Growing up in the California sun, I was outside every day of my life swimming. I loved the water. Formal swimming lessons began at age 18 months and I was swimming competitively by the age of 4. Later I swam for Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA and eventually won 2 gold medals, a silver and a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games. I never thought anything of the endless hours of the sun beating down on my skin while I practiced my sport year-round. For me, sunscreen was used for “vacation sun” because I never wore sunscreen during my daily swim practice routine. I do not recall being sunburned as a child, but I know I was very sun-tanned, especially during the summer months.
I was blindsided in 2014 by my first melanoma diagnosis from my dermatologist, which resulted from a mole that had been recently removed from my calf. Swimming was my life and my love, it was who I was. After this diagnosis, my relationship with the sun changed. I became hypersensitive to skin cancer and to the sun. Being outside and in the sun was something I loved so much, but then I would feel the sun and it bothered me. My belief is my melanoma was attributed to prolonged and consistent exposure to the sun, specifically the harmful UV rays I’d been exposed to for many years due to my swim training.
While I am grateful for the doctors and surgeons who have helped me with my skin cancer journey, I have learned to become more vocal and grown stronger by becoming my own health advocate. The little black dot on the back of my arm was something my doctor was not initially concerned with, but the nagging feeling in my gut told me it was something that should be biopsied and I had my doctor remove it. That little black dot turned out to be my third melanoma. Early detection is paramount when it comes to skin cancer treatment. My goal is to inspire friends and strangers to become their own health advocates. Hearing that someone went their dermatologist after a self-check discovery of a suspicious mole is why I continue to share my story. In support of skin cancer awareness month, I encourage everyone to become their own health advocate and make an annual appointment to have your skin checked by a dermatologist today. It may save your life like it did mine.
This May, we are getting gross. The ugly truth is that skin cancer is not fun or glamorous. We want to share the not-so-wonderful side of what happens after a skin cancer diagnosis. Coolibar’s mission is to keep the world safe from sun damage and we thank each selfless warrior for boldly sharing their story. We hope you bear with us as we share stories to provide awareness, education and spur prevention. We’re among friends–now let’s get gross.