(Brighton, CO, USA)
I spent years baking in the sun and under tanning beds. I started diving when I was 10 years old, and practiced for three hours a day in the hot, Illinois sun.
When I was thirteen, I had my first experience with a tanning bed. In order to get prepared for my first formal dance at the end of 8th grade, I began spending hours each week underneath the sunlamp until I was the color of a cocoa bean.
When I was 15, got my first summer job—it was at the pool where I had diving practice. That meant I spent 12 hours per day outside in the sun, never once applying sunscreen.
By the time I was 20, I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
I was one of the lucky ones—when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, it was a mole on my left calf, and it was caught early enough to not require any other treatment besides excision.
Once the mole was excised, it was sent to the Mayo Clinic to be biopsied, as well as a small sample of tissue surrounding the mole. It was all removed in one visit at the doctor’s office, but it has changed my life forever.
I no longer allow myself to spend hours basking in the sun without any protection on my skin. I see a dermatologist twice a year, and about once a year I end up having another mole removed and biopsied.
In the past 14 years since being diagnosed, I have had Malignant Melanoma
one more time. While we caught it early enough when I was 20, I am still at risk for developing it because the damage has now been done.
One thing I have learned from having skin cancer is how important it is to always wear sunscreen. I believed it would never happen to me, I would never get skin cancer.
I know a lot of young people feel the same way when they spend hours underneath sunlamps to get as tan as possible. They are putting themselves at huge risk, though, for developing melanoma, and perhaps not be as lucky as I was to catch it in the early stages before it spread and ended up being possibly deadly.