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Top 5 (Unexpected) Things I Learned from Skin Cancer

skin cancer, what I learned about skin cancer, vanessamc246, vanessa mclaughlin, vanessa fitMost of my posts are about fitness and nutrition, but I today I'm sharing something I usually keep private: my skin cancer. Why today? Well, every three months I visit the dermatologist, and she usually burns a suspicious looking spot, or biopsies one on my body. She almost always finds at least one spot. Today, she found THREE. She biopsied three.  One of them, is on my forehead, making my skin cancer very public.

My first spot appeared on my upper back, near my shoulder blade three years ago. It was Basal Cell Carcinoma, and the dermatologist sliced it out of my back. The second spot, three months later, was melanoma and she carved that out of my back too.

I started going to the dermatologist when I was 42, because I lifeguarded for 5 years in high school and college, when the object was to get a "good base tan" by pouring baby oil all over the body. So, I went to get checked as a precaution. I wanted to get a full body scan while I was there, but as soon as the dermatologist saw the spot on my back, she went into action hero mode and said, “the body scan can wait, we need to remove this now.” While I wasn't surprised she found a spot, I was shocked it happened to me so young.

While I can't change what happened in the past, I can focus on things I actually can control.

1. Taking care of myself is important, but goes beyond fitness and nutrition.
When your taking care of yourself, I mean really looking out for yourself, you just feel better in every way.  This means not only staying hydrated, eating lots of vegetables and nutritious whole foods, managing stress, and giving my body some daily movement, but it means going to the dermatologist, to the dentist, for women getting a mammogram, and fully taking care of your body. For three years I've been going to the dermatologist every three to six months.

2. People support me, they don't judge me.
To me, my skin cancer is not a big deal. The dermatologist cuts it out, and all is well. Until the next time when she biopsies a spot. Each time I have to wait seven to 10 days for the results. While my family supports me, I was afraid others would judge me and think I was a hypocrite.
"How could you not wear sunscreen? How can you advocate a healthy lifestyle and not wear sunscreen?"
But no one ever said that to me. In fact they realized right away it was my PAST!  Now, just like drinking about a gallon of water a day, I wear sunscreen EVERY DAY!

3. Nutrition and exercise empower me.
As I mentioned above, when we really take care of ourselves, we feel unstoppable!  When my nutrition is on track; when I'm guzzling water; when I get in a vigorous sweat sesh; my energy soars, my happy meter rises, and I feel like skipping and singing!
I've also done a good bit of research to discover red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and watermelon deter skin cancer because of their high lycopene content. While the damage has already been done, I can try and delay more skin cancer from developing.

4. I got a lesson in gratitude.
From that very first spot carved out of my back, I started reading and learning about skin cancer.I have a 40 percent chance of getting another Basal Cell Carcinoma somewhere else on my body. I read horror stories of people finding a freckle on their body, but under their skin, lying unseen was cancer spreading so quickly, they did not survive.
I can never leave my house without sunscreen again. And I'm going to have to start spending money on floppy hats rather than bikinis. I go for regular checks every three months, and every time the dermatologist finds a spot I have some sleepless nights worrying.
But I couldn't have been luckier. I caught it early. I didn't have to endure chemotherapy, like millions of other people with more aggressive types of cancer. I have some scars on my back, which I jokingly call my bullet wounds, because of their round shape. But it's no joke.
Skin cancer can be deadly and is rising at an alarming rate. Current estimates say one in five of us will get it in our lifetime. Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Get your moles checked often. If something looks unusual, do not wait.
Every time the dermatologist cuts out one of my moles or freckles, I'm grateful, because it means I'm okay.

5. The sun is still your friend.
I love the sun! I love the way it makes me feel. The sun is my friend and provides me with so much happiness and a healthy dose of vitamin D that also helps prevent cancer so WTF!?
But I need to be a better friend to my sun, I need to take it in small doses, while I protect myself with a physical blocker sunscreen. I need to wear hats and long sleeves to avoid getting burned if I’m outside all day and make sure to lather up when I’m exposing myself for a day at the pool or beach. I guess it’s like any friendship, do not abuse it or it might become less friendly.

So, now I wait for seven to 10 days to hear about the biopsy from my lower left shin, another one on my back, and my forehead. I try not to worry if she needs to remove it from my forehead that I'll bear a striking resemblance to a famous boy wizard, if I'll need to consult a plastic surgeon, and try not to fear worse things than aesthetic issues.  I will get a good sweat sesh in today. I will continue to practice self-care. It is part of my journey.

And thank you for reading because it felt so good to write and share this.



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