A woman looks up at the sky with a hopeful expression as pictures of her scars float around her.

Memories of Skin Cancer…The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today, Facebook Memories showed me a post I had made five years ago. I had written that particular post to share pictures and talk about my experience with a major skin cancer surgery I was in the process of healing from. During that surgery, I had 23 areas removed. Ten of those areas required stitches and thirteen areas were removed by laser.

I had surgery in a few places

I had surgical areas on my left lower and upper leg, my chest, my left arm, and my face. I had to spend the two weeks following surgery lying on my back all day and night. My doctor told me I had to keep weight off my legs because if I ripped open my stitches, I could end up having to have a skin graft and my recovery would take a lot longer.

I was reflecting

I spent some time today thinking about that surgery, and all that transpired after it. The good? Having skin cancer has opened doors for me to share my story with others. Skin cancer awareness is so important and so vital. Sharing our stories and experiences can be a lot more compelling than someone just reading ‘facts and figures’ about skin cancer.

Some good came from having skin cancer

When I made the post on Facebook five years ago, I made it so my sun-loving friends and family members could see what going to the tanning bed and lying out for hours did. Somehow, the post was shared and shared and shared, and it went viral globally. It was shared more than 250,000 times, all over the world. I had numerous media outlets contact me, wanting to interview me so they could run a story about the dangers of skin cancer.

It presented some opportunities

It brought a collaboration with Coolibar, sun protective clothing company, and with the American Cancer Society. I even had an author contact me to ask if she could use my skin cancer experience as a storyline in a novel. And, that post is how SkinCancer.net found me and asked if I would be interested in being a contributor and moderator for this wonderful community!

We need to keep raising awareness

It was amazing how many people were being made aware of the risks of skin cancer. I can’t tell you how many messages I got on Facebook from people telling me that after seeing my photos, they had canceled their tanning bed membership. Or that they were going to start wearing sunscreen. I had messages from others who shared that they had lost family members to skin cancer. Skin cancer touches so many people, and we need to continue to bring awareness about it.

But it wasn't all good...

The bad? The surgery was yet another reminder of all the damage I had done to my skin when I was younger – as a kid and even as an adult. And, unfortunately, the damage may not show up right away. You may get a sunburn, it fades, you think no big deal and that you’re fine and do it all again, only to find out years down the road that those sunburns actually were a big deal. Over-exposure to the sun can not only cause skin cancer, but it can also lead to leathery skin, wrinkles, and sunspots. And, before you know it, your days of fun in the sun don’t look so fun on you anymore.

Skin cancer can be disfiguring

The ugly? The photos of my surgical areas and scabs during healing. I still cringe every time I see the photos. Skin cancer isn’t pretty, my friends. It can be permanently disfiguring. Areas that have undergone surgery can take weeks, even months, to heal. And some areas may never completely heal. Most of my scars from my surgeries have faded over the years, but there are a couple that are still somewhat prominent.

I have permanent nerve damage

In addition to those scars, I’ve been left with permanent numbness in two places. The left side of my forehead up into my scalp is numb from my surgeon having to move a nerve during surgery, and the left side of my upper lip area is also numb. My surgeon said that skin cancer had grown around a nerve over my lip. Removing the skin cancer from the nerve left me unable to feel the area over my lip.

It was a memory I didn't mind revisitng

Even though this Facebook memory wasn’t a fun or lighthearted memory, I didn’t mind revisiting it. Seeing the photos of me post-surgery enforces to me the importance of making sure others don’t end up going through what I went through. Please – take good care of your skin!

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