Thursday, April 20, 2017

My Skin Cancer Journey

A few months ago I shared a personal post about living with Crohn's Disease. I had so many sweet comments about it and appreciated them so much! Well, as if one disease isn't enough I'm here to share with you why I feel SO SO passionate about getting yearly skin checks and wearing sunblock.

Warning...this is long. I have never written this out before, nor have I really talked about it.

Let me take you back to the summer of 2008. I was in summer school at Appalachian State, having just finished my Senior year and headed into my final year as a Senior (yes it took me 5 years to graduate). I decided to make an appointment with a local dermatologist to have a full body scan. I have always been pretty mole-y and burn easily. I've had a few severe sunburns in the past that resulted in blisters. I was never an avid tanning bed goer but had been probably 5 times throughout the course of my life (I was 22).

I went into the appointment not expecting much of anything. Just reassurance that my moles looked fine and there was nothing suspicious on my body. She gave me a look over and found one mole that was on the side of my left breast that she didn't like the looks of. It was tiny, but oblong shaped. She did a punch biopsy and reassured me that it was nothing to worry about.

I left the appointment and went about my day. I didn't even think twice about the mole she removed. Fast forward a few days and I had just gotten on the bus back to my apartment. For some reason the cell towers were out and I was not getting any incoming phone calls. I looked down and had a voicemail from the doctors office asking for me to call them back. I immediately called and the receptionist connected me with the nurse who asked me to come right into the office. It was about 445 and I thought it was weird that the nurse said the doctor was going to wait for me (knowing that the office closed at 5). At this point I'm starting to freak out. I couldn't get ahold of my mom so I called my sister and my best friend. Both assured me that it was nothing serious. Although, in my mind I knew differently.

I got to the doctors office and was immediately taken back to the doctor. I don't remember much of this conversation except for her telling me that the biopsy showed that the mole was a melanoma. Of course the only thing going through my head at this point was "I have cancer'. I immediately burst into tears, I couldn't think, I couldn't even comprehend what she was telling me. How was I a seemingly healthy 22 year old just diagnosed with this. I tried to call my mom but she wouldn't answer. She was in the middle of a movie. I just kept calling and calling because I needed the doctor to explain to her what was going on. Finally my mom answered and I just handed the phone to the sweet doctor who went over all the details with my mom and what she had planned for me as far as treatment.

By the time I drove back to my apartment my mom and dad had already been in contact with all of their doctor friends in Charlotte and had me in with a highly recommended surgeon. At this point I felt numb, I drove down to my best friends house to spend the night. It was too late for me to head to Charlotte. I was an emotional wreck but managed to get through the night.

I can't remember if I went to Charlotte the next day or a few days after. At some point I made it to Charlotte. My mom and I met with the surgeon who decided that they would do a sentinel node biopsy  to determine if the cancer had spread into this lymph node and beyond.

I don't remember a ton about this surgery other than before the surgey started they injected this blue dye into my lymph nodes. The dye would travel and some how they could see which nodes were affected. Y'all, this was by far the most painful thing I have ever experienced. Worse than childbirth. That dye burned so badly, I remember squeezing the nurses hand (my mom couldn't be in there with me while they injected it) so hard that I thought it was going to break.

During the surgery the doctor removed the sentinel node as well as a few others that were affected but the cancer had not spread and was contained within these few lymph nodes. All the praise hands!! The recover was rough, I couldn't lift my left arm for quite some time. We were ecstatic that they had gotten it all and there was no further treatment needed!

I was to be followed closely by a dermatologist as well as my surgeon for a few years post surgery. After I graduated from App and moved to Raleigh I was connected with an amazing Dermatologist at UNC. She specializes in melanoma, and only sees patients that have had it. Since 2009 I have been going to her every 6 months. She does a complete body scan. I have pictures that were made on my first visit and she is able to compare the photos to my current moles.

Over the course of these years I have had more moles than I care to count removed. By the grace of God none of them have been melanoma! I have had several pre-cancerous ones removed and I tend to err on the side of "take it off if you have even the slightest suspicion". These are the scars that I see on my stomach, back, and everywhere in-between that are a constant reminder what I have been through.

