Let’s hit the rewind button and travel back in time to about 10 years ago to when I was in my early twenties and didn’t have a care in the world. At that point in my life I was a junior at Radford University and was living the life. Going to class during the day, out partying with my sorority sisters at night maybe getting a workout at some point in between the two. I had just enough money in bank account each month to purchase food, booze, occasionally get my hair done and go tanning. Life was great. I felt like I was on top of the world but what I didn’t know then was that the stupid decisions I was making at that point in my life would later effect how I live now.
I think we can all look back and think about how stupid we were when it came to protecting our skin from the sun. It was the last thing on our minds. I remember my mom telling me to take care of my skin, not to go tanning and to lather the sunscreen on my fair skin but being the stubborn twenty year old that I was, I rarely took her advice. I looked great then and that is all that mattered to me, I didn’t think about how my carelessness would effect my life going forward.
Now that I am 31 (ugh that hurts), I am paying for my mistakes and stubbornness from my twenties and really wishing that I had paid attention to the advice my mother had given me. On a recent visit to the dermatologist I decided to get a skin check, I realized I hadn’t ever had a full body scan done so I figured it was time to get one done. I knew I had a mole that looked suspect, it was always a bit larger than the others so I figured the doctor should take a look. After my scan I was surprised to find out that there was nothing wrong with that weird looking mole but that 8 others would need to be removed. I was shocked, upset and scared. I was feeling so many things that absolutely terrified me but also made me reflect back to how dumb I was for not taking proper care of my skin when it really mattered.
Over the next 6 months I visited the dermatologist 13 times. I would go in for the initial biopsy, be sent home and then called back a few days later to find out that I would need to get the full mole removed because of pre-cancerous cells that were found. And then the many appointments in between for suture removals, also took a toll on me. It wasn’t just the time out of my day but also the restrictions I would face after. Not being able to go to crossfit for weeks after each removal also drove me up the wall.
That first call was painful, I was scared and felt so stupid for what I had done to myself. And even though this whole experience really sucked and left me with a few scars on my stomach and back, I am extremely lucky that this is all that I had to do. It could have been so much worse; I could have been told I had melanoma.
Even though I had stopped going to tanning beds 6 years ago, the time that I did spend in them and at the pool and beach, left me with irreversible damage. But I am one of the lucky ones, I was able to walk away from this situation cancer free. Some aren’t so lucky. This entire experience was a huge wake up call for me and even though I like soaking up a little Vitamin D as much as the next girl, I know now how it can negatively effect my life. I also know now that loading up on sun screen, sitting in the shade and faking my tan with self tanners or spray tans is now my future and I’m ok with that.
My whole purpose of sharing my story with you is so you can learn from my mistakes. So you aren’t in my shoes in a few years or in an even worse situation. So please, load up on the sunscreen and if you want bronzed skin, opt for a spray tan instead of laying in a sun bed. And most importantly, make sure you visit a dermatologist annually to have your skin checked. You can also educate yourself so that you know what to look for. The chart above is a simple guide you can follow to check if your moles look abnormal or not but you really should consult a doctor annually. If I hadn’t had my body scan 6 months ago, who knows what could have happened. All I can do now is count my blessings and take the proper precautions to make sure that I take care of my skin as best as I can from here on out.
Since it is the summer time and it’s hard to stay out of the sun completely, I have listed links to some of my favorite sunscreens, cover ups, and hats to help shade you from those harmful UV rays. I have also listed links to a few local dermatologists that come highly recommended. If you have had a similar experience or have any questions about my experience, I would love to hear from you. Please comment below as we read and respond to each and every comment you make.
–Georgetown Skin – Dr. Howard Brooks and Ryan Leach, MPAS, PA-C (where I went for all of my procedures)