Sparkly toe nails and Claude cheering me up!
Some of you might have noticed I took a little break from jaunt and flaunt. The following will explain why. I was feeling a bit off recently, summer had arrived early in Brisbane, with it allergies, creepy crawlies, and blistering heat! I promised myself I would make adjustments this year to deal with my least favourite season in Australia, and luckily they were working. Then I visited my dermatologist for my annual skin check, a necessity while living in Australia, the skin cancer capital of the world.
It had actually been 18 months since my last skin check, you could say I was putting it off, mostly due to the cost (don’t get me started), as I had to see a specialist for the large amount of moles that I have. I was concerned about one mole in particular, but to anyone else, including my dermatologist, it looked like any other mole on my body. My dermatologist explained what she looks for to indicate melanoma:
A – Asymmetry
B – irregular Border
C – uneven Colour
D – Diameter usually over 6mm
And the most evil of them all…
E – Evolution
When I told her a mole on my leg quickly appeared during the past year or so, she decided to take a biopsy. Since it didn’t qualify under any of the other characteristics, she thought it was just a non-melanoma skin cancer that we would monitor or easily remove. I’m also hypersensitive to all that medical stuff and have a low pain threshold, so you can imagine the biopsy was far from pleasant. But I left the office, hoping for the best.
The next day everything changed when I was informed my biopsy results indicated stage 1 melanoma. My initial reaction was fear, scared of what all of this meant. But ultimately I realised I was no longer the invincible, youthful person I thought I was. I was just like most people out there who thought it could never happen to me. Though, I’m lucky I paid attention to my body, trusted my instincts, and caught this early.
The one thing I never said was “Why me?”. I knew why it was me; just like a smoker diagnosed with lung cancer, I embraced the Sun and reveled in my sun-kissed golden skin like many other people in my life. I have Mediterranean skin tone, which made me low risk, but I also have a lot of moles, which made me high risk. I will never know exactly what caused my melanoma, but I can assume what it might be from. It could be when I was sunburnt as a child, as I threw fits when my parents would put sunscreen on me, I hated when they wouldn’t rub it in all the way and I had to wait to go swimming. It could be when I used tanning beds a handful of times and tanning oil instead of sunscreen as a teenager. It could be when I binge tanned on any warm vacation I took. Or it could be when I was very sun smart while living in Australia, but couldn’t avoid the strength of the sun here.
During my 28 years I learnt to love my moles, as each has an identity. I know which mole is my boyfriend’s favourite one, a mole on each palm of my hands makes me incredibly unique, and sometimes I match the moles on my forearms with constellations. However, this mole’s identity wasn’t as charming.
My next reaction was, “Get this thing out of me, I don’t want anything to do with it!”. I have since had my melanoma quickly removed, which was a big deal for me. I’ve never had a broken bone, stitches, or even a bee sting (thankfully). I look at my bandaged leg now and try to look past the scar forming underneath and think about my plan for the future.
Living in Australia makes it impossible to avoid the Sun, but there are still steps I can take to ensure a healthy future for myself. The day before my surgery I bought a wide-brimmed hat, now I’m on the look out for a long sleeve sun shirt. I’ll continue to walk, stand, and sit in the shade when possible. Applying sunscreen to any exposed skin will become part of my daily routine, as I only applied sunscreen to my face daily to combat my fear of wrinkles. And I will have to get frequent skin checks for the rest of my life.
Believe it or not, I consider myself lucky now that I caught my melanoma early and gained a new perspective on my health. Though the initial blow was shocking and sad, it was what I needed to hear to make healthy changes in my life. I was like many of you, who don’t see the harm in a little tan every now and again. This is why I’m sharing this with you, as I hope it can inspire you to evaluate your relationship with the Sun and make the adjustments you need to stay healthy.
First and foremost, know your body, like many women are taught to give themselves breast exams, monitor your skin and moles. Next, talk to your doctor about regular skin checks. Also, trust your instincts, you know your body best and are your best advocate. Finally, be sun smart, as cheesy as it sounds, SLIP on a shirt, SLAP on a hat, and SLOP on sunscreen.
For more information about melanoma, check this out.