
Melanoma is rare but deadly; melanoma that doesn't show up on the skin is much rarer.
Amanda Hunt was tucking into bed when she felt a lump on her breast. As someone with breast cysts, Hunt, a 39-year-old mom in Titusville, Florida, wasn't too concerned. Still, she got it checked out by her doctor - and received a startling diagnosis.
Not only was it cancer, it was stage-four melanoma that had spread to the breast and other organs, even though Hunt had never spotted anything wrong with her skin.
She thought that to have melanoma "you have a mole or something on your skin that changes, you go to the dermatologist, hopefully they catch it early enough and remove it all, and then you're safe," Hunt told the "Today" show this week. "So it took me a little bit to wrap my head around what that truly meant, and once it sunk in, I was terrified."
Melanoma accounts for just 1% of skin cancers but causes a majority of skin-cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. Only about 3% of melanomas are "of unknown primary," or without a known origin, Hunt's oncologist told "Today."
Hunt used tanning beds multiple times a week for years
Hunt, an attorney, grew up in the Florida sun, getting lots of sunburns. From age 19 until her early 30s, she used tanning beds, sometimes as often as four times a week for years.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a common skin cancer, which her doctor removed. She began getting annual skin checks.
But no signs of melanoma came up until May 2020, when she felt the lump on her breast. The melanoma was also in her lungs, her left kidney, her left adrenal gland, and her eyes. Tumors also began growing under her skin.
"How this had occurred was a mystery," she wrote for Florida Today earlier this month. She had never missed her annual skin check and had never been diagnosed with a melanoma from a mole, she said. Melanoma has still never been found on her skin's surface.
Hunt said she was undergoing immunotherapy, which had caused Type 1 diabetes and meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. "It's a small price to pay to be able to survive metastatic melanoma," she wrote. She started a GoFundMe page to fund her medical expenses after losing her job during the pandemic.
Unusual signs of melanoma
The biggest warning sign of melanoma is a spot that's new or is changing in size, shape, or color. Other symptoms can crop up, too, like a persistent sore, itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
Some melanomas can appear in overlooked places like under a fingernail or toenail, inside the mouth, or in the iris of the eye. In Hunt's case, it never appeared. That may be because her immune system fought off the cancer early but some cancer cells crept under the skin and began to metastasize. Or it could be that the melanoma began spreading but regressed under the skin before it was spotted.
No matter the cause, Hunt's now dedicated to advocating proper sun protection on her blog, Love and Sunblock.
"I'm sorry that I didn't know back then what I know now," she wrote in a letter to her younger self in March. "I'm sorry that I didn't educate you about living a well-balanced life or the importance of protecting you from skin cancer. I'm sorry that I cared too much about what was popular and disregarded your welfare in the process. I'm sorry that I tried to change the beauty of your fair skin instead of embracing God's beautiful creation."
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