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Maria’s personal story

Maria Donahue
My bad tanning habits began when I was in high school. I used tanning beds at least four times a week, and never applied sunscreen when I sunbathed during the summer. My year round “color” was more important to me than my health, even though I was constantly warned by family and friends. My addiction to tanning (because I realize now that that’s what it was) continued until I graduated college, and even then I was working in a tanning salon and taking advantage of free tans whenever I could. I eventually stopped using tanning beds when both my great-aunt and my uncle (who introduced me to Dr. Ellen Marmur, a skin cancer survivor herself) were diagnosed with skin cancer.

During the summer of 2014, I was on vacation with my family and preparing for my wedding in October, when I noticed that a flat, brown mole under my left breast (that I had for a few years) had turned into a red bump that looked like a pimple. I thought nothing of it at first, and figured it would eventually go away. A few months later, while sunbathing by the pool with my sister, I saw the bump was still there and that it did not look or feel like a pimple, so I made an appointment with a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening the following day. That mole was removed to be biopsied. A week later when the results came back, the month before my wedding day, I was diagnosed with melanoma at 26 years old.

I made an appointment with Dr. Marmur immediately following my diagnosis. I was lucky that I had found the spot early on and only needed minor surgery to excise the cancerous cells. I was grateful that I could finalize wedding plans without fearing the worst. Within eight months of my diagnosis, I have had four other moles removed (all came back non-cancerous, for which I am very grateful).

I’m paying more attention to my skin, getting checked regularly, and making sure I stay protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays daily. My advice to others is to get a skin cancer screening annually, no matter how often they’re outside, or whether or not they use tanning beds (but especially if they use tanning beds). Simply practicing safe-sun habits could easily prevent skin cancer.