Just a week later, the spot had become so red and puffy the 21-year-old thought it best to get it checked by a doctor. She was told the inflammation wasn’t worth the worry but the strange mark was, in fact, cause for concern. Karolina was referred to a dermatologist where she learned that the ‘bruise’ was actually a sign of subungual melanoma – a type of skin cancer that occurs in the tissues of the nail bed (often the thumbs and big toes.)
The most common symptoms? A dark, vertical line, pigmentation on the nail, brittleness and bleeding. In Karolina’s case, however, the swelling was caused by an unrelated infection – a factor that may have saved her life.
“[The doctor] said to take it as a sign from God,” she told the Daily Mail. “And I do because if I hadn’t gotten the infection, I wouldn’t have gotten to go get [my finger] checked out.”
Doctors removed Karolina’s thumbnail so that the cancer wouldn’t return. They also took a skin graft from her groin to cover the area that it used to be.
“I thought everyone was going to be staring and it took a long time to get comfortable with it,” she said. “Now people say, “Oh I wouldn’t have even known if you didn’t tell me you didn’t have a nail.”
And while it’s not known what causes this type of cancer exactly, it’s believed that UV exposure (e.g. from spending lots of time in the sun or getting acrylic nails) can speed up its growth.
Despite everything, Karolina still gets manicures but opts for normal polish or alternative methods instead. Now, she’s using her experience to warn other women about the dangers.
“Take safety precautions, wear sunblock and if you get your nails done, try to avoid UV rays,” she said. “Dipping powder is great alternative.”