It's Not Worth The Glow: I Got Melanoma Cancer At 23
It's the middle of summer and lots of people have one thing on their mind: Get as tan as possible before winter rears its ugly head again.
What if obtaining that "healthy glow" totally compromised your health? Would it still be worth it?
In February of this year, I was diagnosed with stage IIIC melanoma and it has already metastasized, progressing it to stage IV.
This is something I never imagined I would be dealing with at 23.
Here I am, fresh out of college and still living in the same room of my parents' house I grew up in with my whole life ahead of me.
Yeah, I had been in a tanning booth a handful of times, until one nasty butt burn before my 20th birthday party kept me away for good.
Aside from that little incident, I considered myself to be pretty careful when it came to sun exposure, but cute baseball hats and SPF 15 weren't enough.
It only took one tiny mole on the bottom of my scalp to tear my world apart. It started out as an occasional itch, but quickly turned into shooting pains through my head.
I put off having to take care of it for quite some time, afraid to take off of work at my dead-end job until something inside me told me I couldn't put it off any longer.
I would have to bite the bullet and go to the dermatologist. The fact that I could feel the cancer was my body's way of letting me know something wasn't right.
Most people don't get that luxury with cancer; they don't realize anything is wrong until it's too late.
After I was diagnosed, I avoided contact with everyone, avoiding reality altogether. I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me, or asking how I felt. Physically, I felt fine; inside, I was a total mess.
I was scared, not of the needles or scalpels, but of what the final outcome would be. Would I live long enough to get married? Have kids? Everything became a complete blur.
We met with a team of oncologists, and just days after being diagnosed, I would be going in for surgery.
I had been pretty fortunate because until this point, the only procedure I had ever had was a wisdom teeth extraction.
That one had been a piece of cake -- in my case, a pint of ice cream. (Okay, fine. Maybe three pints of ice cream.)
Going under this time would not be as easy. What we thought would be a brisk, three-hour surgery turned out to be more like a seven-hour procedure.
They removed all 69 lymph nodes in the left side of my neck. Why not 68 or 70? We don't know; maybe they were trying to provide us with some comic relief.
Out of all those lymph nodes, they found that four contained cancer cells, and apparently, that was a lot.
After four days in the hospital, they went back in and closed my scalp up so I could go home.
Bi-weekly physical therapy appointments would eventually help me regain movement in my neck.
I had gone through two procedures and was finishing my first round of chemo when I met with my dermatologist for one of our checkups.
She asked me to write a quick blurb on my diagnosis they could use in their monthly newsletter for Melanoma May or Skin Cancer Awareness.
I put it off and put it off, mainly because the aftermath of the daily chemo treatments was so rough. One day I quickly wrote something up and sent it over.
In my follow-up appointment, she told me the office received the highest volume of calls for skin checks that they had ever received.
I realized if I shared my story with enough people, maybe someone else would get checked out early enough to not have to go through this too.
People know the risks of not practicing UV safety, yet "sunburn art" is a trend.
Given that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, things like that don't make any sense to me.
I would do anything to have my skin healthy again because it's the only one I will ever have.
They can keep cutting away at the moles and tumors, but even that has proved not to be very successful.
The thing is, anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of race, age or gender. So I ask, why not protect your skin? It's not like you can trade it in for another.
Here is the blog I started in attempt to inform more people on skin cancer: http://mymelanomastory.weebly.com/. Please check it out, and remember to protect yourself.