“What I would most like people to know and understand about melanoma is that it can be prevented through staying safe in the sun. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing are the key.”
Mindi Ann Helmandollar-Armatas is a well loved wife and daughter. A full-time teacher, CrossFit Absolute Coach in Sherwood, OR, Cheer Coach at Sherwood High School, a great friend and so much more. Along with all of that she’s added a new calling to the list; After being diagnosed with melanoma she is spreading awareness about how this cancer starts and spreads.
Mindi was first diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma when she was 22 year old. She was a high school and college cheerleader and says she’ll never forget having to be tan in order to cheer at games. In college, all team members received free tanning and it was expected that they go, especially if they had fair skin like Mindi. At the time of her first diagnosis Mindi had just graduated college and was waiting for her husband to finish graduate school. After five years of doctor visits and being scanned every 3-6 months she “graduated” from the cancer institute since the likeliness of melanoma forming again was incredibly low.
Eight years after the original stage 3 diagnosis Mindi was developing vitiligo (a disease that causes loss of skin color in blotches) on her back and all of her eyelash and eyebrow hair turned white. Next she developed a cough. It turns out after seeing multiple doctors she had a tumor in her lung. Part of Mindi’s lower left lung was removed in order to remove the tumor. It was biopsied and turned out to be melanoma, making it stage 4, having metastasized from the original melanoma to her lung.
The first time Mindi was diagnosed she did not have many friends who understood the seriousness of melanoma. She didn’t even talk about it much due to the emotional toll it took. This time around she talks openly (for the most part) and has found it helps her to create a greater understanding about melanoma in others. In this way she has been able to raise awareness and important funds needed so a cure can hopefully be discovered.
Mindi notes herself as lucky to have such a huge support system, which has been key in her recovery. She says “my husband, parents, family, and friends have made a world of difference in helping me stay emotionally strong. If I need something, I know I can just ask and they will help me find the answers. I know not everyone has this and I feel so lucky I have such a huge support network. I am also taking advantage of all the great resources my doctor has offered and would highly recommend others to do the same such as counseling and classes about healthy eating. I have realized it is okay to accept help from others because it helps them too.”
An exemplification of fierceness in the gym and in her life, her friend Kelliegh will attest to that. The two were teammates for a few CrossFit competitions. They brought a lot of muscle and natural athletic ability to each workout. In the CrossFit community a natural emphasis is put on health. Mindi is helping us to have a full vision of what that is and specifically what we all can do. Kelliegh notes that “I’ve always been careful not to get sun on my face, but this is making me think about things with a whole new perspective. I remember when Mindi and I were considering doing the Summer Games, she was concerned about the amount of sun we would be in. When we decided to compete we made sure we were always in the shade when we weren’t competing. I remember thinking to myself she was so smart and truly cares for her body and health.”
Mindi is currently undergoing Immunotherapy, scheduled for the next year. She goes in every two weeks for a couple hours to receive treatment and shares; “I am so thankful this treatment is around because eight years ago there was nothing available. Something I currently struggle with the most is having to change the plans I had set for the next year in order to focus on my health. At least now though I have a chance of beating this once and for all, even though I know it will be a lifelong battle to stay cancer free.”
She describes herself as a very private person and says sharing her story is incredibly hard. She decided to open up in order to raise awareness and encourage healthy skin practices. She’s also striving to raise as much money as possible to help others through cancer research, the same way she has been helped. “What I would most like people to know and understand about melanoma is that it can be prevented through staying safe in the sun. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing are the key.”
As Mindi continues with all the things she enjoys she has a community rooting her on.