Published Apr 17, 2022
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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:
Considering subungual melanoma, more specifically, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends looking for the following changes:
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.
“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.