Denver Weathercaster Kathy Sabine on Her Skin Cancer Journey | Westword

9News' Kathy Sabine on Her Skin Cancer Journey One Year Later

"I really want to take this time to see if there's a different path I should take that might make a bigger difference."
Kathy Sabine channeling her inner superhero and at the beach, where she opts for shade, a triple layer of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
Kathy Sabine channeling her inner superhero and at the beach, where she opts for shade, a triple layer of sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Courtesy of Kathy Sabine

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A year ago, Kathy Sabine, whose nearly three decades as a weather forecaster for 9News has established her as one of Denver's most iconic television personalities, learned that she had skin cancer on her face — a diagnosis that put both her career and potentially her life at risk.

What a difference twelve months makes. After successful surgeries for her condition, which she detailed on social media by way of soul-baring posts and graphic photos that she says made her look like "the Bride of Frankenstein," Sabine returned to the airwaves last August, and she's still going strong. But rather than signing the lengthy contract extension that was recently offered to her, Sabine opted instead to ink a one-year pact, in part because she's thinking about expanding a role that has been taking up increasing amounts of her time: spokesperson for skin-cancer prevention.

"What I thought was just going to be something so scary and painful and devastating turned out to be such a blessing for me in my life," she reveals. "I have connected with so many amazing people who have shown me their bravery and shared their stories with me. And I've also connected with organizations I've been able to help — and they say I've been making a difference. I feel like that's all any of us want to do."

Sabine, who was named the state's best on camera-meteorologist last month by the Colorado Broadcasters Association, has lived most of her life at elevation; she was raised in the Lake Tahoe area and moved to Colorado in her twenties. She's long been diligent about using sunscreen when outdoors riding her beloved horses or visiting the beach, but "because of the altitude in Colorado, we are at the epicenter of skin cancer," she noted during a Westword interview last July. "The odds of it happening here are so much higher than a lot of other places."
click to enlarge
Kathy Sabine following her July 8, 2022, surgery and a selfie taken ten days later.
Courtesy of Kathy Sabine
She learned about her own case during a May 2022 visit with Dr. Leslie Capin, whom she describes as "the best dermatologist in the state and perhaps the country." Sabine flagged an age spot on her nose, and after examining it, Capin was concerned it might be cancerous.

What's known as a punch biopsy was scheduled for May 26, and a few days later, the analysis confirmed that Sabine had skin cancer — not melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease, but a basal cell-squamous hybrid.

Because of the location of the cancer, Sabine was scheduled for two operations on July 8 — one a so-called Mohs procedure to remove the troubling area, and then plastic surgery to reconstruct her nose using cartilage from her ear. And the discovery of another squamous on her forehead added even more complications to an already challenging sequence of events.

"Mohs doctors say skin cancer is like an iceberg: You may see the tip of the iceberg, but what lies beneath can be so much bigger, deeper and more extensive," she notes. "So when they do a Mohs procedure, you lay there for an hour or so — go under the microscope. And if your margins are clear of cancer, they do a really cool cosmetic procedure and sew you up. But in my case, it took three cuts. They took one cut, put it under the microscope, and went back again to do another. That's why there was a big hole on the side of my nose. Then they saw another spot near my eyes and found another cancer cell — and that meant they had to do another Mohs procedure. Then they took me over to the hospital, and the plastic surgeon met me there. That surgery went on for hours as well, because with so much of my nose gone and the other cancer they found, they had to come up with a whole new plan for me."

Eventually, the medical team, which included Dr. David Archibald and Dr. Alison Basak, managed to excise all of the cancer. But Sabine knew she'd need at least six weeks to heal enough to be television-ready again — and rather than simply disappear for that stretch and then explain her absence later, she opted for full disclosure, complete with photos that were far from pretty.
A Kathy Sabine post-surgical photo; a look at the bolts holding her ear together; the portion of her ear from which cartilage was taken.
Courtesy of Kathy Sabine
"The younger women I meet now are amazed that I would share the pictures I shared," she admits. "They think I'm crazy. But I didn't do it to get attention. I've been working in TV for more than thirty years, most of it in Denver, and I have people who've followed me since the beginning — when I got married and had kids and got divorced and got married again. They're a loyal legion of fans I share my life with, and I've always tried to be authentic and real. So when I knew I was going to be out for so long, I posted a picture and said, 'I wasn't in a car accident. This is what happened.'"

Her candor definitely struck a chord. Sabine was immediately inundated with emails and other communication in which viewers thanked her for honestly discussing her medical journey, and a year later, the flood hasn't stopped. Many of the people who've contacted her scheduled dermatology appointments after hearing her account; several received positive diagnoses for skin cancer that otherwise may not have been discovered until it was too late, she says.

To further spread the word, Sabine has detailed her experiences in speeches before local organizations. In early March, for instance, she addressed 400 female high school students in Douglas County as part of the Shine 2023 Summit. That same month, she also did a City Cast Denver podcast on the topic.

On May 10, she was recognized by the national Skin Cancer Foundation at its annual Champions of Change Gala in New York City — an event timed to skin cancer awareness month. She's also gotten involved with the Claire Marie Foundation, named for a skin-cancer victim who died at the age of seventeen. (Claire Marie was the daughter of TV anchor Marianne Banister, a major celebrity in Baltimore who briefly reported for Denver7 in the late 1980s.) And she's hard at work on behalf of Centura Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, where her surgeries took place, to help raise money for a new cancer wing.

Despite all this new activity, Sabine acknowledges that "it feels like it was just yesterday that I was told about the cancer. It's been such a whirlwind for me."
click to enlarge weathercaster at gala, with horse
Kathy Sabine after being named best meteorologist at the Colorado Broadcasters Association's 2023 awards banquet on April 22; a portrait from her appearance at the Skin Cancer Foundation's May 10 Champions of Change Gala; an image with one of her beloved horses.
Courtesy of Kathy Sabine
The signs of surgery aren't obvious anymore, but Sabine confirms that they're still there: "People don't notice it unless they look really close. The scar is still very red. But it's remarkable how normal I look after a year. The nerves are coming back in my cheek and nose; it's not numb like it was, and my nose and sinus cavity work fine."

Nonetheless, Sabine gets her skin checked every three months to make sure the cancer hasn't recurred, and even though she's received a clean bill of health each time, she hasn't yet reached the point where she's resting easy.

"I wear my SPF 50 sunscreen with zinc every day," Sabine says. "I put it on my face before I brush my teeth in the morning, and I have my family do the same. But the doctors warned me that having gone through this, I'm going to think everything is cancer, and they were right. At my yearly health exam, I thought I had a lump on my clavicle, and there was a spot on it. I thought it was bone cancer and melanoma, but my doctor said, 'The lump is arthritis because you're not thirty anymore, and the spot is a freckle.' And when I asked about a spot on my arm, he said, 'It's a scar.'"

Still, Sabine stresses that it's better to pose such questions than to assume everything's fine. "High altitude means high risk, so check your spots," she says. "Ask your regular doctor about them and schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. Make it something you do every year, and get your family involved. If they catch it early, it's curable and treatable. If they don't, you're in for a long haul — and if it's melanoma and they find it late, the survival rate is less than 20 percent. It's a quick check. It's not hard or scary or embarrassing. You'll be out of there in fifteen minutes, and it can be a life-changing appointment."

As for changes at 9News, Sabine hasn't set a date for when she might leave, but she isn't committed to sticking around forever, either. "I really want to take this time to see if there's a different path I should take that might make a bigger difference," she concludes.
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