A woman was shocked to discover that what was initially believed to be an ingrown hair on her vagina was actually stage 2 vulvar cancer.
Marisa Strupp, from Wisconsin, went to her family doctor after discovering a bump on the inside of her labia. Despite being told the lump was “nothing serious,” her doctor recommended visiting a gynaecologist to have the lump removed.
In August 2018, Strupp visited her gynaecologist who removed the lump and sent it away for testing, only to inform the 29-year-old that what she initially thought was nothing turned out to be stage 2 vulvar melanoma.
“When I received the diagnosis, I was horrified, scared and paralysed with fear,” Strupp told Metro. “Never in my life did I hear about vulvar melanoma.”
According to the American Cancer Society, vulvar melanoma often presents with symptoms of a lump located around vulva, specifically the clitoris, labia majora or minora. While many begin as what appears to be a mole, they can be painful and itchy and potentially bleed.
Like other forms of melanoma, it is important to keep an eye on any moles or new moles that appear on the body for any sign of asymmetry, ragged borders, a change in colour or colour variation within the mole as well as a size and shape.
Vulvar melanoma comprises less than 2 per cent of all cases of melanomas, but can often go unnoticed; making routine self-checks and regular visits to the gynaecologist crucial to vaginal health.
Strupp underwent surgery to remove the tumour which had spread to surrounding nodes, upgrading her cancer to stage 3. A painful and debilitating recovery confined her to a reclining chair, with doctors prescribed 12 rounds of immunotherapy to help eradicate the cancer.
The project manager reveals the diagnosis made her feel “lonesome,” and she was eager to connect with other women who had experienced the same rare form of cancer.
Strupp took to Instagram to document her health journey and has since formed relationships with women all over the world who are facing similar cancer diagnosis.
“Not everyone has my specific melanoma, some have melanoma or some are starting their immunotherapy and want to know what it’s like,” she explained. “Or maybe they just want someone to connect with so they know when they explain their side effects, you can understand.”
Strupp credits her family and friends, including her boyfriend Stojan who left his job in Austria to be by her side, for helping her cope with the diagnosis.
While the road to recovery has been long, Strupp recently celebrated after completing her final round of immunotherapy.
She wanted to share her story to raise awareness for vulvar cancers and let women know they aren’t alone.
Words by Elizabeth Di Filippo
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