Living in Austin and just Texas in general, you come to realize how much people love the outdoors. When summer rolls around Texans embrace the heat! Here people flock to Barton Springs for a swim or to Zilker for a run or to go paddle boarding. People still sit outdoors at restaurants and there’s always a crazy long line at the snow cone place by my apartment. That’s just the way Austin is.
Hiking the 360 Overlook with my sister
Growing up, I spent my summers out working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the local pool, going biking with my mom, helping out with yard work, and then going to marching band practice when the season started at the end of July. More or less I was always outside! Being pale and covered in freckles–this wasn’t necessarily a good idea. Like most pale people, instead of tanning I freckle or burn. But after I burn, my skin turns this icky yellow color like I’m bruised all over, which really sucks. I’ve had at least two bad burns every summer since I can remember, and looking in the mirror one day I just had the realization that I needed to take better care of my skin. This led me to going to get my first skin check ever last December.
I always thought skin cancer was something that older people who spent too much time in the tanning bed got. They’d have one really big, nasty looking mole that would end up being precancerous or cancerous that they’d have to have removed. That was it. I never knew how much it affected people my age until I was looking on Facebook and saw two separate obituaries that my friends had shared of girls in their early twenties who had died from melanoma. They had both just finished college and were on their way to fulfilling their dreams of getting jobs or going to med school when they were diagnosed with skin cancer. What is so sad to me is that while skin cancer is deadly, it is also highly treatable when detected early.
I had my first three moles taken off a month or so after my 21st birthday. My mom has had a history of moles being taken off and having them come back abnormal, but she told me not to worry because I was young. I made the appointment anyway because of my history as a lifeguard and they happened to have a cancellation. I was terrified, but I’m glad I went. I had to go back in to have two out of the three cut out again, as one was mildly abnormal and the other was severe pre-melanoma, and my dermatologist wasn’t able to get everything the first time. Since then, I’ve had another 5 cut off with three that came back mildly abnormal and two that were benign. This may seem like a lot in a short time period, but I consider myself to be extremely lucky to have figured out I need to watch my skin and that I’m able to do something about it!
It isn’t pretty, but this is the before and after from when my doctor went back after the mole that was severe pre-melanoma. The procedure was pretty painless and I need 6 stitches overall. If you go in and get moles taken off early, the scars are much smaller and rarely need stitches.
Now that you’ve read about my skin story and how I got to where I am today with my skin, here are a few ways I take care of my high skin cancer risk.
Find a dermatologist you trust and learn more about your skin. Going in for a skin check once a year or more often, depending on what your doctor prefers, can help you detect anything abnormal before it becomes a big problem. Always ask questions and do what you can to learn more about how to take care of your skin! Also, don’t be afraid to go in even if they have to cut something off. A good dermatologist will make sure you feel at ease and explain the process to you. They should also be able to explain to you why the mole is abnormal and needs to go.
Be mindful about sun exposure and protect yourself! A little time outside to get your daily vitamin D might be okay, but tanning all day by pool probably isn’t a great idea. I’m not saying you have to hide inside all day–just know how to protect your skin! Invest in sunscreen for your face and body. There is a debate about the chemicals in sunscreen, and I’m going to avoid that topic and say to just get one that works for you. I use the Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50 for my face every morning and when I go outside I use the Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen SPF 50. I highly recommend wearing some sort of SPF on your face everyday because that is not a place you want to have moles removed or more likely burned off. You can also wear protective clothing like hats or swim cover ups too! You can be outside without doing excessive damage to your skin.
Trust your judgement. If something doesn’t look right, go get it checked out! As it is with any medical issue, you need to be your own advocate. If you find a mole that you feel has changed or doesn’t look right, make an appointment and talk to your dermatologist! It may come back benign or it might be abnormal–you don’t know until you go in. I originally went in for a mole on my wrist that wasn’t abnormal when my doctor found the severe pre-melanoma on my right leg. It’s always better to be safe than sorry! Moles can also change at any time so it isn’t bad to have them removed early.
Since I don’t know everything about skin cancer or melanoma, a great resource is the Skin Cancer Foundation. They have loads of tips on prevention, research, and even stories from real people who’ve been affected by this type of cancer. You can find out more about skin cancer statistics and who is at risk here. You can also find out more about early detection and how to check for mole abnormalities yourself here.
Thank you so much for reading about my skin story and I hope that it was somehow helpful to you! Being proactive and aware of your own skin story can make a world of difference–I know it has for me. If you haven’t already, go schedule a skin check! I promise you won’t regret it 🙂