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 Health & 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.'”
NEXT: See celebrities who are cancer survivors below.
Edie Falco: Breast cancer, 2004 Falco kept her treatment a secret from her Sopranos co-stars. “Surviving cancer has a way of making you re-prioritize," she's said. In her case, it meant starting a family.
Kathy Bates: Ovarian cancer, 2003; breast cancer, 2012 The actress kept her cancer a secret but after her double mastectomy, she told People magazine: "Breast cancer runs like a river through my family.
Fran Drescher: Uterine cancer, 2000 It took two years and eight doctors before the Nanny star was finally diagnosed. After the experience, she wrote a book and started a cancer foundation.
Rod Stewart: Thyroid cancer, 2000 The rock icon got lucky when his cancer was discovered during a routine scan. He lost his voice for three weeks, and now sings an octave lower than he used to.
Carly Simon: Breast cancer, 1997 After a lumpectomy and chemotherapy, the singer told the New York Daily News she was "stronger than ever. I've always thought of myself as a warrior."
Sheryl Crow: Breast cancer, 2006 The singer, then 44, had just broken up with Lance Armstrong when doctors discovered a tumor. After treatment, she adopted two boys.
Sharon Osbourne: Colon cancer, 2002 The reality TV star had one foot of her colon removed. After discovering she carried the gene for breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy.
Hugh Jackman: Skin cancer, 2013, 2016 Jackman was filming X Men when a makeup artist pointed to a red mark on his nose. It turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. He now gets skin checks every three months.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro: Prostate cancer, 2003 De Niro, then 60, credited his complete recovery to early detection.
Christina Applegate: Breast cancer, 2008 The actress was only 36, but she had the BRCA gene mutation--her mom was a breast cancer survivor. She opted for a double mastectomy.
Michael C Hall
Michael C. Hall: Hodgkin's lymphoma, 2010 Hall used a break during Dexter to go through treatment. Getting a Golden Globe two-thirds through it gave him a "shock of positive energy."