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Mandi Nickerson

Mandi Nickerson

I was busy planning our Hawaii dream wedding in 2011 for January in 2012 when I got the news of my malignant melanoma.

I was a tan-a-holic going tanning at least 3 times a week since I was 18. I went regularly because it felt good and I loved how I looked with a golden tan.   I felt that a tan gave me an extra confidence boost.  It covered up everything and made me feel pretty and thin.  I loved how tanning made my teeth look so white, my completion flawless and that over all sun kissed glow!  I am naturally pale with golden curly hair freckles and many moles.

On a visit to my gynecologist in 2009 she spotted a mole on my belly that she thought was suspect and referred me to a dermatologist.  I got an appointment with the dermatologist for about 4 months away.  I went to the appointment and the dermatologist didn’t seem worried at all by the mole on my belly, but did advise me to stop tanning.  She explained that I had a condition known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, which is basically a funny way of saying that I had a ton of weird moles that all looked like melanoma and had a good chance of turning into melanoma. She gave me a brochure explaining all about dysplastic Nevis syndrome.  I stuffed the brochure in my handbag and drove off to the tanning salon.  I continued to see that dermatologist every 6 months for skin checks all the while continuing to tan two to three times a week.  I didn’t see any reason to stop and quite frankly I was addicted to the way I looked tan. I tried to stop but I just felt ugly and fat.

Sometime in late 2011, I had this mole on my right side that just itched all the time … It felt crusty to the touch but didn’t really look too crazy so I decided I would wait till my regular skin check in march and just ask about it . At that time I was still tanning every Wednesday and Saturday and feeling good and healthy! In March of 2011 the dermatologist office called me to cancel and reschedule my appointment as they had over booked; my new appointment was moved to April 25, 2011. I remember feeling anxious about waiting another month to ask about the crusty itchy mole but eventually dismissed my worry and headed back over to the tanning salon for a “pick me up” glow.

On April 25, 2011, I had a regular skin check and pointed out my crusty mole. She said it looked fine but better take a biopsy to be sure.  Two days later I got a call from her at 7:30pm … She advised me that I had stage 1b malignant melanoma and need to have surgery the following Monday. She asked if I had any questions I was dumbfounded said “no”‘ thanked her for the news and hung up the phone.  I can recall exactly where I was standing and in which room in my house.  I can relive the feelings I had at that moment as if it were yesterday.  All I wanted to do was work on planning our destination wedding in Hawaii and now that was the last thing on my mind.  I was scared and oh so mad! Not mad at cancer, mad at myself!!! I caused this to happen to me!!!  I had no idea how bad stage 1b cancer was or how many stages there even were!!!?? I recall getting quiet and wanting to be alone … I was so ashamed, ridden with guilt and felt I deserved this. My vanity caused this cancer and now I’d have to pay the price!  But I didn’t know what the price was or what to do! To the internet I went. The internet is the best and the worst place to go looking for information. I felt more confused and panicked than ever! The only thing I did know is, I was done tanning!

I went in for surgery on Monday. I must say that was the most barbaric surgery ever and the huge incision seemed unnecessary at best.  The mole was tiny but she took so much of my flesh.  She took a giant diamond like shape around the mole; it was huge, easily 6 inches across. It was disgusting and the tugging during the procedure was like nothing else! I recall thinking she probably took more than she needed just to “teach me a lesson”.  I now know that this in not true but that was how I felt at that time. I felt I was being punished for what I had done to myself.

It’s been just over a year, I am now blessed to go to a fabulous dermatologist in Boston who specializes in melanoma. Since my surgery, I’ve had 4 more incisions of moles.  Skin checks never get old- each one is just as anxiety ridden as the first. What will they find?  If they don’t find something, does that mean they missed it?  Lying on that table waiting while they inspect every inch of you, there is no modesty, skin cancer can appear anywhere.  The days following a biopsy are the worst. I have all I can do to focus on life and wait the results.  What if they missed it?  What if it has spread?  Sadly these are fears that are part of the routine. I read them from everyone and that makes me feel better. This never becomes routine, it is a roller coaster of emotions every time.

I’ve traded my bikini for UPF clothing, floppy hats, and I avoid the sun between 10-4. I realize I am a survivor and my work here isn’t done, my time isn’t over ! I feel a renewed appreciation for my skin. I did have that dream destination wedding in sunny Hawaii on January 12, 2012! The wedding was gorgeous, we gave our guests sunscreen as wedding favors.  I was pale but pretty bride.

People who use tanning beds once a month are 75% more likely than others to develop melanoma, according to a 2011 study.  Science also shows that the risk of melanoma is directly related to how often people have indoor tanned.

The World Health Organization has stated that the UV rays from tanning beds is equivalent to the hazards of tobacco smoking and asbestos in terms of their risk as a carcinogen.  Radiation at levels 10 to 15 times higher than the mid-day summer sun. I really hope the FDA bans the sale and use of indoor tanning!  I am going to do what I can do to help ban indoor tanning.  

I have learned pale is pretty too! The MFNE site has been a huge eye opener for me and a amazing resource to find people just like me who share my same fears and success!

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