Skin Cancer Scare

Back in February, one of my favorite bloggers, Alyssa, was diagnosed with skin cancer. She thought she had been a “smart” tanner and in the end, had to have multiple surgeries to get it all out. Luckily, she’s OK now. But that’s not always the case.

I was even more lucky – I only had a scare. But it was enough to knock some sense into me.

Embrace the pale. And the shade. And Steve.

Before I get into what happened, let me give you a bit of a back story. I’ve never been a tanner. Fortunately, my mom never allowed me to go to a tanning bed, even when I was sixteen and all of my friends were doing it. Some did it to prep for “super important” events like the prom, others because they said it helped with acne (which I had severe problems with), and some just went because it relaxed them.

Mom always said, “hell no.” For that, I’m extremely grateful. And I was a good kid, so I never went behind her back. After all, don’t ya think she’d catch on to the tan look after a bit?

Oh Momma, you so smart.

But that doesn’t mean I was smart.

I played sports all year round and was in the sun for most of the day. Soccer consumed my life all summer and fall, and softball in the spring. Except for when I was at soccer camp and outside training for eight-plus hours a day, I don’t remember putting sunscreen on once. Not for regular practice, not for games, nothing. I didn’t get burns, so I never thought about it.

DUMB.

When I went to the beach, I’d put on sunscreen, but only after I’d already been out for a few hours. After all, I wanted at least a little bit of a tan. I didn’t go in the tanning bed, so I was being smart.

WRONG.

At the beach, NOT wearing sunscreen.

Once I went to college and got involved with Colleges Against Cancer, I started being smarter. I wore sunscreen when I knew I’d be outside for most of the day, and I even bought moisturizer that had SPF built in. But when people told me I should be wearing sunscreen every single day, I thought, “Come on, seriously? That’s a little much.”

I astound myself with my stupidity sometimes.

I even felt like a hypocrite. Here I was, passionately fighting cancer and yet I was sabotaging myself by not taking such a small step. It was that silly notion many of us have in the back of our minds. You know the one I’m talking about: that little voice that says we’re invincible. It won’t happen to us.

So when I graduated college, I vowed that I would be better. I started putting on SPF every single day. I researched and tried different products until I found ones that I really liked and didn’t feel gross on my acne-prone skin. Because if I felt like I was clogging my pores, there was no way I would put it on, willingly, every day. So I put in the work. And I felt really good about myself.

Embracing the pale and rockin’ my dance skills.

When I read Alyssa’s post, I knew I needed to get a skin check. I don’t have many freckles, but there was one that stood out. I still didn’t think it was anything life-altering, but I hadn’t gotten a skin check in a long time, so I told myself it was better to just get it over with.

I put it off until August. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t believe anything was wrong – I just let life get in the way. I told myself I was too busy, work was more important, I didn’t want to waste my time in a doctor’s office, etc.

But isn’t an hour in a doctor’s office a pretty measly amount of time if it’s going to save your life? Oh, right.

So I found myself at a new-to-me dermatologist’s office, in one of those paper-thin robes that nobody is ever comfortable in, ready for my full-body skin check. My derm said my skin looked great, but that it was clear I didn’t always wear sunscreen all the time. I explained my history and was secretly proud of my recent efforts. He acted content, until he saw the little mole on my right arm. He circled it with an ugly green marker, burrowed his frow and said, “That doesn’t look good at all.”

Gulp.

“You don’t have very many freckles and moles, which is why this concerns me. It really stands out. It’s darker than all the others you have, it has multiple shades and it has an irregular border – see how it’s shaped more like a star, not a circle?”

I silently nodded my head, terrified he was going to tell me I was dying.

“I don’t think it’s melanoma, but let’s take it out for a biopsy…just in case.”

Did you know that it can take a week before you find out the results of a biopsy? Talk about the longest. week. ever.

Luckily, my test came back negative. My dermatologist said everything came back normal, but again reminded me about the sunscreen. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ve been wearing it. Especially when I was outside all day on Saturday with Dustin’s family and friends.

This is Aaron. We’re friends. I wear sunscreen. I hope he does, too.

So no, this isn’t a scary story where I found out I have cancer. I’m lucky that I don’t. But it was a scary-as-hell situation to be in. I’ve had cancer invade my life way too many times already. And I hate the damn thing. Please just do the little things that might prevent it. I can’t help but think about all of the times I screwed myself over when I was younger, and now I just pray that it never comes back to haunt me.

I know this video is really popular, but it really resonates. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the time to watch.

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Posted on August 28, 2012, in Cancer Awareness and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Sam, I’m so glad everything turned out okay. I know how scary it can be to wait for biopsy results. It’s terrible. Keep spreading the good word ( and the sunscreen ). xoxo

  2. I’m so glad you wrote about this! (and glad you’re okay!) I’ve always been super pale and make it a point to wear sunscreen when I know I’ll be outside for awhile, but I really need to be more diligent about wearing it everyday. (what sunscreen do you use on your face? I need a lighter, less greasy option!) my mom had skin cancer removed so I am terrified of it. Thanks for the reminder to those who may not think they are susceptible!

    • Thank you, Kara! I use Neutrogena’s Healthy Defense Oil-Free Sunblock Stick with an SPF of 30. I have one in my purse for reapplication – it’s the main thing I’ve found that doesn’t leave my face feeling greasy at all! I also have the small 3oz bottle of Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen of SPF 30 – I use that when I’m going to be outside for a long time, and reapply with the stick.

  3. Great write up Sam! Good to remind women that most makeup and moisturizers and body lotion come with built in sunscreen of SPF 30. I’ve been using them for years with no extra effort. Everyone should be proud of their glow in the dark white skin ;).

  4. I am SO like you – always proud of myself for not tanning, but I’m bad about putting sunscreen on when I go out for regular stuff. Great reminder, and I am so glad that you are okay!

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