Inspiring Stories

Woman’s melanoma caught early thanks to free skin check at Women Connect event

Published: June 3, 2024

Nancy Watts left Methodist Hospital Foundation’s Women Connect event in February with two major takeaways: Everyone needs to pay attention to changes in their skin and seek evaluation if they notice a concern, and everyone should wear sunscreen every day, all year. 

A free skin check she received at the event also led to an alarming discovery – melanoma. 

“I definitely give all the credit to Women Connect,” she said. “Because if it hadn’t been for that, I’d probably still be sitting on it and not knowing that it was melanoma.”

Launched in the fall of 2022, Women Connect is the Foundation’s way of encouraging women to prioritize their own health.

Hundreds of women from across the Omaha metro area gathered at Nebraska Methodist College (NMC) for the most recent Women Connect event, “Skin Health Simplified.” Attendees engaged in an expert Q&A with Methodist dermatologist Tomas Huerta, MD, and women’s health nurse practitioner Susan Caniglia, MSN, APR, received free skin spot checks and massages, and took home some sample skincare products.

“A lot of skin problems that are really bad, unfortunately, can come from either neglect – patients not knowing what to look for, not thinking something is serious or waiting too long – or misinformation – thinking something that’s not really true or trying something they don’t think would be harmful but really is,” Dr. Huerta said. “Awareness and access to good information can make a difference in people’s health and outcomes.”

February 2024 Women Connect panel
From left: Dr. Tomas Huerta; Susan Caniglia, MSN, APR; Tracy Madden-McMahon

Proactive approach

Watts, 44, was interested in attending Women Connect because of the opportunity for a skin check, something she’d heard about from fellow coworkers in admissions at NMC but never pursued. Initially put on the wait list, Watts was happy to find out that she was able to receive one. 

During the skin check at the event, Methodist family medicine physician Maria Vacha, DO, told Watts that she should see a dermatologist because of an itchy, two-toned mole located on one of her hips. 

Dr. Maria Vacha
Dr. Maria Vacha

About three and a half weeks after the event, Watts had an appointment with Dr. Huerta. He didn’t seem overly concerned because the mole was fairly small, but he decided to complete a biopsy because it was two colors and Watts mentioned that it was new and appeared to have changed since she first noticed it.

Two days later, Watts received a phone call from Dr. Huerta’s office. The results showed it was melanoma.

Watts didn’t have a family history of skin cancer, the mole wasn’t in a spot that typically received sun, and it was small, so the news was a bit of a shock.

“That’s sometimes how it goes,” Dr. Huerta said. “You take a biopsy and don’t think it’s going to be anything too serious, but you catch stuff. So, it’s about being proactive.” 

In a follow-up appointment, Watts received a minor surgery to have the entire mole removed. Dr. Huerta was able to remove it completely, and Watts didn’t need additional treatment.

“Anytime we can catch a melanoma and it can be removed with surgery alone – to me, that’s best-case scenario,” Dr. Huerta said.

Dr. Tomas Huerta
Dr. Tomas Huerta

Watts knows that if she didn’t have the opportunity to attend Women Connect, she may have never received a skin check. 

“If it had gone on longer, it could’ve been very bad,” Dr. Huerta said. “But fortunately, it was caught, thanks to this event.”

Watts is now scheduled to see Dr. Huerta every three months for skins checks to see if anything new has appeared or any existing things have changed. She also made skin-check appointments for the rest of her family.

 

‘We want to make a difference’

Watts believes that even if she wouldn’t have been diagnosed with melanoma, she would’ve been happy she attended the Women Connect event. She knows that her first experience of Women Connect won’t be her last. 

“It was a very non-threatening, welcoming atmosphere,” Watts said. “I’ll definitely sign up for future ones.” 

The majority of women say they often put off their own health care needs because they’re busy taking care of the health of the rest of their family, including children, older adult relatives and spouses. Women Connect is working to change that. 

“All too often, women are experiencing significant health challenges in isolation,” said Tracy Madden-McMahon, president and CEO of Methodist Hospital Foundation. “We’ve created a community where women can draw strength and reassurance from each other, ask uncomfortable questions and overcome obstacles to better health.” 

Accessibility has always been an important aspect of Women Connect. Through free, centrally-located community events and monthly outreach, the Foundation is helping to reduce barriers to health care and improve the health of women in the communities it serves. 

2024 Women Connect event attendees
Attendees at the February 2024 Women Connect event.

“Women lead full lives and, most of the time, our needs and our health are typically last on our very, very long lists,” said Candias “Candi” Jones, the executive director of Girls Inc. and a member of the Women Connect community. “When I learned about Women Connect and the goal to bring health and wellness to women throughout our communities, it just spoke to me so deeply.” 

In addition to focusing on healthy living, Women Connect also encourages impactful giving. The Women Connect community has supported mammograms for uninsured and underinsured women, provided heart-monitoring equipment and essential cancer-care items to Methodist patients seeking assistance, and packed period product kits for women and girls who struggle to access those products.

“A lot of us, myself included, are from this community, and we care about it deeply,” Dr. Huerta said. “Part of being the Methodist team and believing in The Meaning of Care is we want to help people, we want to make a difference.” 

The next Women Connect event is set for later this year. Health education and resources are available to members of the Women Connect community through monthly outreach emails. To learn more about upcoming events and join the email list, visit the Women Connect webpage.

2024 Women Connect event crowd
Part of the crowd at the Women Connect event held in Feb. 2024.

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About the Author

Anthony Robinson, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, joined the marketing team after spending over five years as a college athletics public relations professional. He enjoys being able to use his writing ability to tell compelling stories that embody The Meaning of Care

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