A woman holds a skin cancer awareness ribbon in her hand, which gives off a soft glowing light.

Skin Cancer – More Than I Bargained For

When I was a kid, I had never heard of skin cancer. As a child, we played outside all day long during summers and after school until dinner time. There were no Xboxes or video games to keep us occupied, and televisions only had a handful of channels.

Young and naive about skin cancer

When I was in middle school and high school, I had heard of skin cancer, but only because my dad had it and every now and then he’d come home with a bandaid on his forehead or arm where he’d had a place treated. Nothing was said about it, other than sometimes my mom would mention that he had an appointment coming up. And honestly, I still didn’t give skin cancer much thought. It was something that someone “older” might get.

Skin cancer warning signs

When I was in my late 20’s, I had a tiny area on my face that would bleed and scab over, but it would never fully go away. I still didn’t give skin cancer any thought, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed with it. Why? Because skin cancer wasn’t something people talked about. There wasn’t the benefit of the awareness that we have now and the information we have readily available. This is unfortunate because if I knew back then what I know now, I would hope that I’d have taken much better care of my skin.

Reluctant to admit the severity of skin cancer

Thinking that skin cancer really wasn’t a big deal (just get it taken off and I’m all good, right?), I continued my sun-loving ways after my first diagnosis. It took a second diagnosis for me to realize I needed to start changing my ways. Unfortunately, I’d already done a lot of damage to my skin. And while we can take steps to help prevent future sun damage, we can’t undo the damage we’ve already done.

When skin cancer finally leads to regret

My first and second diagnoses both led to excisional surgeries. I went for a period of time without any new spots showing up, but the damage to my skin remained, and over the next 25 years I had numerous actinic keratosis areas and basal cell carcinomas. It took over twenty years before I had my first squamous cell area, and I’ve had several others since then.

Scars, anxiety, and knowledge

Skin cancer has given me numerous surgical scars on my face, chest, arms, and legs. It’s left me with white roundish areas from laser treatments to remove actinic keratosis. It’s given me a mountain of medical bills over the years. It’s given me the habit of checking my skin daily for any suspicious new areas. It’s given me numerous surgeries, biopsies, twice-yearly (at least) visits with my dermatologist, and lots of anxiety. But it’s also given me the sense to know that I have to take care of my skin. It’s the only skin I get. And I need to make sure my family and friends take care of theirs too.

Learn from my mistakes

If I could go back in time, I’d skip the hours of lying out in the sun. I’d skip going to the tanning bed before vacation so I could get a ‘base tan.’ I’d skip thinking that I needed a tan (more like a burn, actually) to fit in or to look healthy. I can’t go back in time, but what I can do is continue to tell my story, and hope that it stops someone else from making the same mistakes that I did. Skin cancer isn’t always a one-and-done deal. I’ll be fighting it for the rest of my life. Skin cancer is serious business, friends. Make sure you take it seriously.

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