Wednesday, May 5, 2010

my experience with melanoma

yesterday, i saw an obituary for a 33 year old woman who died after unsuccessfully battling melanoma.
tomorrow, i have my 4th *clean* body scan (well, i hope clean) after having my own melanoma removed. i just felt it appropriate to write this and share it with everyone. my intent is to urge each one of you to go to a dermatologist and have a full body scan. also, be sure to use sun BLOCK and to never use tanning beds. they are SERIOUSLY a death trap.

when i was growing up, my mom always put sunblock on us. she didn't allow us out during the peak hours of the day. she protected my skin. when i was 16, i was a lifeguard and usually sat underneath an umbrella (it was hot!).

when i was in college, in about april, i would start going to the tanning bed to get a "base tan" - i justified it as "it is safer than getting burned in the sun" because typically in the sun, i would literally go from white to red. i never burned in the tanning bed. i would buy the month unlimited packages and go for 2 minutes and gradually and slowly move up to the 20 minutes maximum allowed time. i rarely went every day. probably 3 or 4 times max in the spring. in the summer, i often went to the beach and roasted myself but i typically used a SPF 15 sunblock on my body and a SPF 30 on my face. i would tan with that, and i didn't burn often. i knew to take it slow.

i burned some in my life, but not that often. i have lots of freckles, and i tan somewhat.

when i was 31, that was probably the last time i ever used a tanning bed.

between having kendal and getting pregnant with holly, i had a mole on my abdomen that would sometimes get irritated and bleed (it was under my bra strap). i made an appointment to get it removed. i also had a spot on my chest that would scab over and not heal. my dad had basil cell carcinoma on his nose the winter prior and i was worried i had what he had. so, i made an appointment at a dermatologist near where i worked and went in and asked her about both spots. she removed both but was unconcerned with them. turns out, the one on my chest was precancer. she recommended i come back for a "full body scan." about 4 months later, i finally got an appointment for that scan, and at that point i was pregnant with holly. she looked me over (and i mean, ALL over - going to the dermatologist for a scan is nothing like going to the OBGYN when it comes to modesty...) and she saw a spot on the back of my left leg that she wanted to remove. i'd never even noticed it before. it was flat, mostly round,not THAT big (though it was a little bigger than the surrounding freckles) and it wasn't really multicolored. i'd say, in all, that it didn't meet the criteria preached by most doctors for "moles to worry about."

anyway, within 2 weeks i had a call that it was melanoma. sadly, i didn't even know what melanoma was. the nurse said "it is the bad kind" and i actually had to look it up online to understand what she meant. melanoma is the fastest kind of skin cancer and can quickly spread to your lymph nodes. naturally, i was concerned. especially since i was pregnant. all the "what ifs" were entering my mind.

on june 9th, 2008, a different doctor (the "chief" doctor there) cut a huge pocket out of my calf. it was about 4 inches long, 3 inches wide, and about 1 inch deep. i am not exaggerating. after it was stitched up, i could have easily sat a golf ball in it and it would have stayed right there. i had all sorts of reactions to the latex and adhesives in the bandages and that is another story in itself, but all in all it has healed up well now and you'd probably not even notice the scar. (it filled back in with fat within a year...)

the doctor got all the cancer during that one surgery so that is the good news in all of that. i was fortunate enough to catch it early enough before it spread far.

for the past 2 years i have been terrified of the sun and have suffered the consequences such as having low vit.D in my blood. this year, i've decided that that melanoma very likely came from my use of a tanning bed. given its location (on the back of my leg, right below my knee - where it would be pressed up next to a UV bulb in a death bed) and the fact i've NEVER been burnt there from the sun, i doubt i got it from just living a normal life and enjoying outside. so this year, i'm still using sunblock on my face, but i'm trying to not fear the sun. the real sun.

anyway, i hope by sharing this story with you that you understand how important it is to incorporate the dermatologist into your yearly checkups. i also hope you understand how important it is to not use tanning beds. maybe you don't use them, but maybe you know someone who does. or, maybe you have a child that wants to use them. they are horrible and using them will eventually catch up to you!

please call a dermatologist ASAP and have a body check! if you need a recommendation, i can tell you for certain that my doctor (a woman) has a good eye for bad spots!


  1. i had a clean scan. yay for 2 years, no more new or old melanoma(s).

  2. That's great, Analee!

    Yey, I was guilty of The Fake Bake for far too many years. I think I started using them in the late 80s all through 2003. I stopped when I moved here.

    I do miss the tanned look and I don't care, the lotions/spray ons/applied tans do not look as nice (although they are obviously better for you and I might splurge and get one painted on for the cruise) BUT I really wish I had not done it; not only due to the potential for cancer but because it did a number on my skin in certain places.

    I get a yearly skin scan and also go in if I see anything that looks "weird" between check ups (weird = a odd looking patch or scaly area that does not go away after a week or so).

    I am so for the fact they are now charging an extra tax on the use of tanning beds; similar to smokes and booze.

    It can be an addiction and it's a bad one.

  3. I didn't mean "Yey, I was guilty.." I meant "Yeah..."



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