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A 27-year-old woman who was diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer is using TikTok to raise awareness of the dangers of melanoma.
Kassidy Pierson has earned more than 200,000 followers on TikTok while documenting her life with terminal cancer. Pierson was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma in 2015 after visiting a dermatologist about a suspicious mole on her thigh.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Pierson said that her oncologist opted not to perform any treatments after her mole was removed. A year later, a scan revealed that the cancer had metastasized throughout her body, including her brain, which lead to six years of treatments and surgeries to help manage the cancer.
"I was having surgery for a partial hip replacement at the age of 22, only one month after having part of my lung removed," Pierson told Buzzfeed. "I've done many different kinds of treatments, including immunotherapy, chemo, targeted therapies, studies that were available at the time, clinical trials, radiation and multiple surgeries."
Out of the three types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, melanoma is considered the most dangerous due to its tendency to spread throughout the body.
More than 80,000 skin cancer cases are diagnosed each year in Canada, with people under 35 being at the greatest risk for developing melanoma. It is estimated that more than 8,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2021, with more men being diagnosed than females.
Pierson, who has an 8-year-old son with her fiancé Chris Pittman, began creating TikTok videos in 2019. Initially, her videos were short PSA's to viewers to get their skin checked for skin cancer. As her videos began to earn more than 100,000 views each, Pierson began sharing more of her story. Her videos answer questions about her diagnosis, follow her through radiation treatments and allow followers the chance to witness the intimate highs and lows of living with cancer.
In July, Pierson began home hospice care, which she told followers significantly helped with pain management.
"I’ve been staying busy visiting with as many friends and family as possible," she told Buzzfeed. "My days are booked full, as we don’t know how long it’ll take me to die. It could be a couple days, weeks, months, or even years! It just depends on the cancer and how fast or slow it moves throughout my body. But I feel good now, and so spending as much time with the ones I love is what I’ve been doing with my days."
While she says there is nothing medically that can be done to treat her cancer, Pierson has been sharing frequent updates with her followers, including how she's talking to her son about her illness and making plans for her funeral.
"I am writing letters, making videos and getting gifts for my child to prepare for the moments I won’t be around for him," Pierson said. "I want him to know how much he means to me. I know they won’t replace who I am or me being in his life. But it will help him know who I am and give him a reminder on those special moments that his mommy is always with him."
Pierson has also been sharing her bucket list items with followers, which included flying in a private plane (her first time on an airplane) and accompanying police officers in her hometown of Ramsay County, Minn. on a ride along. Although her list is short, her biggest wish is to see her favourite band, Lukas Graham, perform live.
TikTok has been a welcoming and supportive community for Pierson, who has received encouraging messages from followers around the world. Even though she has documented her declining health, one of common comments Pierson receives from followers is her humour and positivity in the face of cancer.
"It’s made me appreciate everything. All the emotions that come with it. I take them as they come — let them happen when they are meant to, whether I’m happy, angry, sad, or whatever it may be. There's beauty in all of them, it's all a part of life," Pierson said of her terminal illness. "It also, of course, makes me take each day and every moment in as much as I can. Hugging a little longer, or staying out a little later to spend time with those I love. Just the appreciation of others around me and soaking in all those moments, as life should be like that."
Pierson has told followers that she plans on making videos throughout her hospice care and continues to answer questions from her viewers to help them understand the severity of a melanoma diagnosis.
"I’m hoping my journey will help others and save people from making the mistake in waiting to go to the dermatologist to get their skin checked because they’ll have to pay," she said. "I hope they learn from me. The earlier you get checked, the better. It could save your life."
What causes skin cancer?
According to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 90 per cent of skin cancer cases are caused by exposure to UV rays from the sun or indoor tanning.
What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?
Melanoma signs and symptoms follow the ABCDE rule: A is for asymmetrical moles, B is for borders of the mole look uneven, blurry or have scalloped edges, C is for colour (the colour of the mole is not the same throughout), D is for diameter (the mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser or 6 mm), E is for evolving (the mole changes shape, colour or grows in size).
Who is the most at risk?
Although anyone can develop skin cancer, there are certain risk factors that can increase a person's odds. People with a fairer complexion, lots of moles, a history of sunburn or a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of developing melanoma.
As with all cancers, the earlier the illness is detected the better. Those who frequently tan or using tanning beds, have blistering sunburns or a-typical moles that have changed shape are encouraged to visit a doctor or dermatologist.