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Andouille Queen kicks cancer’s butt

LAPLACE — In the past year, reigning Miss Andouille Queen Mandi Lee Sweeney has traveled across Louisiana, forged lifelong friendships and proved her strength in overcoming an aggressive form of skin cancer.

Sweeney is on the road to recovery from her most recent surgery on Aug. 26. The silver dollar-sized hole in her forehead left from the cancer removal has been carefully stitched back together, and she’s hopeful her story will teach others to be proactive in seeking medical care.

Mandi Lee Sweeney traveled to the “end of the world” in Delacroix, Louisiana.

Skin cancer runs on both sides of Sweeney’s family, usually in the form of basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

This summer, Sweeney was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a more dangerous form of skin cancer known for its ability to spread to other organs more rapidly if not treated at an early stage.

Melanoma is usually curable and has a five-year survival rate of 98 percent when detected and treated early, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. However, it can also be deadly, and an estimated 7,230 people will die of melanoma in the United States this year.

Luckily, Sweeney has always known the importance of protection and early detection. She had numerous precancerous spots removed prior to her diagnosis.

“Growing up, being a redhead and having a fair complexion, my family and doctors have always told me I needed to be extra cautious when it comes to my skin,” Sweeney said. “They told me the signs to look for and the importance of using sunblock on a baily basis. Little did I know that I would be diagnosed with the scariest form of skin cancer at 23 years old.”

Pictured in a feathered dress, Mandi Lee Sweeney strives to be a role model for children through her pageant involvement.

Sweeney scheduled a biopsy when she noticed a spot on her forehead was becoming misshapen, with little black dots forming in the middle of it. One week after the biopsy, she had a diagnosis.

Within days, she had a consultation with a plastic surgeon and underwent surgery to remove the cancer.

The skin taken from her forehead was tested for clean edges to ensure all of the caner had been removed. The wound, which stretched down to her skull, was left open for the better part of a month to allow her body to do most of the healing.

Sweeney recently had her final surgery, where the wound was closed in a T-shape, with the top part hidden along her hairline and a straight line tracing down her forehead toward her eyebrow.

“I hope this can help people understand how important it is to be familiar with your body, notice changes, and be proactive by going to the doctor if something doesn’t look right,” Sweeney said. Her story has already helped one woman seek medical attention for a cancerous spot that would have caused her to lose an eye if she has waited longer.

Sweeney is grateful for the support she’s gotten from friends and family.

“My mom has been an angel through all of this,” Sweeney said. “She never missed an appointment and came to my house multiple times a day if I needed anything, even if just to give me a hug and tell me everything was going to be okay. She reassured me how strong I am even when I felt so weak.”

Sweeney has a lot to look forward to after her recovery. She will transfer her crown to the newest Miss Andouille Queen at the Andouille Festival Pageant on Oct. 5 at St. John Theatre. An interest meeting will be held at the same location at 7 p.m. Sept. 16, and young ladies ages 13-23 must sign up for the pageant by Sept. 23.

The Miss and Teen Andouille Queens will reign over the Andouille Festival Oct. 18-20 in LaPlace.

“Being the queen at the festival was amazing,” Sweeney said. “I experienced the festival that I’ve known and loved for so many years in a different way. I was able to show the love that I have for this festival with everyone from all of the different festivals across the state.”

She especially loved trying new foods, visiting the “end of the world” in Delacroix, Louisiana, and traveling alongside her Teen Queen, Jenna Necaise, and her mother, Pam, who have both become like family to her.

According to Sweeney, being a Festival Queen is much more than a sparkly crown.

“You are a role model for younger girls,” Sweeney said. “I was once that little girl admiring the queen at the festival. I was greeted by queens and wanted to follow in their footsteps. I am now that queen and want to give the same to the little girls who look up to me.”