I loved lying out in the sun. I could tan so well, people sometimes thought I was Native American.
I'm a professional photographer, and in July 2005, I was working on an evening photo shoot. The next day as I was itching the host of insect bites around my left ankle, I saw the mole and knew immediately it was no good.
The mole was only the size of a pea, but it was raised and dark, with a network of blood vessels surrounding it. At age 58, I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma that had progressed into my lymphatic tissue.
I said silent goodbyes, cried a lot, felt really sorry for myself and generally wallowed in excruciating misery. Then, one day I woke up and got to the business of survival. I underwent surgery and four chemotherapy sessions – each five days long – with an IV drip running non-stop through my body. They did everything under the sun for me to fight the cancer.
It's been six years since my diagnosis and I'm back to my normal life. I've turned my skin cancer experience into my life's purpose.
It's been six years since my diagnosis and I'm back to my normal life. I've turned my skin cancer experience into my life's purpose, a documentary project called Putting a Face on Cancer℠. Since 2006, I've been taking portraits of survivors of all types of cancer and coupling them with quotes that reflect the appreciation for life, the courage of battling invisible foes and the joy of regaining a healthy body. It's very cathartic to be with other survivors — such an amazingly uplifting, positive experience.
There are a lot of people out there who don't understand what the price of UV exposure is and how they will pay that price. And, people my age think they've dodged the bullet if they haven't been diagnosed with skin cancer. The danger is always there lurking.
Being tan is not equal to being pretty. As more and more beautiful people embrace their natural skin color, the peer pressure to tan will decrease.
Cancer was, and is, as real as life and death. Most people would rather think about other things, but most people are in a waking sleep most of the time. Not we survivors...health is a gift we will never take for granted again, and "now" is the right time for hopes, dreams and plans!