FAMU grad battles rare skin cancer

Jaleel Shaw wearing his Greek paraphernalia for his graduation pictures. Photo courtesy jshaw92 on Instagram.

Weeks after Jaleel Shaw graduated from Florida A&M in May with a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in pre-law, he was diagnosed with dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans. More commonly known as DFSP, this rare cancer is found in only 0.8 to 4.5 cases per million people per year.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this cancer will start off by appearing like a bruise or scar on the surface of the skin. It will then begin to develop as a lump of tissue and can appear near the surface of the skin and most commonly forms on the arms, legs or trunk.

In Shaw’s case it formulated as a bump on his head. At first he self-diagnosed, thinking it was a common cyst, but after it did not go away for over a month, he decided to get it checked out.

A combination of never being impacted by health abnormalities and celebrating his recent accomplishment of graduating undergrad led him to not take his diagnosis seriously initially and to conduct more research on his diagnosis. He had never had other major health issues other than a broken finger at age 13.

“I always got routine check ups growing up and nothing was ever wrong. I’ve even done research within my family to see if anything was hereditary, but nothing came up,” the Orlando native said.

Shaw’s dermatologist could not guarantee that he would be cured because of how uncommon it is.

“He only handled one patient with the same diagnosis within his 20 plus years of practicing medicine,” Shaw said.

The doctors found the cancer in the nick of time for him to be able to receive treatments. This type of cancer does not allow for chemotherapy, but instead requires layers of the skin to be removed. Shaw had to undergo eight surgeries to remove the cancer. With each surgery they removed layers of skin on his forehead. What started off as a dime-size skin removal grew to the size of a softball.

A close friend of Shaw’s, Alexis Davis, said Shaw’s diagnosis is a reminder of how unpredictable life can be.

“When he was telling me about his diagnosis it was just another reminder that 2020 has taught us that we cannot predict anything,” Davis said.

After eight intense surgeries Shaw remains optimistic about his recovery. Shaw has a few more producers lined up, but should be able to return to a clean bill of health by the beginning of the year.

“The biggest lesson I have learned from this is to be thankful, because at any moment things can change in the blink of an eye,” Shaw said.