For most people high school is and endless cycle of ups and downs. One minute everything is going great and you feel on top of the world. The next minute you can’t wait to graduate and move on. As I began my senior year of high school I was having the time of my life and felt nothing could change that. My time was spent hanging out with friends, working, and trying to decide on a college to go to. Of course, all good things must come to an end. I went to the dermatologist in my town to get a mole checked that I had noticed a few months before, but then forgot about. My mom went with me to the appointment. My doctor removed the spot and said it would be sent in to be checked. The only other thing I remember him saying at that appointment was that all visits to the tanning salon had to come to an absolute stop. Being the tanning bed worshipper that I was, I ran to the salon after the appointment that day to get in another tan, “just in case.”
To be honest I didn’t really think about the doctor’s appointment much in the next couple of days, I just went on with my life as normal. A few days later my mom and I were at home when she received the call that my mole had turned out to be Malignant Melanoma. The look on my mom’s face and the sound in her voice when she talked to the doctor is something that will stick in my mind forever.
The worst part was, I did it to myself…and I knew it. There was nothing in my family history that would have predicted this, and I loved the tanning beds; I was there all the time. Prior to my senior year I tanned a ton for my senior pictures, and before than I tanned for my junior prom. I loved to go tanning; it made me feel better about myself. If only I had known the consequences.
It was also very hard to watch my parents hear the news and try to understand what was happening. They blamed themselves for what had happened. Because they had let me tan when I wanted to, they felt responsible for my cancer diagnosis. However, when I think back on the situation, no one would expect cancer to show up in an 18 year old. It seems as though people think things like smoking and tanning will catch up with you when you’re older. For me that wasn’t the case.
A few days after the surgery, I went back to my doctor and had my entire body checked from head to toe for more bad moles. Several more spots were removed. Fortunately, nothing else came back cancerous. The surgery had removed all of the cancer. I should have been happy, and I should have felt relief. However, I was terrified. I felt like it was all over me and there was nothing I could do about it. You can’t take a blood test or any other scan to find Melanoma, you have to see it yourself and catch it. Several times I would wake up in the middle of the night and look over my entire body to try and find places. It’s all I thought about for a very long time.
In February 2007, my doctor, Dr. Warren Redmond of Aberdeen Dermatology, and I went to the South Dakota State Senate to try and pass a law against the tanning beds. Unfortunately, we were one vote short. However, we plan to go back again this year. Although some people aren’t willing to admit it, we all know that tanning beds aren’t good for you. Young men and women aren’t able to drink or smoke until they are a certain age and I believe it should be the same with the tanning beds. The idea behind using the tanning beds is to feel better about yourself. I can say from first hand experience, giving yourself cancer is the worse thing you can do. However, young people are not going to understand the consequences until it happens to them. Hopefully we will be able to make it so they can’t learn the hard way.
I would never wish my experience on anyone else. For me it has been a huge eye-opener and maybe even a blessing in disguise. Fortunately I was able to catch my cancer soon enough where it had not spread to my lymph nodes or anywhere else. I was also very fortunate in having a doctor that truly cared. Dr. Redmond went out of his way to make sure I understood what was going on and has never hesitated to remove any spot that bothers me at all. He was also the one that put together the bill we tried to pass last year. For me, knowing I had a doctor that was so passionate about fighting this disease gave me the peace of mind that I was in very good hands.
Currently I am attending school for nursing and working at a hospital as a Nursing Assistant. I see critical cancer patients quite often, and every time I see them I can’t help but think: why aren’t we preventing these cancer’s that could so easily be prevented? I try to constantly remind myself of how fortunate I have been. Although the Melanoma is gone now, it has changed my life forever. Everyday I check for new spots, and everyday I worry that it will come back.