Like most pre-teens and teenagers, I spent many hours covered in tanning oil and basking in the sun in all of it’s glory. That was just kind of what you did as a teenager, especially here in the south. Fair skin is particularly prominent in my dad’s side of the family. You will find that most of us on that side of the family have moles, freckles, and are naturally pale in color. Some of us on this side tan better than others, but all-in-all, we are considered fair skinned.
Despite my mother’s best efforts to get me to wear sunscreen, I didn’t. I didn’t just skip wearing sunscreen every once in a while, I never once put sunscreen on my skin during my pre-teen and teenage years. My mom constantly warned me that if I didn’t wear my sunscreen, I would get skin spots, wrinkles, and melanoma. She would even point out spots on her skin that were caused from sun damage every time I would march back in the house with a sunburn to try and prove her point. Don’t get me wrong, my body would tan. This sounds horrible, but I would let myself burn a few times because I knew that once that second time of burning was done, I would begin to turn a gorgeous golden color. I never turned a deep, dark brown color like Adriana Lima would, but I loved my color and loved my body with a tan. It made me feel thinner, prettier, and made me feel like a golden goddess! I even began using the tanning bed while in 9th grade. Little did I know that my decision to start tanning would completely change my life 10-12 years down the road.
What makes me now look like a total idiot is the fact that I began having pre-cancer cells in my body from sun damage as soon as I began tanning. When the doctor performs a biopsy and finds precancerous cells in a mole, the doctor has to then go back in and take out borders around that initial mole to make sure that all precancerous cells have been removed in that area. My first precancerous spot was found on my head. I had not even hit age 15. I continued to tan in the sun and the tanning bed without a single care in the world. By the time I was 20, I had to have a minimum of 30 spots removed from my body. Not all, but some of these were precancerous as well. I do not remember much from these days of having places removed from my skin other than having to have regular dermatologist checkups as well as two surgeries where I was put to sleep because of the ridiculous number of spots on my body that looked suspicious.
We think tanning is glamourous, and it is at the moment, but as you get older and the consequences of tanning begin to catch up with you, it turns into the ugliest, most expensive, and heart breaking thing in your life. The picture below is an example of what tanning 10 years later can look like…
This is my most recent bout with precancerous cells found in my body through a biopsy of a mole smack in the middle of my chest. My dermatologist performed the pathology himself on this mole and talked to me in detail about what is going on. When you have a skin biopsy done, the pathologist will rate the sample either: 1) Benign (no cancer cells found) 2)Mild 3)Moderate 4)Severe 5)Melanoma. This particular spot was rated “Moderate”. This spot has internal and external stitches. There are 10 stitches externally and I have no idea how many internal stitches there are. My doctor told me that he believes this procedure should get it all, but he has had biopsies comes back that contained even more severe cells below the biopsy. Do you know what? I had another spot on my skin rated “Mild”. Luckily, I won’t have to have stitches on that one.
My point is, I have dealt with this for half of my life. I will continue to have to deal with this for the rest of my life. No, I have not officially had melanoma, but had I of let several spots on my body just sit there instead of going to the doctor, I would have eventually had a diagnosis of melanoma. In the future, I very well may have a diagnosis of melanoma because of my poor decisions as a teenager and young adult.
Melanoma doesn’t just cause you to have ugly scars from skin extractions all over your body, it can kill you. By the end of 2015, an estimate of over 73,000 new invasive cases of melanoma will be diagnosed. An estimated 9,940 will die of melanoma. One person dies from melanoma every 57 minutes.
I know these are facts that nobody wants to think about. I, myself, never considered the repercussions of the time I spent in the sun. Skin cancer does not just show up in blonde hair, blue eyed, fair skinned individuals such as myself. Skin cancer can show up in African Americans, Hispanics, and basically every other race on God’s green Earth. In fact, it can even be more invasive in other races; it is just more prominent in Caucasians.
Sun damage is absolutely hideous. It causes wrinkles, dark spots, and skin cancer. It’s painful. It’s expensive when you begin trying to reverse it and it never goes away entirely because the damage is at the cellular level. It will most definitely cause you to age quickly. Later in your life, if you end up starting to have biopsies done on questionable areas, it will cost you thousands throughout your lifetime. Do you know what else? Some of the most dangerous spots on your body are in places that you would never expect. I know from experience. My honest and heartfelt advice to you: wear your sunscreen. Get spray tans instead of getting in the tanning bed!
I am going to attach a few educational pieces that I found helpful below. I must say, my doc was pretty impressed with my knowledge on this topic! Please read these to find out what to look for and how to get help. If you have any questions about my experience, or want to find out more you can email me at StunninglySouthern@gmail.com. I have had way more experience with this than what I put in this blog post, but hopefully this is enough to make you think.