PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and Life With Kaishon

This week’s Photo Story Friday features Amy and her beautiful daughter. I met Amy through our Facebook page and she was so sweet and willing to share her story. I hope we all keep in mind that sun protection is a lifestyle and needs to be taught to our younger generations. Remember May 1st (Saturday) is the beginning of National Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the UV Skinz “I Saved A Baby’s Skin” campaign. Be sure to come back to grab the button and help spread awareness about skin cancer!

Here is her story…

Was tanning or sunbathing a significant factor in your developing melanoma?

Yes, I think both played a big role, but especially tanning beds.  I started using tanning beds at age 14 used them until I was 17.  I started again in my early 20s and used them till age 30.

 I was diagnosed in 2003. I had previously been a tanning bed user, and I also would sunbathe outdoors. I knew about skin cancer, but I didn’t know about melanoma.

I noticed a mole on my left thigh. It just seemed odd, out-of-place, and like something was not right with it. It was small, but it was much darker and different looking than any of my other moles. Again, I didn’t know about Melanoma at the time. Later, I saw a story on the news about Maureen Reagan passing away from skin cancer.  It was melanoma. I thought to myself, “what ? people die of skin cancer ?,” and then I finished watching about the symptoms of possibly malignant melanoma.  I had them with my mole.
I made an appointment right away, only to be dismissed by my doctor that my mole was “nothing to worry about.”  About 6 months later, I mentioned it to another do at my yearly GYN checkup. Again, the mole was dismissed. Almost another year passed when my husband said he just didn’t like the way it looked. I agreed, and I decided to make one last appointment to get it looked at. In the military healthcare we often see different doctors and this was a doctor I had not seen. She took one look at my mole and wanted a biopsy ASAP.  It was just 2 days later that she called and asked me to come in and discuss my pathology. I told her that my husband was TDY (our of the state on duty) and that I had my young children at home. I asked if she could just tell me on the phone, which she did. The diagnosis, Malignant Melanoma. I was devastated. At that time she didn’t have the stage or the depth, just that it was for sure cancer. She referred me to the dermatologist for surgery and further treatment. The Air Force was kind enough to return my husband home from his TDY early. I underwent chest x-ray, blood work, and examination of my lymph nodes, along with surgery to remove more tissue.  On my initial chest x-ray they saw something suspicious, and I had to have additional testing. It turned out to be okay, but those were the longest days of my life ! I was so scared, and the worst was knowing this was something I did to myself by not protecting my skin ! I used tanning beds and I laid in the sun. How could I have been so stupid ? I really think that my Melanoma came mostly from my tanning bed usage, but who knows for sure.

How has your life changed since you were first diagnosed?

 I no longer tan, and I always use sunscreen. I am extremely careful with my children’s skin. For that I consider my melanoma a blessing because if nothing else I know they will be better protected. We also use sunscreen and sun protective clothing.  I also do not take life for granted. I am extremely blessed to be here, and I thank God for that.  I try to warn others about the dangers of sun exposure and tanning bed usage. I do not want them to go through the same thing that I did.

Is there an inspiration quote or song that gives you strength? 

 I can not really think of one, but I do know that prayer got me through this. Prayers that I said myself and so many of my family and friends that were praying for me.

"Not only does it protect her skin better than sunscreen, but in the end I think clothing is cheaper. We do not stay out of the sun, but we protect ourselves. She loves swimming and we manage to go to the pool almost every day in the summer, but with the protective clothing she is not exposed to the sun's harmful rays." Amy

What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer can’t happen to them? 

 I never thought skin cancer would happen to me.  I was young, and I thought it was something that only happened to older people.  I also thought if it did happen someday that I would just need it removed and that would be it. I did not know that skin cancer can be deadly.  I would tell them that it is not worth risking your life and not being around for your children to grow up for something so vain as a tan. Yes, we all take risks every day and we can not live in a bubble, but tanning is not one of those necessary risks.  It was the worst feeling knowing that I caused this.

Either way, the one blessing is I am now super careful with my children’s skin. They always use sunscreen and protective clothing. I like protective clothing the best as no sunscreen can protect as well as clothing. I also cover up myself with protective clothing, as does my husband. I can also hopefully speak to others and warn them about melanoma. I am a firm believer in getting the word out since it was watching the program on Maureen Reagan that educated me on Melanoma. I never knew people could die of skin cancer, much less that it was a leading killer of young women ! I do not want another young mother to be diagnosed with a potentially deadly cancer while in the prime of their life. I do not want them to have to look into their children’s eyes knowing that something they did caused it. It is a terrible feeling.