Senior year of high school is supposed to be fun and exciting as you start to explore colleges and plan out your future. That excitement soon turned into fear when an innocent trip to the dermatologist turned into my family’s worst nightmare, hearing a word we had hoped we would never hear again “melanoma”.
I had a mole on the back of my shoulder that was irritated by my clothing. There were times it was itchy as well. I had just finished a lesson plan on skin cancer in my anatomy class and thought it would be a good time to get it checked out. I made an appointment at my local dermatologist’s office to have tested. I have always been aware of my skin and made sure to check moles because my Nana had passed away in March of 1999 after battling melanoma for four years. Even though the dermatologist did not think my mole looked suspicious, I decided to have the mole removed. Just after my 18th birthday, while I was dealing with the stresses of what College to attend, I learned I had a very early stage of melanoma.
Each year, when summer rolled around, I was determined to achieve that golden sun-kissed look that all of my friends and family had. Having pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, I could never grasp the concept that having that glowing tan was impossible for me to achieve. I would never wear sunscreen; I’d lather on the tanning oil and sit at the beach from the early morning until late afternoon. My burns were terrible, in fact at times they would blister. I would do whatever it would take, even put myself through this pain to achieve something that I could never really have. I knew the consequences, but I never thought it could really happen to me.
Luckily, my melanoma was found extremely early. I had a surgical procedure called a WLE and learned that my margins were clear. I knew I was in good hands since I was at the same hospital my Nana was treated at years ago. Melanoma is the fastest growing and spreading type of skin cancer and I knew if I had waited to get that mole removed, I would be dealing with a different situation down the road. I learned that I caught mine at its earliest and most treatable form. The melanoma cells are on the outer layer of the skin and had not yet spread. This is why early detection of melanoma is so important.
Looking back now, I wish I had never sat in the sun for hours and hours without sun block on. Even though I am lucky that my melanoma was caught at an early stage, I know I will I now constantly carry sunscreen around with me as it is now a part of my everyday routine no matter what the weather is.
I have recently joined the Melanoma Foundation of New England’s Speaker’s Bureau to share my story with high school and college students through their Your Skin Is In No-Tanning program.