Saturday, May 30, 2009

One Year Later


A message to my friends, family and everyone I care about:

            The end of May marked the one year anniversary of my diagnosis with skin cancer.  I wrote many of you soon after I first got the diagnosis, and now I write you again to tell you how my life has changed.  I write this because I don’t want you to ever forget how serious this disease is.  My intention is not to lecture you but to educate you and hopefully protect you from going through anything similar to my experience. I know many of you anticipate the summer—you can’t wait to get the dreary St. Louis winter over with.  I know the first chance you get, you’ll be outside with your tank tops on soaking up the sun!  Sounds great, doesn’t it!
            I, like many of you, loved to lay out in the sun.  I know most of you know me now as “Pasty White Cara”, but I used to brown up nicely back in the day.  When I was young, I rarely, if ever, wore sun screen.  The first few days in the sun I would burn, but by the end of the summer I was sporting my white-blonde hair and golden brown arms and legs. As I got older, it took longer to achieve that golden brown look I craved.  I have very vivid memories of lazy summer afternoons in the Ozarks, competing with my high school friends over who had the best tan.  In fact, I have pictures of us all showing off our tan/burn lines.  None of these times did I ever wear sun screen.  All my summers of playing softball, running around at school picnics, rolling up the sleeves on my tee shirts so I wouldn’t have a ‘hoosier tan’ – my skin would fry and peel over and over again. To me, that went hand in hand with summer.
            In fact, I am even guilty of laying in the occasional tanning bed.  I would do it for dances, prom, and I even tanned regularly for 3 whole months before my wedding in 2005.  I think the quickest tan I ever got was on my honeymoon, in Mexico.  Sun screen was worn, but rarely re-applied. 
            Now, as the summer is upon us, I have a totally different outlook on it.  I dread it…even fear it.  My diagnosis, though small, was still MELANOMA – the deadliest form of skin cancer.  Not taking me seriously yet? Read these statistics from The Skin Cancer Foundation Website: (
*      More than 20 Americans die each day from skin cancer, primarily melanoma. One person dies of melanoma almost every hour (every 62 minutes).
*      Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young adults 15-29 years old.

*      One in 55 people will be diagnosed with melanoma during their lifetime.

*      One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.

*      A person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age. 

Now, I want you to stop and think about how many sunburns you’ve had at any given age.  Scary, isn’t it?

Okay, so again…I’m not trying to lecture you.  I’m just trying to get you to understand how real this is.  Some of my closest friends roll their eyes when I talk about this, or they call me “Skin Patrol” whenever it comes up in conversation.  One of them even said to me about a month after I was diagnosed, “I understand what you went through and I hear what you are saying…but I’m not going to change anything unless something happens to me.”   This friend, in particular, is a big sun worshipper.  That comment didn’t offend me…it hurt me.  My heart broke because I know she’s telling the truth.  I know she won’t change.  So all I can do at this point is share my experience and hope others learn from it. 

Also, I wanted you to know that the dark spot I had removed was not what one would typically think of as cancer. It wasn’t 2 different colors, it wasn’t cracked open and bloody. It really didn’t look like any of the pictures you see. It wasn’t even raised at all. It was very small and very thin.  In fact, take a regular sized Sharpie marker and dot it on a piece of paper.  That’s how big mine was.  However, it was VERY dark.  Almost black…and that’s why it looked suspicious to my doctor.  This is why it’s important to get yourself examined by a professional at least once a year.  I would have never known to get this particular spot looked at.  Who knows how fast it would have spread if I’d have waited.

Here’s what I do:
1)     So when I know I am going to be outside for more than about 10 minutes, I cover my entire body with sunscreen.  (FYI: your clothes only give you protection of an SPF 4) And YES you should wear the highest level of SPF available.  It is a myth that anything over SPF 30 is a waste. 
2)     I wear sunscreen on my face every day.  Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock SPF 85 is a great one that is non-greasy and doesn’t clog pores.  It can also be worn under make up.
3)     Since I have had melanoma, I have to see my dermatologist every 3 months, and my oncologist twice a year.  Everyone else should see a dermatologist at least once a year to get looked over.  I really like my guy.  His name is Jason Amato.  I have referred so many people to him; I think I am going to see if he will hook me up with some free Botox injections next time I go in. J
4)     My children’s lives will be drastically affected by this.  Maria spent very little time outside last summer b/c I was so scared.  I know I can’t keep her out of the sun her whole life…I’m not an idiot.  But I will protect her.  She will wear sunscreen, like it or not.  She will also never wear cute little bikini swimming suits as long as I can control it.  She will be wearing full coverage tee-shirt style suits with SPF built in.  Oh yes!  What a terrible mother I am going to be.  How ridiculous she will look if I take her to a public pool.  You know what else looks ridiculous??? The multiple scars I have which I would never wish on her. Read this statistic about childhood diagnosis and family history: (
*      Melanoma is seven times more common between the ages of 10 and 20 than it is between 0 and 10 years.
*      If your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history.
*      First exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent
*      Between 1973 and 2001, melanoma incidence in those under 20 rose 29 percent

To sum it up, here’s what I am saying to you- please think responsibly when making decisions regarding you and the sun.
Don’t go tanning. (Tanning beds emit from 50% to 100% the amount of UV rays than from natural sunlight; you would be safer lying out on the beach for a few hours.)
Wear Sunscreen!
See a dermatologist at least once a year!
And for God’s sake, put sunscreen on your kids! 
So many times I have heard people say to me “Well, I like to tan because it makes me feel skinny.” You know what else will make you feel skinny?     EXERCISE! 
Do I hate applying sunscreen every day?  YES! It sucks!  Do I hate the fact that I will never be tan again for the rest of my life? YES! Will I look like a dork when I finally break down and wear a wide brimmed hat to protect my scalp, face, ears and neck? YES! But you know what would be worse than all of these things combined?  Having my family watch me die from a disease that I could’ve prevented and leaving my two little babies and my husband to live their lives without me.  That’s something I am not ready to do. 

Since my initial diagnosis, I have had several suspicious spots removed.  One has come back “atypical”, but not cancerous. Overall, my skin is healthy, but I will probably have to have freckles and moles removed for the rest of my life and that is something I have to deal with. Please take this issue seriously and for more info!

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