I was a 21-year old nursing student when I was diagnosed with skin cancer. One day I noticed a mole on the top of my foot that I didn't remember being there. I watched it over a few months as it changed from a circle into a delusive heart shape. The summer before returning to college for my senior year, I had it biopsied. Days before heading back to campus, my results were back: It was malignant melanoma.
Upon receiving the diagnosis, I immediately regretted my occasional use of tanning beds in high school, and the times I capitalized on my visits to the beach by wearing little to no sunscreen. Even though my skin rarely tanned, I foolishly figured even red skin was better than pale white.
My journey to become cancer-free didn't end with a biopsy. I had surgery to remove the rest of the surrounding tissue on the top of my foot, and also needed a skin graft to close the wound. To protect the graft, I was on crutches for weeks, and suffered a minor infection that threatened the precarious skin graft. Eventually, the graft healed and I was able to complete my senior year of nursing school without further interruption.
Now that I have a son who inherited my pale skin, I feel even more strongly about skin health, so I can be there for him and help protect his skin from cancer.
I've had several more biopsies since that initial diagnosis. Some results were "abnormal" and required further skin excisions, but the melanoma has not returned. I try not to let the fear of recurrence overwhelm me, but I faithfully see the dermatologist every six months for a skin check, knowing that melanoma may very well return at some point.
Although I regret my sun exposure as a teenager, I don't dwell on the past, which I cannot change. I take care of my skin now. I avoid excessive sun exposure, use a high SPF sunscreen when in the sun, get skin checks regularly, and generally follow a healthy lifestyle. Now that I have a son who inherited my pale skin, I feel even more strongly about skin health, so I can be there for him and help protect his skin from cancer.