Masseuse sees woman’s odd spot leading to melanoma diagnosis

During a massage, masseuse Dominika Lachowicz pointed out a spot on the back of Seonag MacKinnon’s leg. Lachowicz said she had no medical training, but the patch of skin might be a sign of something more. MacKinnon visited a doctor and soon learned that the massage therapist’s instinct was right — that spot was melanoma.

“I was surprised by what she said. We were strangers to each other and I was uncertain how much weight to attach to what Dominika said,” MacKinnon a communications and public affairs consultant in Edinburgh, Scotland, told TODAY via email. “It would have been so easy for her not to say anything … I hope it may encourage more to keep an eye out for moles and marks.”

When Seonag MacKinnon’s daughter gave her a gift certificate for a massage, MacKinnon had no idea that relaxing gift would lead to early detection of skin cancer. Courtesy Seonag MacKinnon

A gift that leads to a discovery

In May 2019, MacKinnon’s daughter gave her a gift certificate for an aromatherapy massage. As she was relaxing, Lachowicz mentioned an unusual looking patch of skin on the back of her left thigh, in a place MacKinnon would not likely see.

“She asked if I was aware of it. Said she was not a medic but that she saw a lot of marks and perhaps this one didn’t look quite right,” MacKinnon recalled. “She advised me to consider getting it looked at by my doctor.”

At first, MacKinnon wasn’t sure what to think. She had never had a massage with Lachowicz before and the spot seemed pretty ordinary, like a bruise.

“It didn’t look alarming,” MacKinnon said. “There was nothing that screamed: ‘This is a silent killer.’”

Seonag MacKinnon wonders if she would have ever noticed the unusual marking on the back of her leg if massage therapist Dominika Lachowicz hadn’t pointed it out during a massage and suggested she see a doctor. Thanks to Lachowicz, MacKinnon visited her doctor and had the melanoma treated early. Courtesy Seonag MacKinnon

As she thought about it, she decided visiting her doctor was wise.

“I wasn’t unduly concerned,” MacKinnon said. “I didn’t think such a small innocuous-looking mark would be anything to worry about but there would be no harm in getting it checked with a doctor.”

Several weeks later, MacKinnon had an appointment with her doctor, who recommended she see a dermatologist. That’s when she learned she had melanoma.

“The consultant in the dermatology department … told me I had been very lucky because it was unlikely I would have been aware of it until the cancer had progressed much further,” she said. “Melanoma is apparently the deadliest of skin cancers and it spreads very quickly.”

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is rarer than other types of skin cancer. Still, it remains dangerous because it often spreads rapidly especially in later stages.

“He said, ‘We could have been having a very different conversation just now. The therapist has saved your life. I hope you are thinking of buying her flowers,’” MacKinnon said.

Know the signs of skin cancer

When it comes to performing self skin exams, it’s important to remember the ABCDEs.

  • A: Asymmetry where a spot or mole doesn’t look uniform or match each side.
  • B: Border when the edges look blurry, unusual or jagged.
  • C: Color where the spot isn’t one uniform color and might include splotches of brown, black, pink, white, red, white or blue.
  • D: Diameter for spots more than 6 millimeters wide.
  • E: Evolving when the mark changes in size, shape or hue.

Dermatologists can also perform annual skin checks to make sure everything looks healthy and no moles or spots have transformed. The American Cancer Society stresses that early detection makes melanoma more treatable.

‘She will always be a hero’

Since having the melanoma removed, MacKinnon has been doing well. She experienced some “physical sensations” in her leg that “were likely to have been caused by nerves forging new links after part of the leg had been removed.” But she has been visiting her doctor for regular checkups.

“I was recently discharged and felt truly alight and happy as I walked out of the hospital,” MacKinnon said. “Life is good.”

Seonag MacKinnon feels grateful for her family, the doctors at the National Health Service in the United Kingdom and especially Dominika Lachowicz who detected the aggressive cancer before it was in a late stage. Courtesy Seonag MacKinnon

She wanted to share her story to inspire others to regularly examine their skin and protect themselves from the sun.

“I hope it may encourage more to keep an eye on moles and marks,” she said. “I obviously take no chances and wear high protection sun cream in the summer and face cream with sun protection all year round. I believe some people take photos of their bodies every few months to monitor marks. That sounds like a good idea for all of us.”

She also feels grateful for the massage and Lachowicz. She did bring her flowers, but had to pause outside when she felt overwhelmed by gratitude for what Lachowicz had done for her.

“She will always be a hero in our family. As we had never met before and she was not medically trained, it would have been so easy for her not to say anything,” MacKinnon said. “I have regularly thought — ‘What if Dominika had said nothing?’ My two sons are engaged. It is quite a thought that I might not have been there for their weddings and all the other happy family occasions.”