Earlier this summer, Eileen Korey was visiting her hairstylist for a routine touch-up. But when the stylist, Kari Phillips, took a look at the back of her head, all thoughts of coloring it went out the window.
“Did you hit your head?” Phillips asked. “I see something here and I don’t like what I see."
Phillips took a photo of a suspicious looking mark on her scalp and showed it to Korey right then and there. And it's a good thing she did.
“It was very frightening-looking," Korey said. "Even though she said it was less than the size of a dime, it varied in color and it had varied edges. It looked like a bruise and it was flat and not raised."
Korey visited her dermatologist soon after, and she was diagnosed with in situ melanoma, which is stage zero. Stage zero in this case means that the skin cancer hadn't grown beyond the top layer of the skin.
"If I have to have melanoma this is the best one to have," she said. "It was just this incredible sigh of relief."
In August, Korey will see a surgeon who will remove the spot, and she is expected to be cancer-free after the surgery. In the meantime, she's been wearing hats every time she goes outside.
How my hair stylist saved my life https://t.co/690sb24qZ6— TODAY Wellness (@TODAYshowHealth) July 17, 2017
“We are under the impression that our hair protects us,” she said. “We just don’t think about it.”
In fact, one dermatologist, Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD — not connected to this story — has called scalp melanomas "the deadliest of all melanomas" because one nationwide study found that people with scalp and neck melanomas die from the disease at nearly twice the rate of people with melanomas elsewhere on the body. And she said one reason for that may be that there is often a delay in diagnosis due to the hidden location.
But Phillips, whose sister works in dermatology, always uses her position as a hairstylist to check over her patients, especially since she knows firsthand from her sibling that the area can be a risk.
“They have no clue what is going on,” Phillips said. “I am always looking.”
And for that, Korey is eternally grateful.
She said, "I called Kari again and said, 'Thank God you found this! You really did save my life.'"