SCC Cosmetology student and instructor serves as first-line defense for client’s Melanoma battle | SCC


SCC Cosmetology student and instructor serves as first-line defense for client’s Melanoma battle

Published on May 22, 2024

It was a regular day at the Clinton Center Cosmetology Department. Somerset Community College (SCC) Student Julianna Gibson prepared for the next client to sit in her chair.

Patricia Flowers sitting in the chair with student Julianna Gibson and instructor Joni Upchurch standing behind herSCC offers discounted services to the community for students to gain experience while working under licensed instructors. The experience Gibson would gain that day would stick with her for a lifetime.

Patricia Flowers sat in Gibson’s chair.

“I was preparing for a vacation, and my daughter had arranged for professional photos. Lately, my gray hair had been showing a lot and I hadn’t had my hair done in years, so I decided to visit the nearby college,” Flowers said. “Little did we know it would be a life-changing experience.”

Flowers had a relaxing experience in Gibson’s chair. She trimmed 4-5 inches and worked on highlights and lowlights as they chatted about the beach and hairstyles.

That relaxing moment would be brief.

When the drying process would have been started, Gibson paused to fetch her instructor, Joni Upchurch.

“Ms. Joni said, ‘Patricia, you need to get this spot checked.’ she asked me if I knew it was there. My heart sank. I immediately asked for a picture. As soon as I saw it, I knew from experience it was a perfect example of melanoma.” Flowers said.

There was a big, irregular dark, flat spot right on the top of her head.

“I had a tiny meltdown but then regained my composure,” Flowers said. “I was glad to let other students see the spot to raise awareness.”

As soon as she left, she wasted no time in scheduling an appointment with a doctor. Following the appointment, she promptly underwent a biopsy.

“The test came back, malignant melanoma,” Flowers shared.

Flowers relied on her faith to keep her calm, “Being a Christian, I knew God had me regardless,” she said.

Less than two months after her SCC salon visit Flowers had surgery to remove the cancer. Two weeks later she had reconstruction surgery.

“They did a yin-yang cut so I wouldn’t have a bald spot on top of my head,” Flowers said. “I was amazed. The healing process has been great,” Flowers shared.

It’s now been over a year since Flowers began her cancer battle. Regular checkups will now be a part of her life but she is now on the other side of Melanoma.

May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Upchurch stresses the importance for cosmetologists to be vigilant due to the client usually not having a visual on their scalp.

According to Upchurch, cosmetologists play a crucial role in identifying scalp abnormalities. Whenever a client sits in their chair, these professionals are trained to first check for any unusual colors or textures.

As for the student Julianna, She has since graduated from the cosmetology program at the Clinton Center but reflects on that emotional day and recalls the first-hand experience lesson she will never forget.

“I felt good that I found the spot,” Gibson said. “We learn about checking for spots early on in the classroom. I didn’t expect to experience finding a cancer spot before I even graduated cosmetology school.”

Upchurch explains it’s never easy to tell a client they may have a cancerous spot, something she has had to do a few times in her 23 years as a cosmetologist and 16 years as an instructor.

“We can’t diagnose our clients but we are trained to recognize melanoma and encourage them to see a medical professional and educate them on this deadly cancer,” Upchurch said.

The instructor took solace that her students were retaining information and practicing those first-line defense routines.

“Not all skin cancers are preventable, but people can lower their chances of getting it by wearing hats, applying sunscreen on exposed parts of the scalp and body during sun exposure and learning the signs that point to skin cancer,” Upchurch said.

Flowers is now fighting to raise awareness about skin cancer by sharing her story.

“I am still alive,” Flowers exclaimed. “I truly believe that if the SCC cosmetology department hadn’t discovered the cancer. I might not be here today. That is how aggressive melanoma can be,” Flowers said. “It can spread so easily and go undetected. I have to be vigilant. Every person needs to be vigilant.”

For more information about the dangers and signs of skin cancer visit:

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