Today I have a very special guest post for you guys.
My beautiful cousin is taking over the blog today to tell you her skin cancer story. Some of you may remember a few weeks ago when both hubby and I went to get skin cancer screenings…
The story below is one of the big reasons why. (The other being the fact that I spent 8 summers working for a landscaping company). Even though I waited longer than I should have after her diagnosis, she was still the main reason I eventually went.
Kristine and I spent a lot of time together when we were younger. Her mom, my aunt, took care of me while my parents were at work when I was little.
As we got older, my cousins used to come visit us with my grandparents every summer. I have a lot of great memories from those summers and most of them involve time spent at the pool. Even though we’re cousins, Kristine and I are about as far apart as you can get on the skin tone spectrum. I am darker skinned and tan very easily. She is extremely fair-skinned and burns very easily.
Please read her story…and then go schedule yourself a screening if you haven’t been recently.
I’m Kristine, and I’m lovely Lindsay’s cousin. I’m 29 years old and I live in Minnesota. This is my skin cancer story.
From the time I was a kid, I knew I was at a higher risk for skin cancer than most people I knew. I have fair skin, freckles, green eyes, and reddish/blonde hair. I sunburn easily, although there were plenty of times in my youth that I allowed myself to burn, because it eventually turned to tan. I figured a few days of lobster-esque red was worth it for a few days of a somewhat golden hue (although it was accompanied with highly attractive peeling skin and burn/tan lines).
As I moved into my twenties, I started becoming a bit more conscious of my skin, and spent more time thinking about sun protection when I was outside. However, it still wasn’t a big part of my life. In October 2009 I was a bridesmaid in one of my best friend’s weddings. Our dresses were strapless, and as I was fitted for my dress I noticed a large freckle on my right shoulder looked a bit bigger and darker than I remembered. I didn’t think much of it. After the wedding, I noticed the freckle jumped out in several pictures. While I was pretty sure it hadn’t always looked the way it did, I couldn’t remember for sure.
In order to be able to compare, I dug out my wedding photos, taken two years earlier. I had worn a strapless gown for my wedding, and hoped there would be an image of me that would show that freckle on my right shoulder. Sure enough, I had a few pictures of it, and realized that on my wedding day, the freckle was lighter, smaller, and more symmetrical than it was now. I knew that I needed to take action.
Over the next few days I did some research. I looked at images of skin cancer and perused the Mayo Clinic site for signs and symptoms- click here to see them. This is embarrassing to admit now, but another reason I had blown off my freckle for a while is when people write of skin cancer, they talk about moles that change shape. I figured a freckle was in a whole other category as I believed moles were only spots on your skin that were raised. Well, turns out, most all of my “freckles” are flat moles, and the one on my shoulder was exactly that.
I researched dermatologists in my area, and vetoed establishments that only promoted the cosmetic side of dermatology (skin peels, laser treatments, etc.) and instead selected a clinic that specifically touted their work with skin cancer. At my first appointment, my dermatologist did a full body check. When we got to my shoulder, she agreed the spot was a concern. They numbed the area with novocain and used a small razor to scoop it out. The scoop was sent to the lab to be biopsied.
A few days later I got a call from my dermatologist. My ‘scoop’ was malignant, and it was the most serious kind of skin cancer; melanoma. The good news, however, is the cancer was still on the surface. To treat it, I would need to come in as soon as possible for a surgical procedure to remove several millimeters of skin in all directions and depths close to the spot to ensure all the cancer was removed. I went in a few days later for the procedure. After about 45 minutes, they had removed the skin they wanted. That skin was biopsied, and luckily, it confirmed that all the cancer had been removed from my body.
Since then, I have had 3 other suspicious-looking scoops taken out of my body. One on my back, one on my arm, and one on my thigh. My arm and thigh checked out fine, but my back was considered extremely abnormal, and very likely pre-cancerous. For that reason, we performed the same surgical procedure on that spot as was done on my shoulder.
My dermatologist stressed to me that I should tell all my family and friends of my experience. Although I was at a higher risk due to my physical characteristics, she noted that skin cancer affects all skin types and genders, and is becoming increasingly common in youth. My story prompted several of my family members, friends, and coworkers to visit a dermatologist for the first time. Most all had to have something biopsied, and most all came back just fine. However, several of them had spots deemed precancerous, and one of my male friends had a melanoma discovered and removed. The friend with the melanoma and most of the others who had spots removed have much darker features than I do and tan easily.
I now wear sunscreen every day, and reapply multiple times when I’m outside. I have purchased sunglasses that offer UV protection, and dress appropriately when spending time outside. I make a point to stay in the shade, and I wear hats to keep my head protected. Even when it’s freezing cold in the winter in Minnesota, I still wear sunscreen as even though the sun doesn’t feel hot, its rays are just as powerful as a 90 degree summer day. For the first year after my melanoma I visited my dermatologist every 3 months. We then switched to 6 months. Now, I will go annually for the rest of my life.
I encourage everyone to perform a skin evaluation. Look at your body and take note of places where you have moles. Follow the ABCDE’s to know if you should consider getting checked (click here learn what these are here). It’s also good to familiarize yourself with any spots so even if they aren’t a concern now, it will be easier to tell in the future if there are any changes on your body. In my case, my husband has helped me take photos of my arms, legs, back, etc. so we can have a physical reminder of how my skin looks at certain times.
When in doubt; get it checked out. The Skin Cancer Foundation of America has an active newsletter and Facebook page that also offers helpful tips, and their website gives lots of great information.
Just remember that having darker features or tanning easily does not make you immune to skin cancer. Everyone should protect themselves with sunscreen, and take the time to check their body for areas of concern.
Skin cancer is 100 percent treatable, as long as it’s caught early enough.
Thanks for reading! If anyone has questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them. Stay sun safe out there!
So there you have it, friends. I URGE YOU, BEG YOU, PLEAD WITH YOU to go get a skin cancer screening if you haven’t already. Tell your friends and family…take them with you! Even though both my screening and my hubby’s came back perfectly normal with no cause for concern, I will never regret going!
Have you ever had a skin cancer screening? Do you get them regularly?
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