Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Sharon Hierlmaier

I’m not a writer, but I am a survivor and know first-hand the value of sharing your story, so I will do my best.

In January of 2006, I was at a yearly physical appointment, when my doctor noticed a spot on my back that looked suspicious. She took a biopsy of it and it tested positive for Basal Cell Carcinoma. I then started seeing a dermatologist every six months and every time I would have more basal cell removed.

My dermatologist once joked, “You have skin that loves to produce basal cell!” I’ve learned to be grateful that my skin doesn’t produce more. I’ve now had 12 basal cell spots removed, but I still feel lucky. I have a doctor who is proactive about checking and removing spots and is aware of studies taking place that could help prevent someone else from being stuck in the cycle I’m in.

I am all about preventing this in others. I am a Child Care Director at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in Edina, MN. Since being diagnosed, I also became a grandmother. I want the families in my community and my grandchildren to be protected from the dangers of the sun.

I know full well that my skin doesn’t love the sun. As my dermatologist pointed out, my skin loves basal cell. I do love the sun though and go outside every day with long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen – no matter the weather. With the help of parents at my school, I’ve been able to make sure our children do too.

As the director of the child care program, it’s my job to care for our students year-round. In the summer we are constantly around water. Early on, I always made sure our students had sunscreen on before going outdoors – and still do. In 2011, I started noticing that a parent was sending her children to school in a swimsuit from Coolibar.

I asked her about the swimsuits, she let me know that she was a dermatologist and the suit was from Coolibar, a local company in Minneapolis. We got to talking about the need for sun protection and, with the financial support of that wonderful parent, Dr. Mimi Cho we were able to purchase rash guards for every student in our summer program. At the end of every day, I would collect the swim shirts, take them home and wash them for the next day.

Along with sunscreen on exposed skin, the kids wore them any time we were around the water. It instantly just became something we did. The norm. Even our summer staff wear the swim shirts to model sun-safe behaviors for our students. These shirts made it through seven summers. Just this year, we were able to work with Coolibar and Dr. Cho to get an entirely new set of rash guards and sunscreen donated to the school. We’re grateful to be able to continue our sun-safe practices. Being able to teach kids about the importance of sun-safety is huge.

Thanks to a parent in our community and my own personal experience, I am in a positive position to care for people in my life – my students, their families, my own family and grandchildren. I understand the risks of going out into the sun unprotected and I have the scars to prove it. I’m grateful that I can bare those scars so that our young people may not have to someday.

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