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.
There I was with my freshly darkened skin in the mirror (after a beautiful day out in the sun). What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn’t thinking.
Don’t be foolish like me, just don’t do it.
It was a beautiful day outside. We went out on the lake during prime-time sun — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You knew those were the especially dangerous sun hours, yes? Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. I am a five-year melanoma survivor and that day I did not put on sunscreen. What was I thinking?
At bedtime, I was appalled at the color of my skin! I naturally have pretty dark skin. Up until five years ago, I didn’t think I could get a melanoma, but I did. I always had (and still dohave) a lot of freckles and moles. That should have been a warning sign or actually a stop sign for me years ago, but it wasn’t. We all make mistakes. We all never really know what is lurking in our bodies that can suddenly go horribly wrong.
There I was with my freshly darkened skin in the mirror. What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn’t thinking. Maybe I was just tired of “being different” because I knew what could happen. What had happened to my usual cautionary tale to share and my mission to warn other people?
For five years, I have tried to be that person who cautions the people around me: Look at your skin, see a dermatologist for a full body check annually, never use a tanning bed (I used to), and of course, wear sunscreen, hats and clothing that will help protect your skin. And finally, I try to explain the difference between melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Should I freak out because I took a day off from all of that? Probably not. I can keep it in perspective — five years of being careful and one “bad day” in those five years. I can forgive my own mistake. I normally use sunscreen and the new and improved “fake bake” lotions that are now so much better than when they first were released.
Though I had scares before my melanoma (things biopsied that did not come back “normal” but were also not cancer), I still somehow thought it could never happen to me. Isn’t that the comfort level we all want to live with even though we are being delusional? Even though I was already a breast cancer survivor by the time my melanoma was found five years ago, I could have known better, coming back from a warm-weather vacation with lots of sun exposure.
At least when I heard the news of my melanoma diagnosis, I knew enough to ask and write down the answers to these questions: What kind is it? What stage is it? What grade is it? What is the treatment plan? Armed with this information, I could then do my own research
My treatment was simple because it had been caught small and early — a large excision of the area, my shoulder, and after that, I was checked at least every six months for five years. Too many additional biopsies to count and a few large excisions of things the pathologist didn’t like but were not exactly melanomas – no beauty contests to win here. The sunscreen clothing catalog they sent with me after my first surgery made me think of the wig catalog I had been offered for breast cancer treatment four years before that. Ugh.
So, please learn from me. Do wear the sunscreen and fake tan products if you want a tan appearance. Do cover up and get your skin regularly screened. Do caution your loved ones, too. Please help me turn my momentary foolishness into some kind of good by being careful out there.