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Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories about local people dealing with cancer. The stories are running this week in conjunction with the Relay for Life fundraiser, which is Saturday in the Butte Plaza Mall. 

Janice Copeland wasn't sure how long the fleshy nub had been on her hip.

She paid little attention to the pimple-like protrusion that resembled the eraser on a new pencil.

Then it began to itch.

"I'd scratch it, and it would bleed," Copeland said, "but it seemed harmless enough."

One day at work, it bled right through the layers of her clothing. A concerned friend and co-worker demanded, "You better get that thing taken care of."

A doctor's visit in Butte was followed by a trip to Billings for a lymph node biopsy, and a diagnosis of Stage 4 malignant melanoma.

That was in 2003.

Back then doctors said the survival rate for that kind of cancer was 5 to 10 years, with treatment.

Fourteen years later, she's had no recurrences.

Copeland, 72, of Butte, will join other cancer survivors at the Relay for Life fundraiser on Saturday at the Butte Plaza Mall.

Participating in Relay for Life over the years has provided Copeland with many friendships and a support network that helped her recover, she said.

On the Clark's level of 1 to 5, used to gauge stages of the cancer's advancement, hers was a 4, and well advanced.

"Of skin cancers, melanoma is the most fatal," Copeland said. "The odds were not really in my favor."

Especially since the cancer had metastasized.

"What was going on the outside cancer was also going on the inside, and spreading to my lymph nodes" she said.

Options were limited at that time, and a year of interferon therapy was the only treatment available to her.

The first doses were strongest, dripped through an IV, followed by injections three times a week for 12 months.

Side effects made her miserable.

"It makes you feel like you've got the worst case of the flu that you've ever had," with body aches, nausea and no appetite. "All I wanted to do all day was sleep."

Today, she's fully recovered, retired and traveling with her husband, having fun and checking things off their "bucket list."

With a fair complexion and light hair, Copeland was predisposed to skin cancer although anyone can get it.

And Copeland cautions that's not always the typical, ominous black mole or lesion that indicates cancer, and anything suspicious should be checked.

Spending too much time in the sun in her youth also contributed.

"When I was younger I spent time at the beach or at my grandmother's at Lake Tahoe, getting sunburned," she said. "I'd get a red as a beet. And when tanning beds came out, I thought oh, that's a quick way to get a nice tan."

Other family members also suffered from skin cancers.

Her husband provided plenty of support through her illness and accompanied her to every appointment.

Copeland said it's important not to go to the doctor’s visit alone.

"You when you go, you want to have someone with you, because as a patient, you don't always hear everything," she said. When doctors spoke, "My husband heard things I hadn't heard, in my frame of mind."

To stay healthy today, Copeland visits her dermatologist and oncologist twice a year, "to keep on top of it."

She strongly advocates education and hopes that parents will teach their children about the dangers of being in the sun and tell them about sunscreen and other ways they can protect themselves.

She believes her owes her recovery to her positive outlook and determination.

“You have to get a good attitude about the cards that life has dealt you," she said. 


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