Melanoma survivor offers help based on her own melanoma experience and reading.
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Wow, I was arrogant. I never thought it would happen to me. I tanned as a teenager and an adult. I feel really stupid now. Though dark-skinned, I always had a ton of moles. If you are now a melanoma survivor, here are my suggestions for turning this from a horrible negative into some important positives.
Always try to explain and educate.
Even several years out, I continue to be floored by the people around me who tell me, “Oh, I had skin cancer too,” and wonder at the fuss I am making. It always
turns out they had a basal cell skin cancer—a much more benign type of cancer with a much happier and simpler treatment and prognosis. Don’t give up! Keep explaining.
Warn your loved ones
. Until cancer happens, you figure you are exempt, somehow. I wasn’t fair-skinned. I was tough! I used to mentally scoff at the pale people hiding in the shade at the local pool. I remember reclining in the sun across the pool from them. At the time, I think I decided they were probably people who were from Portland or who previously had skin cancer. But now, I know that whether they were melanoma survivors or not, they were smarter than me.
Tell everyone to stay away from tanning beds
: I used them as a teenager and as an adult, I would pre-tan in tanning beds before vacations. I would lie in the sun in the summer with minimal sunscreen because I am fairly dark-skinned and I thought tan looked nice. The fake tan products are awesome these days! They have improved and continue to get better. My golden glow now comes from a bottle, and I am safer and happy to be alive!
Tell people to go see a real dermatologist
: My dermatologist sometimes removed things at my annual visits. Sometimes the things removed would come back labeled “dysplastic.” Still, I didn’t worry. I even spent a lot of time out in the sun on my “celebrating completing chemotherapy trip" after breast cancer.
Several years ago, after a warm weather vacation, my dermatologist took a mole off my tanned shoulder. It was melanoma. I was shocked, yet as a breast cancer survivor, I couldn’t act like I was a cancer newbie. I knew the drill. At that moment though, I felt pursued by cancer. Get away from me, cancer. I don’t want to do this again,
Write down your melanoma facts
. For you and for your loved ones, find out type and stage. As an “experienced” cancer patient, I knew what to ask. I was lucky. My melanoma was stage 1. I had a large chunk of my left shoulder removed. I call it my dog bite—It is a large indentation on my shoulder with a long scar. After surgery, the doctor sent me off with a sunscreen clothing catalog and a discount coupon for my first order. The catalog reminded me too much of the wig catalog I had been handed a few years for breast cancer. Not good.
Keep up your vigilance and your dermatology appointments
: I am now out to every six months. I have had more pathology results than I can count. I have four other “larger excisions” that “weren’t quite” melanomas. No beauty contests to be won here. Most people, cancer or not, would be wise to see a dermatologist yearly for a full body skin check. Be safe.
Finally, I know better. I wear fake tan products and sunscreen. I do go outside, but I cover up. Please be a smarter melanoma survivor than me. Melanoma is one of the most common forms of cancer out there, but if caught early, it can have a good prognosis. Keep reading up on it, informing people around you, completing all the full-body skin checks and stay careful out there.