Topics in This Section
In November 2011, Donna Piunt was driving along to work like any other 51-year-old, jamming to music in her car. She and her husband, Stefan, were happily married and they had two beautiful daughters in their twenties. Donna arrived to work with a smile on her face as she greeted the little boy she cared for a a nanny. In her spare time, she was pursuing her Associate’s Degree in medical billing and coding, which she could work on while the little boy napped.
In the midst of working and earning a degree, Donna procrastinated when it came time to take care of her own health. After experiencing itching and bleeding on a suspicious mole, Donna finally made an appointment a have it removed. When the physician assistant shaved the mole, she said, “Oh, that’s not good,” which caught Donna by surprise. The physician assistant explained that she saw a black spot in the center where the mole had been. Concerned that it may be melanoma, she sent the sample to pathology.
Within a few days, Donna received the call that would change her life - and finally allow her the opportunity to make a difference in the world. “I remember hearing the words ‘malignant melanoma’ followed by tests, blood work, CT of my brain, etc.,” explained Donna, who began to feel numb. “Thoughts were racing through my mind so fast; I began to get a headache.”
"I was overwhelmed with the wealth of knowledge that the Fox Chase web site had to offer."
Donna’s first step was to make an appointment to be evaluated by a specialist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. She digested the news over the next few days, as she continued to go about her daily routine, but was anxious to learn more about her diagnosis, so she spent a lot of time on the Fox Chase web site. “I was overwhelmed with the wealth of knowledge that the Fox Chase web site had to offer about my melanoma diagnosis,” shared Donna, who admitted to playing doctor to try to stage her own cancer. “Who did I think I was fooling, thinking that I could stage my cancer?”
Donna and her husband met with Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with melanoma. He reviewed the pathology report and explained treatment options and next steps. “Dr. Farma remained focused while discussing the specifics of surgical treatment, yet I sensed his genuine compassion underneath his serious composure.”
Dr. Farma’s treatment recommendation started with sentinel lymph node mapping and wide excision, which was scheduled the day before Donna was to receive her Associates Degree.
Three weeks later, Donna was admitted to Fox Chase for her surgery. She recalled feeling overwhelmed when she saw the surgery site and drain, however Dr. Farma was pleased with the outcome of her surgery. “I had complete confidence in his medical opinion and surgical skills,” shared Donna. “But I was still trying to comprehend my diagnosis and recovery. I kept wondering what the pathology would show.”
Not long after surgery, Dr. Farma called Donna with the results. The cancer had started to spread and were in her lymph nodes. “Dr. Farma was extremely compassionate when he called to deliver the news," shared Donna, who learned her cancer was stage 3b, which meant she had additional treatment in her future. Armed with this news, Donna began thinking about how she could educate others about the warning signs for melanoma. She hopped on the Internet to better understand her disease and filmed some videos about her story to post on YouTube.
"Dr. Farma was very helpful in explaining the next steps and guiding us to the best treatment option for me."
Once Donna had recovered from surgery, she and her husband met with Dr. Farma to discuss her options. “Dr. Farma was very helpful in explaining the next steps and guiding us to the best treatment option for me,” shared Donna, who opted for inguinal lymph node dissection to remove the remaining lymph nodes from her leg. After that, she would begin a course of chemotherapy called Interferon alpha 2b for a year.
After she recovered from her second procedure, Donna met with Fox Chase medical oncologist, Anthony Olszanski, MD, who would oversee her chemotherapy treatment.
“I instantly felt comfortable with Dr. Olszanski and the treatment he suggested.”
Although dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy was sometimes challenging for Donna, she maintained her positive attitude and continues to post YouTube videos. In October 2012, Donna launched a Facebook page (The Cancer SPOT) to raise melanoma awareness, inspire and use humor to encourage fellow patients, which she continues to post regularly on in 2015.
“Since starting my blog, I have encountered many exciting opportunities and been in contact with some amazing people worldwide,” said Donna. She faces each day living her life to the fullest and counts each day as a gift. She spends her time educating her family, friends, followers and sometimes complete strangers, asking if they’ve ever had a full body skin check. “I hope to save someone from developing melanoma and having to confront this disease.” This journey has allowed Donna to realize her dream of making a difference for others.
After Donna finished her treatment, she and her husband planned a vacation to Tina’s Place, a Michigan based organization’s whose mission is to “enhance the well-being of Melanoma warriors and their families.” Donna now sits on the board of Tina’s Place and counts its founders and network among the large community of Melanoma warriors she is proud to have joined the ranks of. Reflecting on her journey, Donna has said, “I am extremely grateful to the wonderful staff at Fox Chase for the excellent care I have received. I am especially grateful for my physicians, Dr. Jeffrey Farma and Dr. Anthony Olszanski, for their compassionate and professional care given to me that set my heart and mind at peace.”
In 2015, you can still find Donna swimming 32 laps daily dedicating each day to fellow patients and their family and friends or raising money for melanoma Safe From the Sun, a Melanoma cancer walk in Wayne, PA. These activities are more than just a way for Donna to give back and build community while staying active. She’ll proudly explain that she’s “on a mission” to “pay forward” the positivity and support she’s found that has helped transform a devastating life experience into her new life’s calling.
Most recently Donna Launched a year long (May 2015-May 2016) campaign called “Hand the Hoodie” to raise Pediatric Melanoma awareness with a generous donation of lime punch boys hoodies from the UVskinz.com. The UVskin.com will be promoting the campaign and posting photos of the young melanoma warriors on their social media sites.
Catch one of Donna’s recent interviews online at Frankly Speaking About Cancer, an internet radio show dedicated to raising awareness about Melanoma and highlighting advocates and their crucial support teams.