A few weeks ago, I was approached by the Melanoma Research Foundation about doing a post for the month of May, which is Melanoma Awareness month.
Immediately, I was intrigued and on board.
I am like most young women, I know about Melanoma and know that it does in fact happen to people but it has never been at the forefront of my thoughts. I am someone who doesn’t burn easily at all and believed that because I didn’t burn I didn’t need sunscreen.
HA- we are so ignorant when we are young aren’t we?
Throughout college I went tanning on a weekly basis because I desperately wanted that sun kissed glow all the celebs have and to look good in my bikini at the pool in front of the boys. It wasn’t until my college graduation that a friends mom showed up with a huge scar on her neck from a surgery from removing her Melanoma that I realized tanning is just as bad as smoking or doing drugs, purposefully hurting your perfectly good body for the sake of what? Beauty, to look cool?
This week I had the opportunity to interview a Melanoma survivor and couldn’t be more inspired and touched by her courage to share her story and remind all of us that at no matter what age we are we are not invincible.
A reminder to really consider the cost we are paying to look beautiful or to be cool and if it is worth it.
I hope this interview inspires you to be the Sunscreen Queen with all your friends this summer and hopefully is the wake-up call you have been needing if you are still using those tanning beds!
Respect and love your body it is the only one you get.
1. Kasey, welcome to Latte Confidential, tell us your inspiring story?
I began using indoor tanning beds when I was just 14 to get that “base tan” (which, by the way, is not a real thing) before my vacation to Hawaii. After Hawaii, my use of tanning beds continued for weddings, dances, etc. and eventually turned into a twice a week kind of thing, that nearly all the girls in my high school did. I was a junior in high school and I remember yelling to my mom from the bathroom saying, “I didn’t want this ugly mole in the middle of my back to show in my prom dress”. We made an appointment and went and got it taken off and I thought that would be the end of it.
A few weeks later, after one of my basketball games, my mom told me the biopsy came back positive for melanoma. I was confused at what was going on, because I was an invincible 17 year old, obviously. I knew melanoma was 90% curable if caught early, so I tried to keep an open mind about my surgery that was scheduled for a few weeks after that.
This surgery consisted of taking the borders (skin all the way down to the muscle) from around the original melanoma spot and taking five sentinel lymph nodes from under my left arm. Coming out of surgery, I felt great… Seventeen is too young to have skin cancer, so I was glad to have that whole cancer scare behind me.
About a week later I went in to my check up with my oncologist and he read off the biopsy results. He said one lymph node showed cancer cells and suggested a year-long treatment called Interferon alpha-2b. I didn’t listen to much of what he said after that. I was furious. Why me? I am too young for this. I am in the best shape of my life. I exercise, don’t smoke, eat healthy; I’m involved in everything. Cancer doesn’t happen to someone like me.
The few weeks until my next surgery was very slow and I was a very angry person. I didn’t want to talk about it, because if I muttered a word about cancer, I would immediately start crying. This time they were going to take the remaining lymph nodes from under my left arm and also put in a temporary port that is only used for the first four weeks of treatment. I woke up from surgery with an even larger incision in my left armpit alongside a drainage tube until my body adjusted to not having nodes there anymore, and an IV looking tube coming out of my chest.
I couldn’t begin chemotherapy until my drainage tube was removed. Turns out I am allergic to adhesive on some parts of my skin and this obnoxious thing hanging from under my arm required a bandage to kind of hold it in place and keep out infection. After three weeks of tears from itching, I finally got it removed.
In March 2010, I began a year of chemotherapy. The first month of this specific treatment, I had to miss half a day of school, five days a week for four weeks, and drive 45 minutes to Estabrook Cancer Center in Omaha, NE (I am from southwest Iowa). The remaining 11 months I gave myself a shot three times a week.
I lost my appetite and a lot of muscle weight along with some of my hair, I got migraines, I was always tired and essentially felt like I had the flu for an entire year. Most of that year was a blur. Spending all that time in the treatment center and waiting rooms gave me a lot of time to think about life.
I knew that because of my position in my community and my drive, I could really make a difference in the way people view tanning beds. From that point on, I knew I was going to do my best to save as many young women from making the same mistake of using indoor tanning beds that I made at such a young age.
