Like many 17-year-old girls, I was getting ready for my prom. I had the perfect date and when I chose my long, white dress, I convinced myself that a deep, dark tan would be the perfect accessory.
To get this tan, I started indoor tanning regularly for prom and kept going after the event. My mom, however, warned me against using tanning beds and repeatedly asked me to stop. Like a typical teenager, I went against my mother's wishes and used tanning beds anyway — four times a week for three years. Reflecting back on that experience, I can say I was addicted to tanning. And I believe my addiction led to my fight against the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, just three years later.
At the age of 20, my mom noticed a mole on my back and encouraged me to visit a dermatologist. I was convinced the mole wasn't a serious problem. I went tanning the week before my doctor's appointment.
The dermatologist cut out the mole and sent it away for testing. The results showed that I had stage II melanoma. I took time off from college to undergo surgery and complete a 6-week recovery. The long surgery left me with a 7-inch scar. To find out if the cancer had spread, the surgeon also removed seven lymph nodes under my arm. I was in a lot of pain.
Teenagers just don't listen to their parents. That's why it's our job as skin cancer survivors to step up.
Just a year after the surgery, I competed for, and won, the title Miss Maryland 2006. Part of my motivation was to bring awareness to skin cancer detection and prevention. Teenagers just don't listen to their parents. That's why it's our job as skin cancer survivors to step up.
The experience of battling cancer at such a young age has impacted my view on life. I don't want anyone to go through what I have. I keep reminding people that skin cancer can happen to you. This is such a preventable cancer. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every day. Avoid tanning beds and get screened by a dermatologist regularly.