Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dear Teens

Let's face it.  We all feel more confident when we are looking our best.  As a society, we go to great lengths and spend a lot of money to look good.  We wax things, get our nails and hair done, buy the newest clothes and shoes, drive the coolest cars and a lot of you strive for the perfect tan.

Tanning salons make it very easy to get the perfect tan!  Cheap packages, with unlimited tanning, targeted at teens.  Sexy advertisements of young, beautiful people in their swim attire, looking perfectly bronzed.  The lotions are to die for.  Cute bottles, great smelling and leaves your skin so soft.   The relaxing time that you spend in the bed, laying back, listening to your favorite tunes while you get that perfect bronzed and attractive tan.  Because, tan people are prettier, hotter, sexier.

Something that is not pretty, hot or sexy is melanoma.

I was just like you.  I started tanning outdoors at age 15.  I hated my skin.  It was pale and it was not glowing and pretty.  I had acne and I hated the way I looked.  I loved the way I looked after I got a little sun on my face.  That progressed to tanning all summer as much as I could.  It was so much fun to go to the beach with friends and soak up the rays all day, with my bikini and tanning oil!  Laying on the beach or floating in the pool all day, being lazy.  It was the life!

My tanning bed use started when I was 39.  I didn't have time to lay outside all day getting the dark tan I wanted anymore.  I tanned for one year off and on and one day while I was putting on lotion to get in the stand up tanning machine, I felt something on the back of my leg, above my knee.  I looked and it was a mole I had for as long as I could remember, and it was raised.  I didn't think cancer, I thought "I probably scratched it or something."  I went tanning that day because, I couldn't miss tanning and I couldn't get melanoma.  I kept an eye on it and I took this picture.

after 2 months of watching it.  It continued to get a little bigger, so I started googling skin cancer.  What I found was Melanoma.  And the picture of melanoma, looked exactly like my mole.

Wait...what?  I can't have melanoma.  That's cancer.  I have dark hair, dark eyes and I tan pretty easily.  I can't get melanoma!

I went to my dermatologist and sure enough, it came back melanoma stage 1b.  What does that mean?
Well, I had to have surgery.  They had to go about 3 inches deep and they went about 7 inches long by 2 inches wide.  I had a huge chunk taken out of my leg and I had over 20 stitches on the outside and more on the inside.

It took me about 3 months to completely heal.  I still, 2 years later, have a lot of numbness around the scar.   They also had taken some lymph nodes out of my groin area to test for melanoma.  I had to wait a long 2 1/2 weeks for the results. Those came back negative.  If they would have been positive, I would have advanced to a higher stage and would have had to have treatments such as chemo, or radiation, or more surgery.   It was the longest, most depressing time of my life waiting to hear my prognosis.  My family was living around me, going to work and school, and I was possibly dying because, I wanted to be pretty.

The hardest part aside from waiting, was telling my kids who were 15 and 19.  Could you imagine losing your Mom just because she wanted to be tan?  I felt a lot of guilt for not taking better care of myself for them.  They still needed me and I couldn't leave them like this.

My daughter wanted to be just like me.  She is very fair skinned and she saw me tanning in the beds, ( she hated laying out because she didn't like getting all sweaty and gross!) and she wanted to do it too.  At 15, I felt she was too young to tan in tanning beds and told her that for her 16th birthday I would consider it.  I was going to surprise her with a tanning membership and I was ironically enough, diagnosed about 20 days before her 16th birthday.

She had a very hard time with it.  There is a lot of pressure to look good, and a tan is part of the package.  She was teased by her friends, and team mates because she is so pale.  She is now almost 18, and a Senior.  She has seen what melanoma can do and she has learned that she has a very high risk of developing melanoma just because I have it.  She is very careful and she actually loves her skin now.

I know that prom, spring break, summer bathing suit time is coming up, but trust me when I say, it is NOT worth the risk you take when you lay in a tanning bed, or tan outdoors, or even worse burn.  The damage you do to your skin could literally kill you.  Not a quick death, like being run over by a mack truck, but a slow and painful one.  If it doesn't kill you, it will leave you with scars and with fear.

The fear is because melanoma can come back at anytime.  Once you have it, you have it forever.  Melanoma likes to travel to the brain,lungs,liver and other organs.  It can present on the soles of the feet, between your fingers, under nails, in your private parts, or on your scalp hidden.

Did you know that Bob Marley died from melanoma?  Yep.  It started in his big toe.  He was, as many of you know, a very dark skinned man.  It can happen to anyone.  I lost my best friend to melanoma.  She was only 27 years young when she passed away.  She battled melanoma for 6 years.  She got married in May of 2011, and she is not here to celebrate her first anniversary. I miss her every single day.  She only tanned 3 times in her whole life.

Unfortunately, there is no sure cure for melanoma.  Melanoma in it's early stages can be treatable with surgery, but it can always present later at a higher stage and sometimes,by then, it is too late.

If you choose to still tan, after hearing my story, it is your choice, or probably your parents choice depending on your age, and what state you live in.  But, I hope that you really hear my story and that you really take it to heart.  No one is trying to stop you from doing what you want.  You have the choice to stop or not.  You have the information now and it is up to each of you.

Watch this video and remember that real people are diagnosed with melanoma and one of those real people die from melanoma every hour.

Do you want to risk it?

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