Melissa’s personal story
I have reddish brown hair and lots of freckles and moles. I never wore sunscreen as a kid unless we went to the beach for the day. Growing up, I thought that people looked better tan. I especially thought that I looked prettier tan. I didn't have the greatest skin and I was always looking for any way to make myself look better. I started laying out at age 15. In the 80s everyone did! As I got older and had kids, I didn't have time to lay out so I decided to try tanning beds at age 39. I had always wanted to, but never had the extra money. I tanned indoors for nine months off and on, and I really loved it. I was burned quite a few times in the beginning and I was never monitored by the staff while tanning. After I reached my highest level in the bed, I was convinced to try the stand up and got burned. I just figured it wasn't a big deal and took a few days off.
One day I noticed a mole on my leg that I had had forever, had changed while I was putting on lotion to tan. I thought it was kind of odd but maybe I had scratched it. I watched it and then decided to look online. What I found scared me. I went to my doctor and she referred me to a dermatologist.
I was diagnosed with stage 1b melanoma in April 2011. It was the worst day of my life. Telling my kids and my family was horrible. I was always the strong one. I had a wide excision biopsy and lymph node biopsy and then I had to wait for the results of the lymph node biopsy for weeks. That was the hardest time of my life. I was scared that I was going to be told it was in my lymph nodes. I knew that there was no cure for melanoma and I was not ready to leave my children motherless. So after weeks of waiting and crying, I finally I got the good news that it had not spread.
Healing was very difficult physically and emotionally. I have a 6 inch scar on my leg and healing took well over a year. I will never forget the first time I ever saw the incision after surgery, I was so shocked all I could do was cry. It was so much bigger than what I thought it would be and it looked like a huge shark bite. They have to go very deep and my incision went all the way down to the muscle leaving a huge indent. The emotional healing is daily. I am in a much better place than I was in the beginning and almost 2 years later, I still think about melanoma daily, but it is not controlling me anymore.
I felt really betrayed when I got melanoma. I felt like it wasn't fair that other people could tan and not get anything, but I did. I was angry about it, and I felt like it had changed me. People didn't want to hear about it. Melanoma was like a dirty word. I had some really bad days and still do once in awhile. Now it is because my friends are all going through treatment, and some (too many) have passed away. I never knew you could die from skin cancer and I decided that I was going to spend my life educating about the dangers of tanning and promote sun safety and the importance of accepting our natural skin tone. Melanoma has affected me deeply and it has given me a voice.
I write a blog called Melanoma Sucks! (http://melissa-melanomasucks.blogspot.com/) and I have a Facebook page called My Journey with Melanoma (https://www.facebook.com/myjourneywithmelanoma) and I also have a Facebook page called Pale Girls Club which promotes sunless skin. I have a Twitter at https://twitter.com/MissMelissAnoma. I have done TV interviews and I have spoke at the Relay for Life in Royal Oak last year. I enjoy it and will never stop educating against the dangers of tanning. I have lots of work ahead of me and I am up for it. I am sick and tired of losing my friends to this beast.