I am a strawberry. And with that, often comes blue eyes, fair skin, and freckles. I must have hit the lottery, because I got them all.
Since I was little, I have memories of my mom lathering me in sunscreen every time I ventured outside – from soccer games, swim parties, beach trips, bike rides, you name it. It was like clockwork. Every 45 minutes, as much as I would moan, I’d get a new white, greasy layer spread on top of my pale skin. And if I didn’t, I would, no doubt, quickly become a fried tomato.
Then came high school, and I turned into the “mom” of the group, chasing my friends at cross-country meets and pool parties, sharing my sunscreen, so I could help protect others. Thinking back, I would have been great on sunscreen infomercials, as I was always promoting my favorite brands to my friends; even if they could care less.
In high school I started seeing a dermatologist. At first it was primarily for acne, but then it became an annual visit to see Dr. Rubakovic. She would examine all my new freckles and moles using some glasses that looked like a contraption out of a Sci-Fi movie. She would even take photos of the concerning ones that she wanted to revisit the next time I’d see her.
I got my first biopsy on a mole on my back when I was 15, and luckily it turned out to be benign, like 99.9% of the moles on my body.
Around when I graduated college and moved to Orange County, I found a new dermatologist that was more accessible than taking trips to the desert once a year. It was a routine – I would come in, strip down, get examined mole by mole, everything would be fine, and I’d be back in another year. When this 25th year came around, not so much.
There was a mole on my forehead by my scalp line that I had noticed was acting a little funny (sign #1). It scabbed over a couple of times, even though I didn’t scratch it (sign #2). Up until my appointment, I would just cover it in makeup daily and continue on. At my appointment the dermatologist insisted in taking a biopsy because it seemed to have irregular edges (sign #3) and it didn’t look like the rest of my moles on my body (sign #4). So, at that appointment, she took a biopsy and I was left with a scab and a band-aid on my forehead. I got a call back a week later and they told me it was a basal-cell carcinoma and I needed to schedule a Mohs Surgical procedure to remove the cancerous tissue.
Even though it is very common skin cancer, I was still a bit shocked. Fear followed and then paranoia that after this every mole on my body was going to turn cancerous. I thought to myself, “but wait – how did this happen to me after all these years of being so careful? What did I do wrong?” The answer is nothing. I had done all the right things.
At the Mohs appointment, they made sure I was very comfortable. They complete everything under localized anesthesia, so you really don’t feel a thing. They prep the area around the mole, then they remove a layer around the cancerous tissue area. After that, they test it under a microscope. They repeat this process until all of the cancerous tissue is gone. It really wasn’t as scary or awful as I had built it up in my mind to be. Luckily for me, they only had to do it twice, since it wasn’t very deep. Then, they patch you up. I had 6-7 blue stitches that came out the next week, which turned into a pink scar line that has faded over time to become almost unnoticeable.
I really can’t advocate for skin health and wellness enough – and that includes skin cancer prevention.
Sure, I am a particularly fair-skinned, blue-eyed, strawberry blonde girl, and yes, that increases the likelihood of me being prone to various skin cancers. However, that does NOT mean that everyone that is darker skinned than I am shouldn’t be careful. They definitely SHOULD. YOU should.
I’ve learned that every day you need to be careful, because the sun is stronger than ever before. And truthfully, I am grateful that my mom always smothered me in sunscreen when I was young and that I have learned how important it is to continue that for the rest of my life. (And for my kids someday too!)
May just happens to be skin cancer awareness month. So what does that mean for you?
- Find yourself a dermatologist to see once a year, even if you don’t think you need to. It’s never too early to start and you should find someone who you trust.
- Invest in a good sunscreen. One for everyday – maybe it’s in your foundation or moisturizer (spf 30 at least!). And if you’re going to be out and about, be prepared to reapply.
- Look for Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide as the main ingredients
- Love the sun, but love your hat more – your face is precious. (Wear some sunnies to protect those lovely eyes of yours too!)
- You can make a difference – be your own advocate for skin health and wellness. If you believe it, others around you will too!
- Be brave – share your story – #MostCommonCancer
- Visit SkinCancer.org for more info
I love the sunshine. And sometimes it loves me a little too much. So taking steps to protect my skin is key, so we can continue to love each other, hot summer days and all! And you can too – love your skin.