In the 608: Cancer survivor stresses safety in the sun

MADISON, Wis. – When Renee Zemke walks through the doors at the UW Carbone Cancer Center it’s good news these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

Renee had a mole removed from her leg back in 2014 only because it bothered her when shaving. Renee says it was just an atypical mole and melanoma was not mentioned. Two years later, she discovered a lump under her skin where that mole used to be.

After losing family and friends to cancer, including her own mother, Renee knew she needed to get in right away to get the lump tested.

“The doctor called me Mother’s Day weekend, to tell me I had melanoma,” Renee said.

Looking back, Renee says she never took care of her skin growing up, didn’t use sunscreen, used baby oil when at the beach, and even visited tanning salons.

“I made all the mistakes. It’s hard to think that it’s not my fault, which is where a lot of the pain comes from,” Renee explained.

Five years later, Dr. Mark Albertini of the UW Carbone Cancer Center is able to show off Renee’s scans, which have come back clean during every checkup since April of 2017. Dr. Albertini works with patients who see cancer spreading, or those like Renee who had it removed but are at a high risk of seeing it coming back again.

“Melanoma is known to spread to both lymph nodes to various tissues of the body to lung to liver to bone to brain and that’s what makes it so fearful,” Dr. Albertini explained.

Dr. Albertini tells me over the last decade they’ve been able to make significant progress in the battle against cancer through clinical trials. He credits the participation from folks like Renee who are willing to enroll and benefit others in the future.

“Her genuine motivation was to provide for herself what was cutting edge and best available treatment, but equally important and quite admirable was her willingness to help others,” Dr. Albertini added.

Dr. Albertini says Renee is very fortunate to have had an easier road than others, but she’s no less important in the fight.

Renee tells me she hopes to instill better practices on herself and those she loves in helping to prevent others from having to go through the anxiety she’s faced over the years.

“Now I know better, and I can do better, and I do that by protecting my kids,” Renee added. “Wear sunscreen, get a skin check it doesn’t take long, once or twice a year for a half hour could save your life.”

In the 608 Tuesday morning, News 3 Now’s Josh Spreiter showed just how easy it is to get a skin check. Watch that here.