What Skin Cancer Has Given Me
This year marks the 26th year that I have had skin cancer.
Tanning back in the day
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time playing outdoors. Sunscreen wasn’t widely used back then, and, in fact, I remember that our "sunscreen" was actually SPF 2 or SPF 4 suntan lotion. When I was a teenager, I spent too much time laying out on a silver reflective blanket, trying to get a tan. Then came tanning beds, which were supposedly safer than laying out in the sun (they aren’t, by the way). I would often go to the tanning bed a few times before vacations to get a "base tan." During my 20’s until I was around 30 or so, I would spend far too much time lying in the sun. All of that sun exposure and tanning bed exposure left me with 26 years and counting of skin cancer.
Skin cancer on my face and permanent numbness
Want to know what else it has given me? I now have permanent numbness on my forehead into my scalp from surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma. My doctor had to move a nerve because the cancer was growing around it, and I’ve not had any feeling on the left side of my forehead and about two inches up into my scalp since then.
Surgery has affected my smile
My upper lip is no longer centered nor symmetrical. This is due to a couple of surgeries to remove basal cell carcinoma above my lip. The first one displaced the center of my lip, and a Mohs surgery this spring left me with part of my upper lip missing, which also caused a bit of the left side to droop. I worked on stretching it and moving it once I started healing from the surgery, which has helped quite a bit, but I still need to make a conscious effort when I smile to raise the left side of my lip.
Permanent scars and spots
I have numerous scars, some of which have healed completely, some of which are permanent. I also have a multitude of white spots from laser removal of precancerous areas and basal cell areas. In the early stages of my skin cancer journey, my plastic surgeon would use a laser to treat those areas. When I went to see a plastic surgeon last year about a basal cell in a tricky area, she said she had all the lasers removed from her office years ago because of the white area it leaves behind. That won’t help the areas I have though, as those are permanent. Added to all of this, skin cancer has left me with so many medical bills.
The silver lining
Though my 26 years-long journey with skin cancer has been challenging, it has given me some things for which I am thankful.
I never really thought about skin cancer until I received a second diagnosis (unfortunately I thought my first diagnosis was a one-and-done deal and didn’t take it seriously). Now I know better, and now I can do better.
Sharing my story
Skin cancer has given me the ability to share my story with others to help raise awareness, to help people not feel so alone in their journeys, and to hopefully prevent others from having to go through what I’ve been through.
Advocating for myself
I've developed the ability to advocate for myself as a patient. I’m now comfortable with seeking a second opinion if I feel it is necessary, with researching various treatment options, and with asking my doctor if there’s an alternative treatment available.
Because of skin cancer, I've found new friends, people who understand what it’s like to have skin cancer. These are people I can text or call when I’m worried about an upcoming surgery or while I’m waiting on biopsy results. They're also people who are empathetic and supportive. This has been so comforting to me.
I have found a sense of community. With SkinCancer.net, I’ve found so many others who are also traveling the same path as I am. For far too many years, I felt alone in my battle with skin cancer.
The lessons I've learned
Take it from me, though: having a tan isn’t worth the price you could be paying later. The damage you do to your skin early on could show up years down the road. If you are fortunate enough to not get skin cancer, you could still end up with wrinkles, sunspots, and leathery skin. Make it a priority to take good care of your skin. You are worth it.
Do you check the UV index before leaving the house?