Hi, my story begins as a happy, outdoorsy youngest child in the hot climate of Texas in the 1970’s. My mom began sun screening me with zinc oxide on my nose only after I had peeled there so many times that it hurt. We didn’t think to sunscreen anywhere else nor did it seem necessary to stay out of the sun in those intense hours of the day. As long as the nose was covered, what could possibly be doing any harm?
Without a hat or shade, I remember feeling lethargic and beat upon by the sun as I swam in the pool day in and day out on most summer days. In Texas, you beat the heat of summer by either staying in air conditioning all day or staying in the water. Although I only had this type of summer before the age of 9, I remember them well.
Luckily, I went to camp for 5 weeks of the summer from age 9-16. There, we were kept in the shade or indoors during most of the intense sun hours (about lunchtime until 3pm). I don’t recall getting any sunburns at this Texas camp on the Guadalupe River.
As a teenager, I still didn’t burn anywhere but my chest , shoulders and nose. I think I only got caught without sunscreen once. However, I didn’t think twice about joining a friend or my sister at a tanning booth before one Spring formal.
Was it the childhood peeling, the prolonged exposure without protection, or the one time at the tanning booth? Who knows….. Whatever the cause, I was getting dressed one day in Maine when I noticed my pants got caught on some growth on the back of my calf. I didn’t even see a small mole underneath it, so I thought it was just an unusual place for a pimple or blister. It itched and one time it bled. There wasn’t any history of skin cancer in my family, so I had not been trained to worry about such growths. I hadn’t been sunburned in years as I lived in Maine where I find the sun less intense, plus I was a mom of 2 young kids, which somehow kept me out of the sun midday or most of the time.
When I asked my obstetrician (pregnant with my third child ) if I should be concerned about the growth on my leg, she urged me to see a dermatologist immediately. She didn’t say why so I still didn’t understand what this could be.
One busy evening, I was feeling the usual fatigue of a pregnant woman chasing toddlers, and the phone rang. Thinking it would be another telemarketer or some random call for my husband or me, I was shocked when my dermatologist said in a serious tone, “ I need to tell you something…..
Things moved very quickly the next day. My dermatologist had already spoken with my OB about delivering my baby prematurely. We were in luck due to the fact that he would only be 5 weeks early….considered full-term, although premature.
He was born beautifully, just a bit of immaturity in the lungs, enough to put him in the NICU for a couple of days. I wasn’t at all worried about him. At that time, I thought it was probably the beginning of the end for me. I predicted the mole would be removed, the sentinel node would show cancer had spread, and I would be on a road to chemotherapy and who knows what….
Luckily, the sentinel node removed from my groin did not show signs of cancer. The melanoma in my leg had been removed, so I was cancer free.
To the best of my knowledge, I am cancer-free today, and enjoying my terrific 9, 13, and 15 year olds. According to my dermatologist and oncologist, my 6 month visits staggered at their offices ensure that I do not have to worry about melanoma again. If I get it again, they will detect it and remove it before it can spread.
I never would’ve dreamed that I would get a disease. I am for the most part healthy. …my only vices are daily coffee and sweets. I’m only an occasional one glass of wine drinker. I eat whole grains and vegetables, and I try to rest and exercise enough. Be wary of that sun and those sun booths. -Cynthia M.