Looks to die for

By Victoria Hardina | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Growing up with Florida summers is the best. If lucky, the days are spent lying outside and absorbing the warmth of the sun when the only cares in the world are whether or not a cloud comes and blocks the fabulous rays. But as a friend of mine found out, if you’re not careful your days can also be spent in a hospital surgery room having a fist-sized tumor removed thanks to those same rays.

A few summers back, that was all we did: laid out and tried to get as dark as possible. My friend Breanna, 17 at the time, and I would spend the afternoons lounging at the pool and surrendering ourselves to the heat. Tanning had become an obsession and we would burn if necessary to achieve our golden tans. To do that we rarely wore sunscreen, and when we did, it was only s.p.f. 15 or less.

In the middle of the summer, Breanna noticed that a mole on her left leg looked a little larger than normal, and it was starting to turn black. Her parents took her to the dermatologist to get it checked out, and they removed the mole for testing.

Breanna thought that would the end of it.

A week later, they returned to the dermatologist where Breanna learned it had tested positive for malignant melanoma. There was a large tumor in her leg that had to be removed.

The rest happened quickly. She had a consultation with a plastic surgeon and more tests to see if the cancer had spread to her blood. Luckily it had not.

Surgery was necessary and the tumor was removed successfully. All that is left is a large permanent scar and a slightly weaker leg.

“The aftermath of my surgery was definitely painful,” she said, looking back on it. “I was put on crutches for two weeks and it was always sore.”

Breanna has to get a CAT scan once a year for routine check-ups to make sure the cancer has not returned, and blood work done once a month.

“I’m not supposed to go in the sun for too long. If I do I have to wear a long-sleeve shirt, sun block 50 spf minimum,” she said. “I’m also supposed to wear a large brimmed hat. Now I always keep sun block in my purse just in case. I’ve learned I can never be too careful when it comes to the sun.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime and more than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“The funny thing is I was tanning to look as beautiful as possible, and now I have a giant scar on my leg and I can hardly go in the sun anymore,” she said. “It definitely wasn’t worth it.”

Three years later Breanna is cancer-free, but the scars from melanoma remind her how important sun protection is.

Truth is, there is no such thing as “safe tanning,” and more than 56,000 new cases of skin cancer will be reported this year. Since we’re young, I think we sometimes feel as if we are invincible to the world. When it comes to tanning, we put our fingers in our ears and start singing before we actually have to hear that we are in danger, too. It seems like a disease for older generations — not us.

But the truth is, skin cancer is very real for us sun worshippers, and Breanna is proof that we can’t fool ourselves into thinking we are in the clear.

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