Speak out: I had a skin cancer scare at 20! Here's what I wish I knew about sun, tanning and SPF...
I think a lot of people can remember their first really bad sunburn. I definitely do. I was 12, and on vacation at my favorite spot—the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I loved playing in the waves and laying out in the sun. SPF was a total afterthought, and I definitely didn’t pay attention to my parents when they ordered me to put more sunscreen on throughout the day.
That trip, I ended up getting sun poisoning. It sucked: I had a fever, and disgusting blisters all over my chest. I was so uncomfortable and had to wear a long sleeved shirt (even on the beach). It definitely ruined a few days of my vacation.
Unfortunately, my ways didn’t change until I was much older. I continued to lay out and used the lowest SPF, which was totally dumb. I got many more sunburns, but thankfully nothing as bad as that first bad burn.
Flash forward to senior year of high school. I started heading to tanning booths, in order to get some color for prom. Being in the warmth felt so good, and I was finally getting tan. Yay! But, here’s the thing: I’m pale with red hair. I was never going to be as tan as my olive-skinned friends, but I kept trying, even though I had heard tanning beds were bad for you. I tanned on and off every year for the next three years.
When I was 20, my mom saw a mole on my back that she thought looked really weird. She got worried, and made me go to the dermatologist. Well, my mom was right (isn’t she always?). The dermatologist took the mole off, and sent it to a lab. And then, all I could do was wait. Those two weeks were terrible. I was afraid, and constantly nervous. What if I had cancer?
The mole tested positive for 2nd stage pre-cancer (what!?), and the dermatologist had to go back and remove the skin that surrounded the mole as well. I had to get about 6 stitches, and it hurt so badly during the healing. The scar is still there and is about 3 inches across my back, which makes me feel super self-conscious.
What most people don’t know is that first really bad burn and tanning bed use increases the chance of getting skin cancer by 80 percent. Take it from me; I’ve got the scars to prove it.
I'm thankful all of my pre-cancerous cells were removed, and that the doctor caught them early. But now I have to visit the dermatologist every 6 months to make sure nothing new has come up. It’s a constant upkeep, super annoying and stressful. These days, I’m happy with being pale and healthy. I always use sunscreen, and I make sure I carry a little bottle everywhere I go.
I really wish I could go back in time and talk to 12-year-old me, and tell her “Hey, Anna-Maria, it’s not worth the risk!” Yeah, that would be nice, but it can’t happen. The only thing I can do is educate those around me so they don’t have to go through any of this. Trust me, having a tan is not worth it.
I should have listened to my parents. I should have applied sunscreen. I should have loved the skin I was in.
Some things to know:
1. Skin cancer can develop in ANY ethnicity. Just cause you’re skin is naturally darker, it doesn't mean you're immune.
2. Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young people.
3. Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent.
To learn more about the prevention of skin cancer, visit skincancer.org