2. What do you find is the biggest misconception about Melanoma is with young women?
Even just three years ago when I was diagnosed, melanoma wasn’t something any young person was worried about. I thought it was for old people. I just wanted to look good at the time; I wasn’t worried about what I would look like in 15 years. Many think if they have no moles or if they tan easily they won’t get melanoma. Or only if they burn will they get melanoma. WRONG – IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE! Any change in pigment of the skin, tan or burn, is damage to the DNA, which is how melanoma starts out. One of the scariest things about melanoma is that it can show up in some of the most unsuspected places (between toes, eyes, under fingernails, etc.) and it spreads so quickly.
Keep in mind I was 14 when I began using tanning beds, 17 when I was diagnosed, and the cancer had already entered my body. Now, for the rest of my life, I live by my yearly CT scans telling me if the cancer has showed up somewhere else in my body.
3. What is your response when people ask about your scars?
Because the melanoma was right in the middle of my back, my surgeon cut in a football shape to be able to pull the skin together and avoid a skin graft, leaving me with a little over a seven inch scar down the middle of my upper back. The scar under my arm is probably about five inches and is far from pretty. Most people see my tattoo before they see my scars and aren’t scared to ask about it. I go on to tell them the black ribbon represents melanoma and say I was diagnosed when I was 17 and did a year of treatment. A lot of people are extremely interested and say they would have never guessed I had cancer… Again, IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE! I am always open to answering any questions they have, but I make it a point to stress the dangers of tanning beds and that I do believe tanning beds are what caused my cancer.
7.You mentioned your tattoo, why the word “believe”?
I have a tattoo right above the scar on my back of a black ribbon and it says, “believe.” Believe is just the word that always came to mind during treatment and ever since it has held a special place in my heart. It’s a good conversation starter for others and shows that the scars mean something to me. I am very proud of my scars and am proud to show people that cancer isn’t going to hold me back from continuing on with my life.
4. You are still pretty tan, how do you keep your sun kissed glow while protecting your skin?
Whether I plan on being outside or not, rain, snow or sunshine, I wear SPF everyday. I use Jergens Natural Glow Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 20 under my all time favorite makeup, the Original bareMinerals foundation, which also has SPF 15. Both of these products are very affordable, for all you poor college students out there like myself, and are great for your skin. For the rest of my body, I have tried spray tanning every two to three weeks, but it seemed to get expensive and kind of a hassle trying to work it around exercising and simply not messing it up. So now I usually only spray tan for vacations, weddings, etc.
I have had very good luck with the Banana Boat Summer Color Self-Tanning Lotion. My absolute favorite self-tanner is the St. Tropez Self-Tan Bronzing Mousse. It has great color and goes on very well, but the downside is that it is a little pricy.
Other than that, my chapstick always has SPF and I always lather up in sunscreen when I’m outside, even if my lotion already contains SPF! I still have a problem with remembering to reapply, but I’m working on it!
Kasey will be dishing on her favorite self tanners and tips on how to keep it looking natural in an upcoming post this month so stay tuned!
5. I like to believe that there is something positive that can come from any negative, have you been able to find positives through this situation?
I am a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I was an all around athlete (volleyball, basketball, soccer, track, softball), on student council, in National Honor’s Society, in Health Occupations Students of America, I was a very involved student… So, having that position in my community really gave me the opportunity to make an impact on not only my community, but also surrounding schools. I obviously had to sit out of sports, which made people ask questions, and just by that I was getting the word out about how dangerous tanning beds are.
I have always had a huge interest in diseases and how the human body works, so I was sure I wanted to go into healthcare. But my cancer experience really solidified it for me. I spent a lot of time at appointments asking questions and turned it into a learning experience, where I was just the subject being studied. The doctors and people I was around caught onto my interest and have since been rooting me on in my journey to make a difference.
After treatment, I began to follow melanoma awareness sites and during my freshman year of college, Melanoma Research Foundation posted on Facebook asking for a young female diagnosed with melanoma that would be willing to share her story. I thought, “Wow, I am perfect for this,” and filled out the survey. A number of emails later, I was headed to NYC for a photo shoot and interview with Seventeen Magazine.
Two other young melanoma survivors and myself were featured in the May 2012 issue showing our scars and speaking out about skincare. I got a fairly good response to that opportunity, but I really wanted to do more. I showed all of my doctors the issue and soon enough, more opportunities arose for me to share my story.
