When I tell people I had cancer most automatically react with “but you’re so young!” or “what a terrible thing to go through so early in life.” The “being young” part may be true, and it was an experience I’ll never forget, but in hindsight I’m not so sure that it was “terrible.” I was diagnosed when I was only 20 years old, but I look back now and realize that having melanoma before I was even considered a legal adult in the U.S. was a complete blessing in disguise.
At the age of seventeen I was like most girls that age; I was insecure and uncomfortable in my own skin. As a fair featured, red head I was often teased for having such a light complexion. By the time I was a senior in high school I was fed up with being ridiculed, so I began visiting tanning booths.
Within a few weeks I had the bronze complexion that most people long for, and I was determined to stay that way. So for the next three years I went tanning once a week and hit the beaches every opportunity I had.
During my sophomore year at college and two weeks before my 20th birthday, I came home and went to my doctors for a routine physical. While I was there I pointed out a mole on my stomach that had begun to get dark and itched on occasion. My doctor casually suggested I have it removed because it looked “a little funny.”
So I quickly went in, had the mole removed and hit the tanning beds the same day. Two weeks later, when I went in to have my stitches taken out, I was informed I had Stage 2 Malignant Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The doctor explained that steps would now have to be taken to ensure the cancer had not spread inside my body. Here I was, 20 years old, wondering if I was going to die.
I left the doctors office in a haze and immediately began crying. I called my parents, who tried to console me, although I could hear the terror in my mother’s voice. Her 20 year old daughter had just been told she had cancer. I still can’t imagine what that was like for her to hear.
The next two months were filled with doctor consultations, blood tests, radioactive dye injections, and the most embarrassing appointment of my life. I would be asked to stand completely naked in a doctor’s office while every inch of my body was photographed for documentation purposes.
A month later on February 14th, 2004, I would head to Wing Memorial hospital to undergo my first surgery. The procedure took three hours long, included the removal of eight lymph nodes and left me with four disfiguring scars.
After my surgery I would be forced to wait for two weeks before hearing whether or not my lymph nodes were “clear.” Eventually I received a call from my surgeon with the good news that I was cancer-free.
Relief quickly spread over the Rothschild household, but my personal struggle was far from over. In a quest to obtain unobtainable beauty I had permanently disfigured myself and the next year would be filled with endless tears and heartache. I began hating my body even more than I did in high school and I blamed myself for my poor life style choices. How could I have done this to myself? My inability to accept my body was the reason I had cancer and I couldn’t cope with my self hatred.
In May of 2005, I was asked to write a piece on my experience for a magazine I was freelancing for in Newport, RI. I realized it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and to help other women dealing with the same body image issues I had dealt with for years. I posed on the cover of the magazine baring nothing but my scar and wrote a two page spread detailing my story.
Since then I have been on a crusade to help stop other women from making the same mistakes I did. I have been featured in the Newport Mercury, The Reminder Publication, The Springfield Republican, The Hampden-Wilbraham Times, The Ludlow Register and the more nationally recognized Marie Claire Magazine and Fitness Magazine. I have also told my story on News Channel 22, News Channel 40, Fox News New York City and CBS 3 Springfield and more.
In 2008, I became a board member of IMPACT Melanoma. I helped launch IMPACT Melanoma’s Your Skin Is In program to keep teens out tanning beds before prom and spring break. As a member of their Survivors Speaker Bureau I speak publicly to local high schools,colleges, at fundraising events and seminars. Most recently I was able to share my story in IMPACT Melanoma’s education video “Exposed”.