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Miss Illinois USA 2018: Melanoma Survivor

From Pageants to Patient

When you think melanoma, you likely think of moles. For Miss Illinois USA 2018 Karolina Jasko, it started with a manicure.

“I was a senior in high school and getting my nails done almost twice a month with a gel that uses UV light to set,” says Karolina, now 21. “I noticed what I thought was an infection on my right thumbnail — a black vertical line. I went to my primary care physician who referred me immediately to Northwestern Medicine.”

Karolina was diagnosed with subungual melanoma, which originates in the nail matrix and accounts for only 0.7 percent to 3.5 percent of melanoma cases worldwide. Karolina’s mom survived melanoma twice. People like Karolina who have a first-degree relative with a history of melanoma have a 50 percent greater chance of developing it. Melanoma accounts for only 1 percent of skin cancer diagnoses, but it causes the majority of skin cancer-related deaths. Time is critical for diagnosis and treatment.

“I was lucky enough to be diagnosed very quickly at Northwestern Medicine,” says Karolina. “What stuck out to me was how much everyone who took care of me truly cared about how I was feeling, while acting quickly.”

Collaborative Care

Karolina’s diagnosis was a whirlwind of collaboration. Northwestern Medicine Dermatologist Pedram Yazdan, MD, saw Karolina immediately at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. He took a photo of her thumb and sent it to Northwestern Medicine Dermatologist Simon S. Yoo, MD, who saw Karolina urgently that same day at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and performed the initial surgery to remove the melanoma, alongside Northwestern Medicine Chief of Surgical Oncology Jeffery D. Wayne, MD. Northwestern Medicine Hand Surgeon Jason H. Ko, MD, MBA, then reconstructed Karolina’s thumbnail.

“Early detection and excision are vital to the treatment of melanoma, which is why we acted so quickly,” says Dr. Wayne, who is also associate director of clinical operations at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “In Karolina’s case, it was a team effort: The Surgical Oncology team removed the cancerous tissue from the nail matrix, and then Dr. Ko reconstructed the thumb with two additional surgeries.”

Dr. Ko showed Karolina a variety of thumb exercises that she practiced at home. With this type of therapy, she regained full function in her thumb.

“I still see Dr. Ko every time I have a concern, and he never takes my concerns lightly,” Karolina adds. “He also remembers the little details about my personal life, which makes me feel cared about every time I’m there.”

Using Her Platform to Promote Prevention

In her personal life, Karolina is not only the 2018 Miss Illinois USA, but also a part-time model. She uses her prominence to promote melanoma prevention and screening alongside her mom, who shares her own stories as a melanoma survivor. Karolina hopes people learn from her story.

She advocates for safe exposure to UV rays. This means wearing sunscreen every time you go outdoors during the day, regardless of the season or time of day. Karolina also encourages annual visits with a dermatologist and to seek immediate care if any changes occur in your skin or moles.

And while she still gets manicures, she no longer uses the gel products. “I use the dip powder manicure, and I see my dermatologist every four to five months,” says Karolina. “Add a dermatologist to the list of physicians you see annually.”

Are you due for a skin check? Make an appointment with a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist.