Woman Diagnosed With Rare Form of Skin Cancer After Being Told She Had an STD: 'I Knew I Had Cancer'

Ann Heslin told TODAY that she watched her father die from the same form of skin cancer in 2010

Ann Heslin
Photo: WWLTV

A Louisiana woman sought a second medical opinion after receiving a questionable diagnosis from her doctor — and it may have saved her life.

Ann Heslin, 44, has vulvar cancer, a rare gynecological form of skin cancer. In an interview with TODAY, Heslin said she was initially told that she might have a sexually transmitted disease after experiencing "incredible burning pain" on her vulva.

But Heslin, who serves as director of special philanthropic events at Ochsner Health, had a nagging feeling that it was something else. "In my heart, I knew I had cancer," she said. So, she got a second opinion.

"It took a lot of courage for me to ask [my dermatologist] to look at such a private area. But I was in so much pain that I needed to get some resolution," Heslin explained.

Heslin first began experiencing vulva pain in January 2021 and discovered two ulcers on her labia, according to TODAY. Although her first doctor thought it was an STD, she tested negative, but tested positive for a bacteria. Despite taking an "aggressive course of antibiotics and steroid cream," however, she said "nothing was working" to resolve the issue.

Two months later, Heslin was struggling to walk due to the pain, leaving her "​​very desperate for the solution."

"It was just getting worse and worse," she recalled. She was also concerned that her condition might be skin cancer, since her father died of the same disease years ago.

"I said [to the doctor] 'Well my dad passed away from squamous cell carcinoma … in his left sinus cavity in 2010 and this looks similar to what my dad had on his face,' " she recalled.

Upon further testing, Heslin was also diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.

"My dad had a very short cancer journey … five months from diagnosis until the day he died," she told TODAY. "Everybody in my family was concerned. I cried. My sister cried. My mom cried."

Heslin opted to have surgery to remove the cancerous lesion and a nearby lymph node. On the day of the procedure, she was both "shocked" and "disappointed" to learn that her cancer had been upgraded from stage 1A to stage 3.

"I had a lot of reconstructive surgery," she said, adding that Dr. Katrina Wade, a gynecologic medical oncologist at Ochsner Health, "did an incredible job" with the "very extensive" procedure.

Heslin began six weeks of chemotherapy eight weeks after undergoing the surgery. Afterward, she completed 20-minute rounds of radiation 27 times.

In October 2021, a PET scan determined that Heslin was cancer-free following three months of treatment.

Now, Heslin hopes her story can "be something that other people can benefit from."

"There's nothing to be ashamed of — your skin is your largest organ in your body. So I happened to have skin cancer on my vulva," she told TODAY. "All cancers are important and I really hope that by sharing my story it will encourage other people (to seek help)."

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