Growing up, I loved to be in the sun and rarely wore sunscreen. And I definitely didn’t know anything about sun-protective clothing – what was that? Then, like many young women idealizing tan skin, from the age of 16-24, I definitely visited the tanning booth way too often. I’m now 36 years old and I fully regret all of those decisions.
My warrior story started pretty recently – in August 2019. I had never been to a dermatologist for a full body skin check. My skin looked fine to me. I didn’t have any abnormal growing moles so, as far as I could tell, I was good to go.
I finally went to the dermatologist for two reasons 1. we had put a pool in our backyard and I was out in the sun even more and 2. I had a friend start working with a dermatologist who advised me to go. I am so thankful I went. The dermatologist walked in the exam room, we talked about my medical history and she asked if I had any concerning spots, which I did not. She checked me over, then asked me how long I had had a little brown spot on my leg near my knee. It was new, but it wasn’t raised or shaped abnormally. I had gotten lots of new spots on my body over the years, so I wasn’t alarmed.
After doing the full-body exam, she decided to take off the spot on my leg. Then the following Monday I received a call from the dermatologist. I had always assumed I would never get skin cancer. But here I was, on the phone listening to someone tell me I had Stage 1A melanoma. I had to ask her, “wait, is that cancer?”. It was a life-changing conversation that I never saw coming.
Thankfully, I did not need chemotherapy or radiation. My diagnosis only required a wide local excision, however, recovery from that procedure wasn’t so quick and easy. Soon after surgery, my incision opened up after an accidental kick to the knee from my toddler. It took 3.5 long, painful months to heal.
The next summer, in 2020, I knew so much more about sun safety and I was ready to be outdoors. I got serious about wearing sunscreen, started wearing UPF 50+ sun protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats. There was no way I was going to miss out on pool time with my family. One of the blessings of getting melanoma is that I now know enough to protect everyone around me. If you’re in our pool, you’re sun-safe.
After years of avoiding sunscreen, going to tanning beds, and assuming I was safe, I now go to the dermatologist every 3-5 months for skin checks. Thankfully, I haven’t had another diagnosis since.
I really hope that people young and old will learn from my mistakes. Especially young women who are going to tanning beds. Please care for your health and your skin by wearing sunscreen on exposed skin every day and cover up with UPF 50+ clothing and wide-brimmed hats when you’re out for a long period of time. Also, AVOID TANNING BEDS! Trust me, you’re beautiful as you are and will be grateful you skipped the salon later in life. And if you haven’t gone yet, or are hesitating, please just go to the dermatologist. Nobody is immune.