You would think at 32 I would be raising kids, attending their events with school, going to sporting events with them or possibly traveling and seeing the different parts of the world. That is far from what I am doing. I am instead traveling back and forth from Fort Worth to Houston every two weeks. Instead of traveling to those sporting events, I am going to MD Anderson Cancer Center. Here is my story and why at 32 I am attending a cancer center so often and will for the rest of my life.
As a child my family and I traveled to the beach every year and sunscreen didn’t seem to be a staple in our packing necessities. I would burn so bad on the first day I could hardly sleep that night.
As I got to the age of 15, I realized, with my parents consent, I could tan in a tanning bed. That was and still is my biggest mistake to this day. I would tan three days a week and before any social event at school. Everyone was tanning and vanity at that age was so important. I remember feeling so great with a tan, but also remember that smell of burning skin. I even remember thinking, “This can’t be good for me,” but I continued to tan because it looked good and again, everyone else was doing it. I tanned off and on for probably 10 years and of course sunscreen was never something I applied.
Three years ago at the age of 28, I discovered a mole on my abdomen, which would be the beginning of my long road ahead and my fight against melanoma. I was very hesitant to see a dermatologist; in my heart I knew it wasn’t good. My dog at the time jumped on me and made the mole bleed. At that point I had no choice but to make an appointment. I was scared, lost and wanted to run. When my biopsy results came back my doctor said to me, “You have cancer, this isn’t a death sentence but it is going to be the fight of your life.” He was so right. I had the mole removed thinking, “Oh it’s just skin cancer it can be cut off and I’ll go back to doing what I do.” Was I ever wrong. Fourteen surgeries, five different types of chemotherapy and numerous amounts of radiation later, I am still fighting for my life.
The first two years of my fight are a blur to me. I was so in shock and scared, I didn’t realize what was going on or what the next minute would bring. It’s like when you first take your training wheels off, you know what’s going on but you really have no idea how it’s going to turn out or if you can even do it. You have everyone cheering you on, but you’re scared and nervous. I had no choice but to pedal my way through.
I want to share with you my year 2013 so far, which is my third year fighting melanoma.This past January, I had a bone tumor in my tailbone that temporarily disabled me and my ability to walk, which had to be followed up with radiation. In February, I had a tennis ball size melanoma tumor removed from my bowel. In that same visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center, I found out a previous tumor in my brain was hemorrhaging and needed to be operated on. I underwent surgery for the hemorrhage in the brain. Four weeks later at a follow up MRI for my brain surgery it showed growth in another tumor as well as a new melanoma brain tumor in the front lobe of my brain. Again, I was back in surgery to remove one brain tumor. One week after surgery I underwent gamma knife radiation to the front lobe tumor, in which I will find out July 9, 2013, if the radiation worked and if the surgery was a success. My body is currently clear of melanoma except for a small spot in my pelvis area, I am waiting on doctors and their knowledge as to what we will do with this possible new melanoma tumor. I have endured all FDA approved drugs for melanoma and could possibly be entering into a trial to hopefully control my disease.
I am very passionate about getting my message out to young adults, teenagers and parents about the dangers of tanning bed use. As we speak, Texas is in the process of passing a bill to ban the use of tanning beds for those under the age of 18. I hope my story will help encourage others to be sun safe. Melanoma is preventable with sunscreen and staying out of tanning beds. I am extremely happy to share my story with you. If you get anything out of this I hope it’s to keep your children and yourself out of tanning beds and to use sunscreen. I promise you don’t want to go through this or watch a loved one go through this .
Melanoma is not just skin cancer.
Love the skin you’re in!
Below are reasons to say goodbye to tanning beds for good provided by skincancer.org.
1. Your risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent when you use tanning beds before the age of 35.�
2. Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer shifted indoor tanning devices to the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans.” (They were formerly classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”)
3. Tanning can be addictive. For some people, UV radiation can have a druglike effect; they feel dependent on it and can experience withdrawal symptoms, says David Fisher, M.D., Ph.D.
4. Not only are tanning-bed users more vulnerable to melanoma, they’re also 2½ times more likely to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and 1½ times more susceptible to basal cell.
Learn more important information about sun safety from Cook Children’s pediatrician Anna Nezafati, M.D.