My name is Linda Lyons. I have volunteered with the foundation for almost three years now, since my first “Call to Action” program in the winter of 2011.
I have had four melanoma diagnoses since the age of 34. I first went in for an unrelated reason and asked the dermatologist to take a look at a mole that appeared to be changing while I was there. It truly was an afterthought. I remember he said it looked fine. For some reason I asked him to remove it anyway. To this day I’m not sure why. When he came in on stitch removal day with a box of tissues, I knew my life had changed. I knew NOTHING about skin cancer. He chose to tell me a story that day of a former patient of his who he diagnosed with melanoma, and was dead ten years after that from a brain tumor. I’ve never gone back. It did teach me that trust in your medical professionals and your own instinct are extremely important to long term wellness.
As a native Rhode Islander (also known as the “Ocean State”), I spent every summer on the beach in southern RI. Back in the 70′s it was not unusual to see everyone, including me, using baby oil on the beaches. I’m not sure we had ever heard of “SPF” back in those days. I got frequent annual sunburns on day-long trips to the beach and never thought twice about it (it turned into a tan at some point!).
Later in my mid 20′s, I began using tanning booths and beds. As a very fair and freckled woman, I just loved the look of a tan. Once I started I did not want to stop. I remember the feelings of warmth and relaxation, particularly in the winter months. It made me feel good and I did not want to quit and start over again on my color n the spring. I believed (and clearly recalling discussing with salon owners) that since I was not burning, it must be safer than lying in the sun. They of course agreed. I’m sure I had to be one of their best, year-round customers.
So, here are some lessons I learned the hard way….
Vanity is not worth making poor decisions.
Accept the skin you are in, no matter how pale you are.
It can happen to you.
Fear of dying or melanoma treatments is not worth it.
Regarding what you can do to protect yourself…
I am the perfect example that melanoma is treatable if caught early. While I have had four occurrences, none have done deeper than Stage 1, and never required anything more than surgery. I go faithfully to my dermatologist, even if she makes me come for full body scans every three months. I also got professional images of my body taken. These photographs are used in every dermatology appointment for comparison purposes. I am extremely conservative, so I have pushed for and opted to have things taken off that the doctor might not have chosen to remove biopsy. More than once, they were melanoma.
I have chosen to be very open about my journey with melanoma. I think that having made that decision has allowed me to become part of a community of supporters I would not have had otherwise. Friends and family at a minimum see their dermatologists annually because of my awareness campaigns. I am in a unique position working on a college campus to spread awareness. I know several of my students stopped using tanning salons after they heard survivors speak about their experiences. I am so happy to help the foundation with programs in Rhode Island, by volunteering at the mall with facial scanners several times a year, assisting with the planning of a a fundraiser called Martinis for Melanoma event every spring, helping testify at the statehouse for pending legislation, helping out at Teens on Tanning forums in the RI schools, and recently signing up to be trained as a Billy’s Buddy.
I look forward to many years ahead with my family and friends and plan to stay committed to practicing safe sun habits and preventative medicine in the years ahead.