A cancer prevention bill was introduced in the state of Nebraska banning minors, 18 and under, from the use of indoor tanning beds. I testified along with Nebraska Dermatologic Society and also did a news story in Omaha supporting the bill. I did an interview with a local radio station and helped a friend out with an online blog she writes for. Many of my friends have used me/tanning as a subject for projects and presentations. And just recently Melanoma Research Foundation contacted me again about doing a media interview with About.com telling my story. Both locally and nationally, I have taken on the opportunities to really make a difference. I don’t want sympathy; I want people to support me by taking action and not making the same mistake of using indoor tanning beds like I did at such a young age.
Pre-cancer, I was the typical high school girl only worried about myself and how I appeared to others. Today, I have a whole new appreciation for my body and life altogether. I have met some amazing fellow cancer survivors along the way who have helped me become the driven, passionate person I am today.
6. What would you tell anyone that thinks it won’t happen to them?
I was always the kid who had the killer immune system and never got sick, never broke a bone, hardly ever went in to the doctor for anything other than a check up. I was at the healthiest point in my life. I ate healthy, exercised, didn’t smoke… Those are the essentials, right? No, melanoma is continuing to rise in young women all over. Skin cancer is becoming more and more common as young women continue to use indoor tanning beds. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE. I can’t stress that enough. Skin cancer doesn’t run in my family, I wasn’t one to burn all the time, I only used tanning beds twice a week, and the list goes on. Please, take my cancer experience as a lesson and learn from it. Using indoor tanning beds are absolutely not worth it.
8. How has having Melanoma affected your perspective on your health and living a healthy lifestyle? What changes did you make that you weren’t necessarily doing before?
Aside from the obvious wearing SPF more and not using tanning beds, my cancer experience has mostly changed my attitude and appreciation for my body. Seeing and feeling parts of my body become weaker and losing my hair during treatment was a huge wakeup call for me on how fragile, yet so incredibly strong, the human body is under different conditions. I have recently started running longer distances (I have always been a sports type of girl, not much of a cross country runner) and have completed two half marathons. I plan to continue running and hopefully raising money for different organizations supporting melanoma awareness along the way.
9. I know a lot of young women, including myself, that thinks just because they don’t burn easily that they don’t need sunscreen. Is that true or should we still be covering up??
Always cover up. Like I said, it can happen to anyone; any change in the melanocytes (cells that give color to our skin) is damage to its DNA. If the body is unable to correct the damaged DNA, the mutated cells begin to duplicate, causing cancer. Melanoma Research Foundation has great facts about prevention and sun safety, as well as risk factors for anyone to read. They are here to help you live a healthier life and save you from a possible preventable disease.
10. We LOVE fashion here at Latte, so what is your go to protective sun wear fashion items that are still cute and summery but get the job done?
Hats and sunnies! I tell everyone I have an abnormally large head (I swear I do), so finding a good hat is a struggle for me, but I love hats! Ears and the face have very sensitive skin and show some of the most horrifying melanoma scars. And believe it or not, melanoma can show up in your eyes, so sunglasses are always a must… and they look great.
I’m also a huge fan of long sleeves and shorts, so on chillier summer days a light long sleeved button up looks great with shorts. But I have to say, I love summer and I love being outside.
So my favorite fashion item during sunny summer days will always be my sunscreen. Go ahead and continue to wear your summer clothes and tiny bikini, just don’t forget the sunscreen and choose to sit under an umbrella or under a tree instead of directly in the sun!
11. What quote do you live by?
Believe; everything happens for a reason.
12. Anything else you want to say and share with the readers of Latte?
Please, please, please make a trip to your dermatologist! They say once a year, but if I can get you to go just once after reading this, I consider that a success!
So why wait?
I had no idea cancer was growing on my body and I know there are other people out there who are in the same position. And they don’t even know it! How scary is that?! Read up on MRF’s website about the causes, risks, and detection.
My last and final wish is that everyone reading this is to stop using indoor tanning beds. Give my suggested products a try and stop tanning.
Tanning beds are doing absolutely nothing for your body but harm.
Head to the Melanoma Research Foundation website for more information on Melanoma.
Please SHARE this story on your Facebook feed or on your TWITTER account and help Kasey, the Melanoma Research Foundation and myself spread the word about protecting your skin!!!
You can also check back in throughout the month for more posts on what to look for when checking your skin for Melanoma, the best sunless- tanners and tricks etc.!