Young Woman, 25, Shares How A Faint Line On Her Fingernail Turned Out To Be Cancer For The TikTok Community – Now She’s Taken Her Story To ‘Good Morning America’

Published Apr 17, 2022

Abigail Seaberg

Using Social Media To Share Your Cancer Journey

  • Maria Sylvia, 25, was diagnosed with subungual melanoma, a specific type of skin cancer that lives in the nail bed, after discovering what she thought was “a cool streak in [her] nail.”
  • Now, she’s been educating others about the rare cancer on TikTok. Another user even shared that Sylvia effectively “saved [their] mom’s life” by educating her about what signs to look for.
  • While checking your nails for melanoma skin cancer, look for things like dark streaks and nail splitting. If you see one or any of these indications of skin cancer when examining your nails, don’t jump to the conclusion that you have cancer, but definitely get it checked out.
  • It’s important to consider opening up to others during your cancer battle. Whether that’s through social media or with a small group of people, you never know how much the support can help you – or help those you share with – unless you try.

Sharing details about a cancer journey on social media can be really hard – and it’s not for everyone. But for Maria Sylvia, she’s enjoyed educating TikTokers about her rare melanoma diagnosis.

Sylvia, 25, never thought the “cool streak in [her] nail” would be cause for concern because she’d had the mark on her thumb for a long time. Sadly, it turned out to be subungual melanoma – a type of skin cancer that lives in the nail bed.

“When [the doctor] told me that, you know, ‘Oh, we found melanoma, you know, my heart dropped,'” Sylvia during a recent appearance on Good Morning America. “He was rattling off phone numbers that I had to call and I’m still like grasping that I just found out that I had cancer.”

Sharing Her Story On TikTok

Sylvia found a picture of the mark from ten years ago – though it was much more faint then.

“It basically developed almost, I wanna say, in a year,” she said in a TikTok (@invrfoundwaldo).

“I saw this TikTok a couple weeks ago and really thought nothing of it until I saw my mom’s toe and was really concerned,” the TikToker said in video remixed with one of Sylvia’s TikToks. “She got an appointment, and long story short, you saved my mom’s life. Thank you.”

What Should You Know about Subungual Melanoma?

When stories like this one emerge, people often get nervous and think that any similar type of mark on their finger, or elsewhere, is cancer. But we previously spoke with an expert about subungual melanoma (melanoma underneath a fingernail or toenail) to give our readers the information they need regarding this type of cancer.

RELATED: Myth Busting: My Fingernails Have Streaks…Do I Have Cancer?

“Subungual melanoma is a rare and often deadly type of melanoma,” Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue previously told SurvivorNet. “This specific type of melanoma that occurs under the nail has fairly classic clinical findings – with linear, darkly pigmented streaking of the nail and involvement of proximal nail fold or cuticle.”

She recommends that people see a doctor if they find such markings.

“Any pigmented streaking of the fingernail should be evaluated,” she said.

She also says that nail color in and of itself is not can be caused by many things other than melanoma.

“Determining one’s risk factor for melanoma solely on the color of the nail plate is neither helpful nor vetted in science,” she explained. “There are many causative factors that can lead to discoloration in the nail. Melanoma of the nail does not mean nor predict that you will have melanoma else where on the body, either.”

Overall, you should always keep track of any changes to your health, but just know that a change in nail color does not necessarily mean you have cancer. Even still, you should stay on top of self skin checks as well as annual appointments and report any changes to your health or appearance that appear. In the case of subungual melanoma, the disease can be “highly treatable” when discovered early.

Checking Your Skin for Melanoma

The American Cancer Society says the risk of melanoma increases as people age with the average age of diagnosis being 65, but the disease is not uncommon among those younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women). That being said, it’s important for people of all ages to pay attention to their skin since keeping an eye on moles or growths on the skin is an easy way to check yourself for melanoma.

“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.

Examining Your Skin for Melanoma Remember ABCDE

Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be a sign of melanoma, according to SurvivorNet’s experts. Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:

  • Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
  • Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
  • Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
  • Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
  • Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”

Considering subungual melanoma, more specifically, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends looking for the following changes:

  • A dark streak. This may look like a brown or black band in the nail — often on the thumb or big toe of your dominant hand or foot. However, this dark streak can show up on any nail.
  • Dark skin next to your nail. When the skin around your nail becomes darker, it could be a sign of advanced melanoma.
  • Nail lifting from your fingers or toes. When this happens, your nail starts to separate from the nail bed. The white free edge at the top of your nail will start to look longer as the nail lifts.
  • Nail splitting, which occurs when a nail splits down the middle.
  • A bump or nodule under your nails. You might also see a band of color on your nail. It could be wide and irregular or dark and narrow.

Finding the Support You Need

During a cancer battle, it’s important to know that you are not alone.

There’s always people out there for you to be vulnerable with, if you’d like, and connecting with others as you battle the disease can make a world of difference. Another cancer warrior named Kate Hervey knows this all too well.

A young college girl, she was shocked to be diagnosed with synovial sarcoma – a rare type of cancer that tends to form near large joints in young adults – after seeing her doctor for tenderness and lumps in one of her legs.

Hervey, a nursing student at Michigan State, had to handle her cancer battle during the COVID-19 pandemic and scale back on her social activities as a high-risk patient. That’s when she turned to TikTok as a creative outlet and inspired thousands.

Inspiring College Student, 20, Builds Community on TikTok Sharing Her Cancer Journey During COVID-19

“One thing that was nice about TikTok that I loved and why I started posting more and more videos is how many people I was able to meet through TikTok and social media that are going through the same things,” she says. “I still text with this one girl who is 22. If I’m having a hard time, I will text her because she will understand. As much as my family and friends are supportive, it’s hard to vent to someone who doesn’t know what it’s really like.”

Hervey is now cancer-free, and says she couldn’t have done it without the love and support of her TikTok followers.

“I feel like I’ve made an impact on other people and they have made an impact on me through TikTok, which is crazy to say. I can help people go through what I’ve been going through as well.” She has graciously agreed to allow SurvivorNet to use her content in order to help our community.

So while sharing your story to a vast TikTok audience might not be your thing, it’s important to consider opening up to others during your cancer battle. Even if it’s with a smaller group, you never know how much the support can help you – or help those you share with – unless you try.

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