Even though she had a history of melanoma in her family, she never expected what seemed like a minor bruise on her finger to be anything serious.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 15, 2021. It has since been updated.
A former Miss Illinois, Karolina Jasko, had gone to the salon when she was a high school senior to get her nails done, as she usually did a couple of times a month, when the technician alerted her about an infection on her thumb and a black line on her right thumbnail. She used to get acrylic nails on top of her real ones which were cured with ultraviolet (UV) light. She had a history of melanoma in her family and was really careful about it. So, when it showed up on her thumb in December 2016, her mother and she were taken by surprise. Initially, after the discovery of the line, she ignored it but a week later the infection grew angry and red. So, she went to see her doctor in Chicago. She was then referred to a dermatologist and a biopsy was done. They found out that it was a melanoma.
"We kind of both just brushed it off, and thought it was a bruise," she said. "A few days later, my finger swelled up really bad and I automatically thought I got some sort of infection from the nail salon." The bruise they found looked like a straight thin line drawn with a sharpie and had “a purplish tint” to it, Jasko recalled. When her infection had grown, it wasn't the infection itself but the purple line that had freaked her. Dr. Vishal Patel, assistant professor of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., told TODAY, that the UV light is like "tanning beds for your hands.” Dr. Patel, who is also the director of the cutaneous oncology program at the GW Cancer Center, said, "We’re seeing a lot of patients having not only melanomas but all types of skin cancers around the fingertips and the cuticles.”
Jasko, who is now 21, later took part in the 2018 Miss USA pageant as Miss Illinois. “It was overwhelming because everything happened so quick,” Jasko said. “It was so scary… My mom was like, ‘I can’t believe that I never even thought that it could be in your nail.’”
Her mother had skin cancer twice and recovered both times because of this she made sure that Karolina was also careful and checked herself for moles and other signs. However, they did not imagine it would show up on her thumb. During the biopsy, her thumbnail was removed entirely. Once they confirmed it was in fact, skin cancer, the doctors removed the whole nail matrix. Doctors also told her that they might remove her entire thumb but in the end that was not necessary. They did skin grafting to cover the thumb area after taking skin from her groin area.
“They [Doctors] still don’t know where the infection came from. They said that was like a sign from God…because if I would have waited longer and not come in with that, it could have been possible the melanoma would have spread,” Jasko said. Melanoma, called acral lentiginous melanoma, in the extremities is a rare subtype of skin cancer and less than 5% of the melanoma cases are in the digits, Patel said.