The Beginning

My skin cancer journey started early. I tanned throughout high school, in both the tanning bed and the sun. It was the thing to do. Everyone was tan. It was as normal as brushing your hair in my small town. I was fair skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes. The perfect victim. I didn’t tan easily and I didn’t let that stop me. I tanned frequently to build a tan and even more frequently to maintain it. It was the worst mistake of my life.

When I was 21 a friend in my nursing class told me she had been treated for melanoma in the past. She showed me her scars and I was in disbelief and at a loss for words. How could she have had melanoma, she wasn’t much older than me! I then made an appointment to see a dermatologist for my first full body skin exam. I wasn’t tanning nearly as frequently at this time as I had in high school, but there was a spot on my right shoulder that had been worrying me. Up until this point didn’t think it could actually be skin cancer and continually delayed having it checked.

I went to the dermatologist unsure of what would happen. I put on a gown and the doctor carefully checked every inch of my skin for anything “abnormal”. I pointed out the area that had me concerned and I instantly saw the concern on her face as well. It was a small red sore that bled and scabbed, but never healed.  She said we should biopsy it. I agreed.

I left, feeling slightly validated that I wasn’t crazy for worrying about something ridiculous. Still, I thought, this will come back fine but I’d certainly learn my lesson and not tan anymore.

A week later I got the call informing me of my biopsy results. I stepped out of my microbiology class to answer, and as the woman on the other end of the line told me that my biopsy had come back as basal cell carcinoma, my stomach sank and I wandered wide eyed and aimlessly into the men’s restroom. It wasn’t until she began discussing treatment that I realized what I had done and started fumbling my way back out into the hall. I will never forget that moment or the guy who looked at me as if I were a lunatic as we passed one another in the restroom doorway.

The next day I returned to the dermatologist to have electrodissection and cutterage on the area. I could smell the flesh burning and the dull, odd pulling and tugging sensation on my lidocaine injected shoulder. It was quick and fairly painless, but I left that office feeling like I had lost an arm. This experience is literally nothing compared to what so many others have gone through. It could have been so much worse. But to my 21 year old self it was devastating. I was an emotional wreck. I felt so disgusted by the process and completely violated. Violated by the procedure, by the tanning beds, the sun, the expectation to be tan to be beautiful, all of it. I was sad. And pissed. I was pissed at myself  for allowing this to happen.

In my tanning prime, 2005.

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