My original dermatologist believes that the tanning bed was probably the culprit of the melanoma, which goes to show that even just a handful of visits can be deadly! I am more cautious than ever about wearing sunblock, hats, and staying out of the sun whenever possible. As much as my dermatologist would like for me to live under a rock and not see sunlight, that is not possible. I still want to live my life! I am just cautious. My boys will wear rash guards 99% of the days we spend at the pool/beach and I lather them with SPF. Of course, I still get an occasional sunburn, which makes me so mad at my self, but for the most part "being tan" is not in my vocabulary. I have learned to embrace pale!

Just two days ago (Tuesday) I went for my biyearly skin check. I always get massive anxiety at these appointments and this time was no different. Much to my surprise, I did not have one new or suspicious mole! I was so shocked that I literally squealed and said "are you sure?". This was the first time in as long as I can remember that I have not had something removed!

If you take anything away from this post I hope that it is to wear sun block! Skin cancer can happen to anyone and anywhere! Being tan is not worth the risk no matter how good you think it makes you look. And we all know "tanned fat looks better than pale fat" hahaha.

*Linking up with Annie and Danielle


  1. I'm so glad you shared this! I have had 2 pre-cancerous moles removed (both while in college) and ever since then, I wear sunscreen whenever I'm outside! I used to use the tanning bed a lot in high school, but now I rely on self tanner and I'm still able to tan even with sunscreen. I'm very very cautious now!
    Sarah at MeetTheShaneyfelts

  2. Oh Emily I'm so glad you shared this. It's one of my fears and a reason I slather the kids and I in sunscreen and make them wear rash guards most of the time. I'm so glad your appointment went well!

  3. Oh man I really need to have some of mine looked at. If for no other reason, just to feel better. Thank you so much for sharing your story friend.

  4. Wow I had no idea! I really have never gotten in for skin checks but think I probably should to be safe. So glad you didn't have to go through anything too extensive and are happy and healthy today!

  5. I'm so sorry you had to go through all of this. I would have been a wreck. I get worried about the littlest things all the time. I'm glad everything has been ok since. Thank you for sharing. Beautifully Candid

  6. So sorry this happened to you and so important to think about! I had some bad sunburns too and I do worry about it sometimes.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. So glad you didn't have any moles removed or ones that looked suspicious. I have had more moles removed than I can count as well. I am with you, if it looks odd and might be something, remove it. The one that I had removed on my back a year and a half ago, I had it cut open three times because they didn't get all the bad areas out. I have never had it going into my nodes or be full blown cancer. I used to go in tanning beds and now I get spray tans if I need that tan look. So scary.

  8. I'm so glad you shared this! I had no idea you went through this, but thank you for sharing. Tanning beds are seriously from the devil, and I just want to slap my teenage self for ever getting in them. I'm with you: tan isn't in my vocabulary and I'm A-okay with that. So thankful for your positive appointment the other day!

  9. Thank you so much for the reminder, Emily. I have been wanting to get a full body check for YEARS and just never take the time to do it. I am going to finally write a note in my planner to remind me to schedule an appointment once and for all. I used to go to the tanning bed for about a month each year to get tan for the summer and I did that for probably 6 or 7 years. I finally stopped after I got married, and I'm just praying that no damage was done. I'm so glad that you are OK!!

  10. That's so scary! I'm so glad to hear that your appointment went well. This is a great reminder that I need to take care of my skin better! XOXO

  11. This is definitely an important reminder. So glad that your biannual check was all clear. What a relief!

  12. What an eye opening experience. I used to tan but haven't in ages and am so adamant about using sunscreen.

  13. I have had some bad burns and going to the derm makes me feel better! I'm totally in the sunscreen on my face club!

  14. Thanks for sharing your experience--skin cancer awareness is so important. I have not had melanoma, but in 4 years, I've had 5 basal cell carcinomas excised. I know exactly what you meant about the anxiety at each appointment. I'm fair skinned and do not leave the house without sunscreen now. I wish I knew what I know now about skin cancer when I was younger!

  15. I am SO glad you are bringing awareness to this super important and under-recognized topic. None of my female peers go to the dermatologist and I think a huge misconception is that "young people" don't need to get their skin checked... false!!