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.
During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, one melanoma survivor reflects on her treatment and the preventive measures everyone should take to avoid skin cancer.
Is it an age thing, or a time frame thing or a type of melanoma thing? As I work my way through May, the reminders to be aware of sun exposure make me think about melanoma risks a little bit like the way the country is trying to weigh the COVID-19 risk scenarios. Each part of the country has circumstances that make it unique in the COVID-19 situation, much like each melanoma survivor's age, health, diagnosis, treatments and circumstances vary too.
My melanoma was five years ago, and after numerous biopsies, I have not had one since. My melanoma happened to be a slow-growing kind of melanoma. My melanoma was caught early. As it turned out, my melanoma was on the shoulder opposite the side of my breast cancer diagnosis five years before that. My sun exposure dramatically decreased after my melanoma diagnosis and will remain that way, though probably not obsessively so. Sometimes, more recently, I choose to get a little Vitamin D and a slight tan from the sun. Those are my own unique circumstances and my own unique personal choices.
Please be thoughtful and aware of your sun exposure choices. Wear sunscreen. Before my melanoma, I tended to skimp on using sunscreen because I so rarely got burned. Well, now I think winding up with melanoma is having gotten burned. Shame on me, I even used to use tanning beds before warm-weather vacations. I was foolish.
Unfortunately, and fortunately, my skin is now a quilt of biopsies and excisions. Many of them are pretty tiny and healed well, but quite a few are longer and deeper scars from follow-up surgeries similar to my melanoma surgery. Their pathology reports came back "not quite" cancer. I was fortunate to have a great "watch dog" in my careful and cautious dermatologist. Happily, at my last two full body skin checks, I did not need anything biopsied for testing!
I hope people reading this start thinking of their skin as a body organ too, an organ that can get the disease and would do well to be regularly checked by a dermatologist. Cancer caught early tends to have a much better prognosis long-term.
Seeing a dermatologist annually and having mammograms annually are two reasons I am still here. I have scars and I am here. I am a huge fan of wellness checks and preventative maintenance. I also am a fan of the personal freedom we have to each make our own decisions.
Preventative maintenance where health is concerned requires a little personal responsibility and common sense. Please do consider scheduling a full body check, especially if you have never had one. There is no such thing as being "too busy" to manage our own health. No one else will do it for us. Worry and fear seem to be prevalent things during COVID-19, but we can minimize our personal worry by responsibly managing our personal health, including our skin. It is an old but true axiom by Benjamin Franklin that says "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."