I grew up in Prescott Valley. I remember being a kid on those long summer days where I would play outside all day long. Swimming at the local community center pool was especially fun for me and my younger brother because we were able to see school friends that we hadn't seen since the end of the school year. By the end of summer my brother's skin would be a nice golden brown and mine would be slightly darker because my freckles had joined together.
I was never able to obtain that dark golden tan that all my friends and brother had. God knows I tried though. I would lay out under our hash Arizona sun until I turned every shade of pink and red, but to my disappointment, never bronze. Blisters on my shoulders were not uncommon and I'm certain that I even had sun poising twice in my life.
I continued to worship the sun in my early adulthood even though I was well aware of the consequences. Skin damage, premature aging, and even skin cancer didn't scare me into the shade. It was all worth the risk because tanned skin is healthy skin right? I was getting my vitamin D and everyone knows that vitamin D is good for you...right? It's funny how we can justify almost anything when we want it bad enough.
So here I am today. I am so pale that I am almost blue and guess what? I am ok with that. So what happened in my life that changed my way of thinking? You already know the answer if you've read my past blogs. What happened was melanoma.
In March of 2005 I received a phone call from my Dermatologist Dr. Keith Mackenzie. What made this phone call especially unusual was that he was calling me personally, something that he had never done before. Usually one of his nurses called me to either tell me that my biopsies were normal or that I needed to come back in for further treatment because the pathologist determined that I had basal or squamous cell carcinoma.
I knew right away that something was different. "It's melanoma" he said. Just then my kids walked in the door from school. I did my best to compose myself as I furiously took down notes because I knew that I would forget all the important details that Dr. Mackenzie was trying to explain to me.
After hanging up the phone, I walked into my bedroom and cried. Not for me, but for my family. I couldn't stand the thought of putting them through this. I needed to talk to someone but my husband wasn't home and I didn't want to tell him over the phone. Who could I call that would understand, who would help me sort through all these emotions, who would be the first person to tell that I had just been diagnosed with cancer? That person was my brother Jimmy.
"I have cancer" I said to him. These are not the words that you ever want to hear from a loved one and here I was laying this huge burden on my brother. Looking back, I wouldn't have called any one else. He was able to help me sort through the information that Dr. Mackenzie had explained to me and at the end of the conversation with my brother, I was assuring him that all would be ok because the cancer had not spread and it was also caught very early. I love my brother!
So why am I writing about this now? There are two reasons. The first is that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently ruled tanning beds as "carcinogenic to humans" and should be avoided because studies show that the risk of melanoma increased up to 75 percent in those who start using tanning beds before the age of 30.
Supporters of tanning beds can twist the facts any way they want to make you believe that tanning beds are safe and less harmful than the suns rays but they absolutely, positively are not! Not even in moderation. Is smoking cigarettes safe in moderation? No! Neither are tanning beds.
The second reason I am writing about melanoma is because I recently discovered a small spot directly in the middle of the scar that was left on my right leg from the Melanoma surgery. I promptly made an appointment to see my dermatologist. At first Dr. Mackenzie thought it might be a blood vessel but upon closer review he determined that it was pigment and should be biopsied. To make a long story short, it's not Melanoma again. Instead it's a cluster of A-typical cells. A-typical cells are not cancerous but have the potential of becoming cancer and because of the placement of these cells; the pathologist recommends that I have more tissue taken from my leg just to be safe.
My poor leg looks like a shark took a bite out if it because of all the tissue that has been removed. I have over a dozen scars scattered all over my body from the removal of squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma but instead of looking at my scar as an ugly reminder of cancer, I chose to look at them as a second chance, a reminder from God that my work here is not done and I better get a move on. My scar means more time with my kids, husband, and all my friends and family. Scars will fade with time. Death is permanent.
It's important for me to add that one of the reasons that my melanoma was caught early was because I know my spots. I knew that people with fair skin, blonde hair, large number of moles, more than one sunburn as a youth, and family history of skin cancer were at high risk. That was me in a nutshell so I made sure to pay close attention to every spot on my body. I have even asked my husband to help me with this daunting task because two set of eyes are better than one. He was more than happy to examine my spots anytime and anywhere. Come to think of it, he was almost excited to help. What a good husband!
I was only 28 when I was diagnosed with the first skin cancer so if you are thinking that skin cancer only happens to old people, you're dead wrong. Melanoma is the leading cancer cause of death in women who are 25 to 30 years of age and the average survival rate of patients with metastatic melanoma is only 7.5 months, with only 5-10 percent of patients surviving more than 5 years. Is a golden tan really worth it?
Here are a few more facts about melanoma:
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008, there will be 8,420 fatalities in the U.S. due to melanoma
Heredity plays a major role. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than members of the general public who do not have a family history of the disease.
Know your ABCDE's" (A stands for Asymmetry, B stands for Border, C for Color, D for Diameter and E for Evolving or changing was recently added.).
The majority of melanoma is caused by exposure to UV light and sunlight.
Every hour a person dies from melanoma.
One blistering sunburn can double a person's chance of developing melanoma later in life.
Please leave a note on this blog if you would like to share your opinion on tanning beds or if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with skin cancer. It's important to get the word out that skin cancer is a killer and most of the time it is also avoidable! Peace.