This post is a bit different than my usual fashion and beauty posts. I always like to keep things light and happy around here, but the reality is life isn’t always light and happy. I may appear “polished” in my blog posts, but I want to start sharing more of the “unpolished” parts of my life. We are all imperfect humans living in an imperfect world, and I hope that by sharing some of my experiences that it may help someone, somewhere, in some way.
It all started with a little spot on my abdomen.
I had noticed it when I showered and didn’t really think much of it. I assumed that it was probably just a freckle or a mole, and my hypochondriac self should probably just ignore it. As days and weeks went on, my eyes kept getting drawn to this little spot, and I began to notice that it was different than any other freckles I had. It was a lot darker, and the edges were a little jagged. Still, I tried to ignore it and thought I would maybe just mention it to my dermatologist the next time I went in. A few months later, Garrett and I were on vacation in New Mexico and I decided to ask Garrett if the spot looked weird to him. If you don’t know Garrett, he is usually super laid back and never worries about anything. Being the hypochondriac that I am, he is always the one telling me not to worry and to stop Googling things. However, this time his response was different. I showed him the spot and he insisted that I make an appointment with the dermatologist as soon as possible. This was not like him at all. He doesn’t have a medical background, but even he knew that it did not look right. As soon as we were back from vacation, I scheduled an appointment to get it checked out. The dermatologist agreed that it looked abnormal, so he took a biopsy.
I was at work when I got the call that it was in fact melanoma. Skin cancer.
Needless to say, I was terrified. That word is just scary, and not something I ever thought I would have to deal with. The good news is that it was a very early stage of melanoma (literally the earliest they could possibly catch it). I was able to have it surgically removed, and although I am left with a not-so-pretty 4 inch scar on my abdomen, it is such a relief to know that it didn’t spread beyond that. Another spot on my back was biopsied, and while it came back negative for melanoma, it was considered highly abnormal. It had to be surgically removed as well to ensure that it didn’t turn into melanoma, which meant also removing about an inch of skin on either side of it to clear the margins. I think about how different my story would have been if I had ignored it, and it just makes me so thankful that I acted quickly. I have to go back to the dermatologist every 3 months to check all my spots so that if any others turn into melanoma we will be able to catch it right away. Still, when the doctor tells me a spot looks normal, I can’t help but think “what if he’s wrong?” I have to just trust and pray that he knows what he’s doing, and again, be thankful that I caught it so early. Others aren’t that lucky.
So now what? Where do I go from here?
I’m not going to live my life in fear, but I am going to be much more cautious. Sunscreen is SO important, and it’s not something I can afford to forget anymore. No more laying out in the sun – shade is officially my new best friend. It makes me cringe to think of all the times I would lay out in the sun for hours without sunscreen, and all the times I baked myself in the tanning bed (although it has probably been 5 or 6 years since I’ve used one). There’s no way to know the exact moment that the melanoma formed or what specific instance caused it. We all know that UV rays can cause skin cancer, but you never think something like that will ever happen to you. When you’re young, you feel invincible, and that leads to making stupid choices. I can’t undo the past, I can only make better decisions from here on out and be thankful that it’s not as bad as it could be. Reality checks suck, but they can also be lifesavers.
What are the signs of melanoma?
If you have a spot that concerns you, don’t ignore it. It never hurts to get a doctor’s opinion, and it could save your life. The Mayo Clinic has some great information about melanoma, including the causes and symptoms. You can use the “ABCDE” method to identify an unusual mole:
A – ASYMMETRICAL SHAPE
B – BORDER IS IRREGULAR
C – CHANGES IN COLOR
D – DIAMETER (larger than 1/4 in.)
E – EVOLVING
While this checklist is helpful, it’s not meant to diagnose skin cancer and it doesn’t 100% apply to every situation. There are many forms of skin cancer, and it’s a good idea to schedule a yearly skin check with your dermatologist. My hope is that by sharing my story, it may remind someone to schedule that appointment, or to opt for the higher SPF sunscreen. Don’t live your life in fear, just be aware of the dangers of sun exposure and know that if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.