You know how when you get a new car, suddenly you see that same car everywhere? Or when you’re pregnant, there are pregnant women all over the place? Or when you want ice cream, you don’t have any and everyone else has some?
That’s how melanoma has been for me since my diagnosis almost 2 years ago. Prior to that, skin cancer wasn’t even on my radar – it was always one of those “it’ll never happen to me” kind of things. Now people are coming out of the woodwork (not literally, that would be creepy) and sharing their stories about having moles removed and tested; about having no idea that melanoma, or any of the other skin cancers, could really affect them.
We all know the importance of sunscreen, of limiting time in the sun, of protecting our skin. But how many of us really do the right thing? Be honest, who doesn’t love the way they look when tan – so healthy and alive, right? Of course, having a tan is the exact opposite of healthy, but when I was 10 and oiling up or 16 in the tanning booth or 22 in the backyard or even 34 outside, basking in the sun, I never bothered to think about the actual damage I was doing. Cancer never crossed my mind.
Until I realized the mole on my leg was itchy, and kind of odd looking.
The mole removal became a local area excision, which turned into a wide area excision, which turned into shooting radiation into my leg, and the subsequent removal of 6-8 of my lymph nodes. By the way, that radiation that lit up my cancered lymph nodes? Way more painful than labor and recovering from a c-section. I do not suggest it.
It’s hard though, the sun has been my best friend my whole life! I never used sunscreen, I used tanning oils. Of course, since I’m adopted, I have no idea if it’s genetic or from the sun or a combination. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Do yourself a favor – look at your body. This is no time for vanity or being embarrassed about it. Have your spouse or a good friend or even the mailman look with you (some spots are hard to see, you know). If you see anything that concerns you, PLEASE go to get it checked out. Go to your regular doctor, a dermatologist or even one of those free screening clinics. And keep looking. Just because a spot has been there forever doesn’t mean it can’t turn bad.
The best skin cancer resource I’ve seen in quite some time is MelanomaMonday. The site has all sorts of resources, including a downloadable body mole map and instructions on how to do a skin check.
I can tell you this – avoiding the sun is (a) harder than it seems and (2) a pain in the ass. Sunscreen is ridiculously expensive, smelly and oily/sticky/slimy. I tend to head for the shade, wear lotion with sunscreen built in every day, and try to stay a little covered or at least keep an umbrella handy. There is no such thing as a safe tan; there is no such thing as “it won’t happen to me”.
I was extraordinarily lucky that I looked down at my leg, that sunny day in July (ironically, I was sunning my legs while the boys played in the driveway) and noticed something odd. The word cancer still stops my breath and throws my heart into my throat when I think about it. I was lucky that it wasn’t worse, that I didn’t need chemo or interferon. I was lucky.
Melanoma is curable in the early stages with over a 90% success rate. Look now, don’t wait.