At the age of 28, he had 100 moles suspected of melanoma removed: “I wear my scars with pride”

Two months after his mother died from melanoma, Theresa Kurtz She was shocked to be diagnosed with skin cancer.

She had confirmed melanoma and three seriously abnormal moles that were on the verge of developing into that type of skin cancer. The ordeal eventually led doctors to remove and biopsy 100 suspicious moles on her body.

At that time Kurtz was only 28 years old. He had made an appointment with a dermatologist to fulfill his mother's wish to see a skin specialist.

“She had always wanted me to go get a checkup. She had to die for me to take that request seriously,” Kurtz, who lives in Monument, Colorado, and is now 38, told .com.

“I was still mourning my mother and thinking about what life is like without her, and then I heard the same thing: At first, there was a lot of anger. And then I turned that anger into: How can I tell my story and help other people,” she recalled.

Melanoma was “everywhere”

Kurtz has many risk factors for melanoma, including light skin and red hair, many moles on his body, a family history of skin cancer, and a lot of exposure to ultraviolet light.

He loves to be outdoors and burns easily. He works in the field of college athletics, so Kurtz has spent quite a bit of time outdoors at baseball and softball games.

As a child, her parents always forced her to wear sunscreen, but as a teenager, her sunscreen use was inconsistent: “You think you're invincible and nothing is going to happen to you,” she remembers.

Kurtz was also a tanning bed user for about five years and noted that she “liked being tanned” when she was in high school and college. In a study titled 'Association between indoor tanning and melanoma in younger men and women', they note that women under 30 were six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tanned that way.

Kurtz's family is no stranger to skin cancer: Her mother, Mary, had spots removed that turned out to be melanoma, but she received treatment and was very proactive about getting regular skin checks, Theresa explained.

Kurtz, right, with his mother, Mary.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can grow rapidly and spread to any organ if not detected and treated early, warns the Cleveland Clinic. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2024 more than 100,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed and more than 8,000 patients will die.

In the summer of 2014, Kurtz's mother began to feel unwell to the point that she had to go to the emergency room. She thought she had shingles, but checkups and tests revealed that there was melanoma on her liver, brain and bones. “She was everywhere,” Kurtz explained. Doctors told the family that at some point, an undetected melanoma must have spread to a lymph node and started to metastasize.

Her mother passed away in August 2014, a month after receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma. She was 54 years old at the time.

'I love my scars'

Two months later, fulfilling his mother's wish for a skin checkup, Kurtz went to a dermatologist. “I look back and every day I am so grateful that I listened to her and finally paid attention to her,” she said.

Most adults have between 10 and 40 moles on their bodies, but Kurtz has many more. People with more than 50 moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. (But they're tricky to spot: One study also found that most melanoma patients have few moles.)

At that first appointment with her dermatologist in October 2014, the doctor removed and biopsied 28 suspicious moles on Kurtz's body. One of them turned out to be a stage 0 melanoma, meaning it was still in the top layer of his skin and had not yet grown deeper.

The spot, on the side below her right breast, required surgery that left a 9-inch scar. Three other moles, on her arms and legs, were very abnormal and also required surgery to make sure the margins were clear.

“I love my scars. For me, it is 100% proof that I am stronger than what tried to harm me,” she states. “I wear them with great pride.”

Kurtz underwent surgery to remove the melanoma in December 2014.

Kurtz estimates that doctors have removed and biopsied 100 suspicious spots on his body. Given her family history, she underwent skin exams, blood tests, and x-rays very frequently during the first five years after her diagnosis to make sure the melanoma had not spread. He now has an annual skin check. It has been 10 years since no melanoma was found on her body.

For a while, Kurtz was afraid to go out, but he decided he wasn't going to stop living his life. He still enjoys the outdoors, but always wears sunscreen with a high SPF and constantly reapplies it.

"Scars are part of my story," he says.  "I wear my scars with pride."

Reflecting on receiving the same diagnosis as her mother, Kurtz says she tries to find something positive in this ordeal.

“I could sit and wallow in the self-pity of 'This is horrible.' But instead, I try to tell my story in the hope that someone else will hear what I heard from my mom and go get a checkup,” she said.

“I really hope someone can hear this and say, 'I should probably get checked out or go to the dermatologist.'”

Melanoma symptoms

Doctors urge people to monitor their skin and pay attention to symptoms, such as the ABCDEs of melanoma (looking for asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving shape) and warning signs, including an “ugly duckling” mole. that doesn't look like any other or a dark vertical stripe on a nail.

A history of severe sunburn is associated with the risk of developing melanoma. More than a third of Americans, 36%, suffered sunburn in 2023, according to a new survey from the American Academy of Dermatology.

It's important to seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing, and apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin, the academy advises.

If you want to read the note in its original version in English, see .