I was diagnosed with melanoma on my right arm at 26 years old. At the time, I was about to graduate as a Physician Assistant. I couldn’t believe it! As I was leaving my appointment, I pulled over the car and cried. I was about to start a career in medicine and I was getting married! How did I get skin cancer? I was terrified.
Luckily, my melanoma was superficial, Stage 1, so it could be surgically removed without significant damage or scaring. I knew it could have been worse. Much worse. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25-30, and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35. I was 26, and about to be a licensed medical professional and I was a part of a cancer statistic.
The one thing that saved me was my knowledge of medicine. I knew enough to go in and get a skin check when I noticed something was off. Early detection makes a big difference in someone’s diagnosis. Finding out at 26 that I had cancer also helped me reevaluate my relationship with the sun. I was born and raised in sunny Florida and loved being outside and sunbathing by the pool when I was younger. I rarely used sunblock because I tanned easily and therefore assumed I wasn’t susceptible to skin cancer.
It took my diagnosis and surgery to finally change my sun habits. It happened immediately. I started investing in sun protective clothing. I kept accessories like hats, sunglasses and umbrellas with me so I’d never be without shade or protection. I started wearing an SPF of at least 30 on my face and lips daily. I stopped all tanning right away, no tanning beds or sunbathing. And I do my best to avoid sun exposure between 10am – 2pm.
After my diagnosis, I also started working as a Dermatology PA. It is my job to educate, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with skin cancer. The most rewarding part of my job is being able to empathize and understand what my patients are going through. Getting a cancer diagnosis is hard. I’ve been there! But thanks to that diagnosis I’m able to help and support others.
For some it can seem daunting to kick off a sun-safe lifestyle. But, there are small but significant things you can seamlessly weave into your daily routine.
- Keep a hat, umbrella and UPF 50+ elbow-length gloves in your car so you can grab extra protection when you need it.
- Switch out your lotions and chapsticks to make sure they have an SPF of 30+
- STOP tanning, whether it’s in a salon or at the beach. Just stop! Embrace your natural skin tone! Porcelain is pretty!
- Get yourself some quality sun protective clothing for sunny days. It’s made to block UVA/UVB rays while keeping you cooler out in the sun.
In addition to helping avoid skin cancer, all of these steps will help prevent early aging in your skin. If you ask any medical provider in a dermatology clinic what their #1 secret is to beautiful, healthy skin, we would say sun protection!
Source: Melanoma Research Foundation