If there's one thing living in a city that basically spends six months out of the year covered in snow has taught me, it's that you take advantage of the time you have with the sun and heat during the summer.
Summer is the time for vacations, relaxation, enjoying the outdoors, and taking advantage of the wonderful weather. After long waiting in the cold, it's finally time to bring out your favorite bathing suit and jump in the pool or lay outside and finally start to bring back the tan skin you had before the cold came in.
Growing up, I would do just that. I would throw on my swim suit, lightly lather up with some SPF and spend my day outside. I have always had pretty fair skin with a decent amount of freckles on my arms and legs. Even though my skin would burn, it would peel a little bit and eventually become darker as time went on. Applying one coat of sunscreen on my body felt sufficient enough to me and I never really cared how severe my could potentially be.
When I was 13 years old, my doctor suggested having a small freckle on my left shoulder removed just to be safe. So I did just that. One trip to the dermatologist. One quick surgery. Easy recovery. No big deal.
Upon having the surgery, I was called back to my dermatologist to have my stitches removed and to discuss the skin test results. The doctor walked into my room and shut the door.
"The skin we removed tested positive for Melanoma. The cells were cancerous so we must go back and remove more."
My body froze. My heart sank. I looked at my mom who appeared to be just as panic-stricken as I was. Tears welled up in my eyes. You never think these types of things will ever happen to you until they finally do. My life was about to change forever.
The second surgery happened about a week after I had had the first one. The procedure, though the same as the first one, hurt ten times worse the second time around and I'd be left with a three inch scar on my shoulder for the rest of my life. A constant reminder that one small piece of my skin had physically, emotionally, and permanently damaged me.
Ever since then, nothing about my summers has been like it used to be. I have to constantly cover my shoulders when I'm outside in the sun. I only wear sunscreen that's SPF 100. I have to reapply at least five times. I have to sit under an umbrella when I go to the beach. I'm not allowed to go in tanning beds. And I have to go to the dermatologist once a year for the rest of my life for annual skin checks.
Why me, I always ask myself. Why did this have to happen to me?
Not being able to be as tan, sun-kissed, and beautifully radiant as all of my friends are during the summer sucked growing up. I cried all the time when my friends got to go tanning during prom season and I couldn't. I hated having to wear t-shirts outside all of the time. My self-confidence about my skin and the person I was diminished. How was I ever going to enjoy being outside ever again if I would have to spend it all covered up?
Even though it's been six years since my surgery, I still struggle to accept this lifestyle that's been instilled upon me. Yes, there are times where I wish my skin was tan, but just because I don't have tan skin doesn't mean I'm not beautiful. Just because I wear SPF 100 doesn't mean I'm allergic to the sun or that I can't spend time outside ever again. I'm only taking precautionary measures to ensure that I never have to go through something like that ever again.
If I could go back in time and tell myself to reapply my sunscreen or cover up my body after long periods in the sun, I would. Knowing what I know now about the sun's effect on the skin, I urge you all to do three things:
Be smart. Know and pay attention to when your skin feels like it's burning. Reapply your sunscreen frequently to ensure that your body is staying protected from harmful UV rays.
Be safe. Don't be outside for long periods of time when the sun is out without having sunscreen on. Don't use tanning beds. According to The American Academy of Dermatology, even one indoor tanning session before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 59 percent. And don't burn your skin too frequently. The more your skin burns, the more you are actually permanently damaging your DNA cells.
Be proactive. Learn the signs of skin cancer. Conduct your own personal skin checks regularly. If you notice anything on your skin that may look even the slightest bit odd, have it looked at. It's better to be safe than sorry.
And most importantly, protect your skin you're in. After all, it's the only one you've got.