Jasmine Miller of Holtsville, who loved spending time at the beach and pools, was shocked to learn that the growth on her heel was melanoma. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; Kendall Rodriguez; Photo Credit: Jasmine Miller

Growing up on Long Island, Jasmine Miller loved spending time at the beach at Robert Moses State Park and local pools. She never thought about wearing sunscreen or imagined she might one day develop a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, that would cause doctors to remove a section of her heel.

“I thought people with darker complexions, African Americans, we don’t get skin cancer,” said Miller, a 34-year-old life coach who grew up in Central Islip and lives in Holtsville.

“I know it’s not just me; a lot of us are ignorant to this fact. We all can get skin cancer.”

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
  • People with darker skin have a lower rate of developing skin cancer, but when they do, it is usually caught at a later stage, making it more difficult to treat.
  • Everyone — regardless of skin tone — should wear a sunscreen with SPF 30 and have any unusual marks or moles on their skin checked by a dermatologist.

Even though people with darker skin have a lower rate of developing skin cancer, when it is discovered, it's often more advanced, according to experts and studies, including one published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

"It's usually caught at more of an aggressive stage,” said Dr. Raman Madan, director of cosmetic dermatology at Northwell Health. That can make the cancer more difficult to treat.

Twenty-one percent of melanoma cases in Black patients are diagnosed when the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, compared to 9% of white patients, according to an American Cancer Society journal. The study showed 16% of Black patients are diagnosed when the cancer had spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs, compared to 5% of white patients.

People of all skin tones should be vigilant with sunscreen and wear a hat and sunglasses, particularly during the summer's long, sun-drenched days, dermatologists said.

"Even one sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer,” Madan said. “There are no cheat days with sunscreen. You need to wear it all the time.”

They also should be screened by having any unusual moles or marks on their skin examined by a specialist.

"People equate sunburns with sun damage, but you can get this damage even without getting a sunburn," Madan said. "Darker-skinned patients are still getting damage; it's just you don't see it and you don't feel it."

Light patches and itchy skin

Cancer was the last thing Yvonne Simpson expected to hear when she went to the doctor complaining about itchy skin and light patches on her face.

The 76-year-old mother of three and grandmother of 13 from Coram already had survived a battle with breast cancer.

“I thought it was just dry skin,” said Simpson, who first noticed the changes to her skin in 2019. “A friend at bingo said my skin had gotten so light she thought I was a white woman. After she said that, I knew I had better see a doctor.”

She underwent numerous tests in 2020. An oncologist at Stony Brook Cancer Center determined Simpson had cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a rare form of skin cancer and type of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This type of skin cancer is not caused by sun exposure, but doctors still advised Simpson to avoid the sun and use sunscreen.

“The myth is because our skin is darker, we really don’t suntan, but we do,” she said. “I had never ever used sunscreen. Now I put it on before going outside.”

Regular chemotherapy treatments haven’t stopped Simpson from her active lifestyle, which includes an upcoming trip to Las Vegas for a bowling tournament.

“My sisters say my skin looks good, but it’s still not where I want it to be,” said Simpson, who has a special daily skin regimen with a focus on keeping it moisturized. “I live with it, and I do what I have to do.”

Two years before getting checked

Miller is also bouncing back, slowly, after surgery in March at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Earlier this year, she had been diagnosed with melanoma, the form of skin cancer that causes the most deaths because it can spread to vital organs in a person’s body, according to the CDC. Melanoma can be caused by many factors, Madan said, including genetics and sun exposure.

Her melanoma came in the form of a spot on the right heel of Miller’s foot. It was two years before she got the mark checked, believing it was just a small injury she sustained by walking barefoot and stepping on a branch.

“It went from a little dot and grew to something hard at the bottom of my foot,” she said.

A trip to urgent care led to an appointment with a dermatologist at Stony Brook University Hospital, who took a biopsy. The results showed she had melanoma.

“I was like, ‘How did this happen?’ ” she recalled. “One of my doctors told me [singer] Bob Marley died of the same thing and I was like ‘Wait, I don’t want to hear about who died from it. I want to hear about who lived.’ ”

Dr. Aleksandra Krajewski removed a large piece of Miller's heel around the melanoma to make sure no traces were left behind. Doctors also removed some of her lymph nodes to make sure the cancer had not traveled to her internal organs. It didn’t.

At first, Miller worried she wouldn’t be able to walk, dance or wear heels again. But her foot is healing more quickly than she expected.

Now she makes sure her 5-year-old daughter wears sunscreen before playing outside.

“There was nothing in my family … nobody has ever had this,” she said. “So it can stop with me … I made it through and I’m grateful.”

Heuermann in court … Mastic bakery reopens … Powerball tonight Credit: Newsday/NewsdayTV

Funeral for Farmingdale band chaperone ... Heuermann in court ... Robotic companion ... Jets superfan

Heuermann in court … Mastic bakery reopens … Powerball tonight Credit: Newsday/NewsdayTV

Funeral for Farmingdale band chaperone ... Heuermann in court ... Robotic companion ... Jets superfan

Latest videos

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months