Wear Sunblock This Summer: What it was like having Melanoma at 22.
Updated: May 2, 2022
This article is not intended as medical advice.
The kids are out of school and we went to the beach this week. 🏖 It seems like the perfect time to spread awareness about skin cancer and encourage sun safety.
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I was in my second semester of my first year of law school. I was concerned about a lot of things, but having skin cancer wasn't on the list. Even though I had a weird looking spot on my leg, it didn't even cross my mind it could be cancer. I only went to the dermatologist since it was kind of unattractive, and I wanted it removed. It was a little red and purplish, and I did not want it on my leg when it was about to be skirts/shorts season in Malibu, where I went to school. I was actually a little worried the doctor wouldn't remove it because I was asking her to remove it for cosmetic reasons. (Spoiler...the 3 inch scar I ended up with was worse.) When the doctor mentioned it would need to be removed right away because it could be a number of things you don't want on your body, I was slightly concerned. But I quickly forgot about it with spring break coming up.
In law school, spring break isn't actually a "break" your first year. There are no classes that week, but you have to write an appellate brief and you are supposed to be finding your summer internship. However, in addition to trying to get these things done, I had surgery that week. The doctor called and that weird spot was actually malignant melanoma.
Having a chunk of my leg muscle cut out, walking on crutches for a couple weeks and sporting a pretty large permanent scar was not exactly fun. BUT, I was fortunate. It was caught very early and had not spread. I did not need chemo or any other treatment. I have not had another melanoma since, and it has now been about 14 years. I do have to see the dermatologist every 6 months (more often when I was pregnant) for the rest of my life, and I have had more biopsies than I can count. I also have to get my eyes dilated every year to check for ocular melanoma. Overall, not too bad.
Others are not so lucky. If not caught early melanoma can be a devastating disease. If it has spread to an organ, it only has a 27% survival rate. However, if caught early it has a HUGE survival rate at 99%.
According to the American Cancer Society, around 100,000 melanomas will be diagnosed this year and around 7,000 people will die. Most melanomas are diagnosed in older adults. However, among young adults, melanoma is one of the most common cancers. Although, it is unknown what causes all melanomas, UV rays are a MAJOR culprit. Prevention is key. Wearing sunblock and avoiding tanning beds are two ways to avoid harmful UV rays. (Side note, I have never used a tanning bad though I had a few bad burns as a kid/teen. Its impossible to know if those caused the cancer or some genetic predisposition) Remember to reapply sunblock every two hours. Spend sometime in the shade of possible. I'm not a scientist or any type of medical professional, but I try to buy sunblock made from zinc oxide and without oxybenzone if possible. I just use what I buy for the kids. I'm not as picky as the EWG, sometimes if I have to buy something last minute it may not be on their "Best Baby and Sunscreen List." I've linked a few on the list below.
Another cool thing are clothes that provide UV protection. There are all types of products on the market from hats and sunglasses to swim suits and sleeves that also keep you cooler. So, make sure not to spend too much time in direct sun without sunblock, spend some time in the shade and cover up when you can. Just a little bit of precaution for you an your family, (I know I am totally guilty of putting sunblock on the kids and forgetting to put it on myself,) can help prevent skin cancer. And, if you have a mole that you aren't sure about, don't hesitate to get it looked at. Early detection saves lives and treatment isn't too bad. If you want to learn more about signs of malignant moles, read here.
Have an awesome summer full of outdoor play with a healthy dose of caution (not fear!)
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