Friday, August 17, 2007
24 and facing a foe called Melanoma
It has been difficult to sit down and write this week, especially since my last post about 27-year-old Scarlet and her battle with melanoma. While heartbroken, I have been comforted and uplifted by an email from a young woman named MaryAnn (who is also in her 20s and lives here in Utah).
As I work on revising, updating, and publishing my skin cancer prevention education curriculum for young adults, and gathering stories from people - all over the world - touched by melanoma skin cancer, I am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed when I think about the number of people, especially those in their teens and 20s, who have faced melanoma. When these people are on the brink of starting their lives, melanoma has robbed them of it. When in your 20s, you should be taking classes and writing essays for college, dating and initiating lifelong friendships, traveling the world, discovering who you are, and preparing for the future. You should be living with passion, enthusiasm, vigor, and be full of hope and vitality. You should be full of enthusiasm and adventure, seeking out truth and knowledge, growing and developing, learning and loving. You should not be facing melanoma skin cancer.
At age 24, I was working on my senior thesis for college (which became the launchpad for my first book) and thinking about my career options. I established, with my dear friend Natalie, a non-profit organization to teach young adults about cancer (especially skin cancer). I was dreaming about my future husband and vacations to Ireland, Australia, Egypt, Greece, and other exotic places. (I still am... Where is Mr. Right, anyway?) MaryAnn, on the other hand; At age 24, MaryAnn was told that a mole on her cheek was malignant melanoma--a preventable, but very aggressive and even deadly form of cancer.
Here's an excerpt from the email she sent me --
"I was 24 years old at the time of diagnosis. I learned of my diagnosis after I had a mole that was on my left cheek removed [...]. The [plastic surgeon] automatically sent the mole in for a biopsy and I received a call that following Monday. My melanoma was at a Clark level IV. I honestly went into a complete numb mode. I was referred to an oncologist that I was told was the best in the West. I did anything and everything he told me to do. I was so scared I didn't dare think anymore than what I was told. It has now been two years since my diagnosis. I return every six months for a check up, and I have had many atypical moles removed since.
When I received the initial call, I told him he had the wrong person, after all I was only 24. This wasn't possible. Then, I called my husband and my mom and cried and cried. I didn't know what to think and neither did they. We all went to see the oncologist together. I was only focusing on the part where he said he was going to cut into my face and I would have a scar. I kept asking how big the scar was going to be and how bad it would look. He finally looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm not really worried about how the scar will look, I am more worried about trying to save your life." I honestly can say I didn't hear much of the conversation after that. I was told that I had skin cancer because I went tanning. I truly thought, "this is crazy." We are told that tanning beds are safe, so how could this be true? I decided that the only way I could become a survivor and not a victim of this terrible disease was to start educating as many people as I could about the dangers of tanning beds. I have now done several interviews, as well as going to the high schools and telling them my story. I will do everything in my power to help our kids learn the truth about tanning beds and what they need to do to keep themselves safe from skin cancer and melanoma. The picture is right before I was heading into the second surgery to remove all the lymph nodes in my neck due [to prevent the melanoma from spreading further."
Thankfully, MaryAnn's dermatologist, plastic surgeon, and oncologist were able to surgically remove the metastic (spreading) melanoma and thus save her life. Yet, many other young women such as Scarlet and others mentioned in this Blog were not as fortunate. Let this be, yet ANOTHER reminder, that there is NO SUCH THING AS A SAFE TAN. Tanning beds are dangerous - period. Ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds are just as harmful (in fact, more so) than UV rays from the sun. There is a great deal of research currently being done about the affects of tanning and its link to a heightened risk for melanoma. And there are various studies on how the cumulative affects of ultraviolet radiation - a known carcinogen - leads to an eventual melanoma.
To learn more about melanoma prevention, detection and treatment, as well as the dangers of tanning pick up copy of ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Research. You can also log on to www.aad.org - the official site of the American Academy of Dermatology and read scientific journals.
Melanoma is an ugly, terrible, aggressive, and deadly cancer that is largely preventable. Truly, with increased awareness, prevention, and education we can stem the tide of this growing yet unnecessary epidemic. In turn, we SAVE LIVES of many of our youth who are, in fact, our future!
Parents, please do not let your teenagers go tanning. Ladies, if you must heed to the fashion of being bronze use sunless tanning foams instead. Everyone - perform your self-skin exams every month and see your dermatologist annually; protect yourself and your loved ones from melanoma.
I wish all cancers were as easily preventable; however, the double-edged sword we face with melanoma is that while it may be preventable, it is a complicated and often misunderstood, dangerous and deadly disease.
So, again, I implore you - forgo the tanning beds, wear the sunscreen, and take all the necessary steps to reduce your risk and protect yourself from skin cancer.
Thanks, MaryAnn, for sharing your story. Thank you to all of you who are fighting for skin cancer prevention, melanoma research, sun safety, and tanning legislation. You are heroes fighting a good fight!
Wishing you all lifelong health and safety,
PS: If you are a melanoma survivor, or have lost a loved one to melanoma, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
Posted by Danielle at 4:39 PM