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Jenelle’s personal story

Jenelle DeVries
Fair-skinned, light-haired and freckled—I should have been a lot more cautious about the sun. Soaking up the sun simply made me happy. I would lay out by the pool in the summer and travel long distances for warmth in the spring and fall to escape the Chicago chills. I would usually put sunscreen on my face and other areas of my body that I knew would be most likely burn, but I truly desired a glowing tan and would skimp on the sunscreen at times. Little did I know in those teen years that I would soon regret being so careless.

Early in 2014, I noticed a mole on my lower right shin that was a little bit raised and an odd, reddish color. I didn’t think much of it and would often times nick it while I shaved, causing it to bleed quite excessively. I began to closely examine it every time I shaved and noticed it changing in shape and size. In March, I decided to get it checked out by a dermatologist. She did a full body scan, identifying the different types of moles and freckles that covered my body and took a biopsy of the mole on my shin.

After much anticipation, I received a call from my dermatologist about two weeks later. She informed me that after being looked at by not one, but two different pathologists, the mole was indeed cancerous. I was diagnosed with stage I melanoma and was referred to the University of Chicago. I consulted with the surgeon who informed me that he would be doing a wide excision on my shin and would need the plastic surgeon to close it up and most likely use a skin graft as he wouldn’t have much skin to work with after the excision (meaning additional scars). Hearing the words “skin graft” made me cringe as I knew it would mean that I would have to stay overnight at the hospital and would add at least another week to the recovery process. In addition, the surgeon informed me that he would be taking a lymph node biopsy from my groin (more scars) to see if the cancer has spread.

I was nervous and the day of surgery couldn’t come fast enough. I was so paranoid and wanted the cancer out of my body before it could spread any further. Finally, on July 2, I arrived at the University of Chicago for surgery. It was a long day, but the procedures went better than expected. The plastic surgeon was able to close up the excision without using a skin graft. What a relief! I was able to go home that night. While the surgery went well, recovery was long and quite painful. I returned to get all of the stitches out about two weeks later and am now left with two decent-sized scars.

I am now a sunscreen enthusiast, with a couple of scars that tell a story. I feel it is now my job to inform people of the risks and damages of overexposure to the sun. I had to put my life on hold to deal with the consequences of my carelessness, so I’m putting my story out there and showing my scars with hopes to raise awareness.