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Rising Stars: Meet Candice Mason

Today we’d like to introduce you to Candice Mason.

Candice, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
In August 2017, I had a mole removed from the left side of my nasal wall. It was sent out for a biopsy. I was in the middle of genomic sequencing work when I got the dreaded call from the plastic surgeon. Immediately, I was referred to Banner Health in Tucson, AZ. After a sentinel lymph node surgery where surgeons removed the mole with clear margins and four lymph nodes, I was diagnosed with stage IIIa melanoma. One lymph node was found to have micro-metastatic melanoma. Basically, the pathology lab found one cancer cell in a lymph node that was removed from my chin. My life as a cancer patient began with bloodwork,  scans, oncology appointments, immunotherapy, and side effects. This was my life for six months. Due to side effects from the immunotherapy, which included eosinophilia, and  with clear scans, my oncologist and I decided to end treatment.

Then in September of 2019 (just as I was declared NED (no evidence of disease) and hitting the two-year mark of being cancer-free). I was thankfully rear-ended by a young man. After a week of chest pain, I went to the ER. A CT scan showed a lesion on my lung and I was tested for Valley fever. I called my oncologist right away because I knew something was wrong and the Valley fever test came back negative. I had a lung biopsy. This biopsy came back positive for melanoma, thus upgrading my cancer status to stage IV. Next up, scans, scans and more scans. It was determined that the melanoma had returned with three tumors on my brain, lung, spleen and pelvic wall. I had to have an emergency bilateral craniotomy (double brain surgery), brain radiation, dual immunotherapy with Opdivo and Yervoy. This time I had to deal with and stick through more side effects. Present-day, I am still pushing through the side effects of cancer treatments. The big one is radiation necrosis in my brain. This means I have edema on my brain because my body is trying to attack itself around the surgical sites. This is an unfortunate side effect from radiation that can recur over time as the brain continues to heal.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Besides juggling mom tasks, being a wife, cancer researcher, patient and running a business, the biggest struggle is trying to sell sun safety and debunking myths. For instance: “It’s just skin cancer” and “skin cancer is only for fair skin”.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I have 15 years of genomic cancer research with the University of Arizona Cancer Center.  I like to think of myself as a walking oxymoron.  As skin cancer rates sore, I use social media and in person events to engage the community in sun safe practices.  I started my business, Desert Camo Apparel, as a bucket list item and a way for me to have a creative outlet to deal with my anxiety.  Most importantly I want to promote sun safety, skin cancer and skin cancer awareness within my community. We specialize in certified UPF50+ apparel, accessories, medical-grade sunscreen and more! Our slogan is: “Because Cancer is a Prick!” and it’s a good one because it can be applied to any type of cancer.

What matters most to you?
Educating my community and swapping cancer stories with others. Cancer affects more than just the patient. It spills over into your professional life, relationships, etc.

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Science pic is by Amy Nichole with Bella Volto Photography.

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