The chance encounter that saved my life

Mary Campbell | Published on February 4, 2019

Updated on April 24, 2023

Mary Campbell is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of Florida and is a former collegiate water polo player. As a public health student, she’s learned about the importance of preventing cancer—but one chance encounter with a stranger changed her perspective and saved her life. Now she uses her voice to raise awareness and funds for cancer prevention.

You never really plan for your life to change when you’re on your morning coffee run.

About a year ago, I was at a coffee shop when a nurse approached me and pointed out a large, dark, flat and overall irregularly-shaped mole on the back of my leg. She begged me to go to the dermatologist and get it checked out.

Flash forward through months of putting it off when I finally got myself to the dermatologist’s office. They agreed that the mole looked suspicious and it ended up testing positive for abnormal cells after a biopsy. The mole was found to be a “dysplastic nevus at a moderate level” which meant I had to get a chunk of skin removed to prevent skin cancer.

Thankfully, my diagnosis wasn’t serious—but that random encounter in a coffee shop probably saved my life.

As a Master of Public Health (MPH) student at the University of Florida, I’ve learned the importance of cancer prevention methods. Nearly 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone and more than 600,000 will die of these diseases. Many of these cases are due to a lack of access to cancer prevention resources and services, with research showing that up to 50 percent of cancer cases and about 50 percent of cancer deaths are preventable.

I’m so grateful to that random woman who felt the need to speak up to a stranger, and to my parents’ health insurance for enabling me to get a skin cancer screening. However, many Americans don’t have access to lifesaving cancer prevention resources. After my chance encounter, I decided to raise money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, the only U.S.-based nonprofit organization solely dedicated to cancer prevention and early detection, so that I could help Stop Cancer Before It Starts!®

Mary CampbellI knew about the No-Shave November movement, which benefits the Prevent Cancer Foundation® and two other charities, from other people participating. I thought it could be the perfect opportunity to share my story and raise money for the Foundation.

Most people participating in No-Shave November for cancer awareness shave their mustaches or beards. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to grow facial hair…so I decided to take No-Shave November in the most literal way and forgo shaving my armpits. My hairy armpits turned into $500 that could provide 50 people with the information they need about cancer prevention and early detection—so they have a chance to live long and healthy lives, too!

I hope my story will push others to seek prevention services and screenings or even host a fundraiser of their own.  Please visit to get started!


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