a man smiles in front of a beach landscape with people carrying surfboards

My Melanoma Experience: A Look Back

In 1988, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I had just returned from a year of working in London right after finishing my college degree in Los Angeles. I had thought that I was pretty much invincible. Youth and growing up in California can do that to you. I was living the dream. My beach life afforded me so many pleasures and in 1988 I had begun to pay the price for my lifestyle.

I have been advocating for a while now

I left Southern California in 1990 and have lived in places like Siberia and Buffalo, not the bastions of the tanning and fun in the sun. I have spent over three decades monitoring my sun exposure, slathering on sunscreen, doing self-checks, seeing doctors, and finding my voice in skincare advocacy. At times this has been mentally exhausting. At times this has been fulfilling. Most of the time, it has been sobering. It has been sobering because I am aware that so many people are living with and some are dying with melanoma.

Melanoma comes to destroy

Melanoma can be a bold robber or a sneaky thief with the same goal. This disease comes to destroy. As I look back on this experience, I am encouraged by how far we have come in diagnosing and treating this deadly form of skin cancer. I am happy to know that advocacy efforts are banning teenagers from broiling in tanning booths. I believe that my efforts have been worth it. Speaking with state senators in my home state of New York have made a difference.

We have a lot to do

There is still so much more to do. It seems that this destroyer of lives mutates and finds tricky ways to hurt people. It lurks in the shadows and preys on the unsuspecting. Ultimately, I believe that research and education will save many, but losing one is too much. Sunscreen was a disgusting goo in 1988, but now it seems more palatable. Clothing with UV protection shows promise. Current therapies and diagnostic tools provide patients with options in treatment and help with early detection. The word is out. Hopefully, melanoma’s days are numbered.

I'm happy to be alive

Knowing what I know now about skin cancer and its causes, I am happy to be alive and into my mid 50’s. I saw my son graduate from college. Melanoma did not rob me of that. I got my master’s degree, my black belt, I am serving others. I feel like I have already won. The parasols, hats, shady picnics, SPF, and biopsies aside, life is great and I am thankful. I am thankful to have a voice and listening ear in this community. They say that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I say “a life saved is a life earned.” What I mean is that I want to give back and I think it saves lives.

Looking back

Looking back, I certainly would trade those burning beach days as a child for having peace of mind since. I would have spent one less day tanning in college if it meant one less biopsy as an adult. But, I can’t go backward in time. I was just ignorant about the effects of my sun exposure. Everyone has a different experience with melanoma. My disease has given me added purpose and an avenue to help others.

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