NOTE: This post by Megan Ramey first appeared July 29 on Cancer Candor, a blog from Chris Hanson, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). It appeared on the same day that the US Surgeon General released a call to action to prevent skin cancer in which he called the disease a major public health problem. “I wanted impress upon my readers why it is so important that our nation has an action plan for dealing with this devastating cancer by sharing Megan’s powerful story,” Mr. Hanson said.
My name is Megan Ramey and I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in 2010, just weeks before my 21st birthday. With blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin I am the walking definition of someone who should take extra precautions when it comes to UV exposure. Four years post diagnosis I look back on the choices I made and feel a large amount of regret for not being cautious enough. Melanoma is a unique cancer in that most cases directly results from our behavior. We can choose to protect ourselves in the sun and we can choose to stay away from tanning beds. I admit I did not take the risks seriously.
Growing up in Minnesota my family and I cherished our beautiful summers. Whether we were at the lake or by my family pool we were outside from sun up to sun down. I used sunscreen here and there but not nearly enough to prevent several painful sunburns over the years. When I reached high school, I began using tanning beds before school dances, vacations and figure skating competitions. I thought that tanning beds were a safer way to obtain a tan. In college, going to the tanning salon was a common activity amongst my friends. Being tan was considered attractive. Everyone was doing it. When you are young, you don’t think about the consequences of your actions and how they can impact your future. Had I been better educated about skin cancer (specifically melanoma) and taken the warnings seriously, my life could very well be entirely different from what is today.
When I was first diagnosed with melanoma, the summer between my junior and senior year of college became a whirlwind of scans, surgeries, oncology visits and one month of high dose immune building chemotherapy (interferon). Luckily all scans since my initial diagnosis have come back NED (or no evidence of disease), meaning I have no active cancer cells to worry about at the moment. Melanoma is tricky. Even if you are lucky enough to be labeled NED, it could reoccur at any moment. Knowing this, I made a choice to complete two years of low dose interferon in hopes that the medication will continue to help my immune system ward off active melanoma cells. Currently, I live my life in 6 month increments never knowing when the next scan will show trouble. A recurrence of melanoma is never far from my mind, and one of my biggest fears. My life at 25 is unlike anything that I could have imagined.
Melanoma awareness is an important part of my life. I am part of a local non-profit group called Melanoma Awareness Minnesota. This group is active in the community, participating in health fairs, expos and presenting to local high school students the dangers of melanoma. I recently had the opportunity to work with the ACS CAN here in Minnesota to pass the tanning legislation prohibiting minors from using commercial tanning beds. I enjoy sharing my story with anyone who will listen. When it comes to melanoma, education is key! Knowledge saves lives. The CDC and Surgeon General released today a call to action on skin cancer. Their support and assistance sends a strong message to the general public about just how dangerous and prevalent skin cancer can be. The numbers are staggering; millions of people every year are being diagnosed with melanoma. Something needs to change and I think this call to action is going to be a significant step in the right direction!
Megan Ramey is a courageous ACS CAN volunteer from Minnesota. At age 21, after several years of indoor tanning, Megan was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Megan bravely shares her story with teens with the hope that they will avoid indoor tanning salons and protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) exposure.