I was 23 when I found out I had cancer.
Melanoma skin cancer, in fact.
The funny part is, I was never a big tanner. I didn’t care too much about looking brown and beautiful– I was just too lazy to cover up. I was always out riding in an outdoor arena or working outside. I wasn’t a tanning bed layer, a bikini wearer, or a sun bathing beauty. I was always too on the move to care about that stuff.
But cancer caught up to me anyways. And it was doing a 5 minute mile, apparently.
You can actually see it, on the background photo of this website taken in 2009. The cute mole on my collar bone– I thought it was an adorable beauty mark. When the doctor said they would need to take a biopsy, I felt like they were taking a part of my being, like the freckles on my nose or the birthmark on the back of my ankle. I actually said to the doctor, “Are you sure? They won’t be able to identify me now if I burn in a fire…”
He smiled, but he took it anyways. I got a call from the big doc later that week saying that “we needed to talk”. He told me that I had melanoma. Not understanding doctor talk, I asked for more information. The only melanoma I’d ever heard of was the bumps on my old flea-bitten grey. The conversation with the doctor was a great success (I say with sarcasm). I was so taken aback by the news that I couldn’t process what he was telling me. It went something like this:
“Do I have cancer?” I asked.
“Well,” his response was, “you have a melanoma”.
“Again, is that cancer?”
“It’s a melanoma”.
I hung up and called my dad, a doctor from my home in Maine, to have him explain to me what was really going on. It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I really started to understand that what I was told was serious.
You see, there’s two different kinds of skin cancer: the kind that spreads, and the kind that doesn’t. I had the kind that spreads, turns into other types of cancer in your body, and (quite shockingly to me) eventually kills people. We had no idea how far along in the process I was– except for the fact that I had coveted my beauty mark for so long that it would be tough to say. It didn’t look good.
I called my best friend. When the voicemail beeped telling me to leave a message, I felt speechless for words. What’s there to say? So I said what any 23 girl in shock would say.
“Soooo… Turns out I have cancer…. Yup. Okay, bye….”.
The issue was that I never expected it– it wasn’t even on my radar of possibility. I’ve always had olive skin that tans easily. I’ve never cared about the sun. I didn’t have any of the tell-tale warning signs, no red hair. But clearly, I assumed too quickly.
Long story short, my story ended well.
As dramatic as it felt in the moment, my story ended well. I flew home to Maine, got into surgery within a week, flew back to Wyoming and I was back to work. On my flight west, I got the call from the doctor with the results of their lymphnode testing– the cancer hadn’t spread. Therefore, I could go back to life as normal and “pretend it never happened”. Much better than the alternative (moving home and starting chemo), which I was not prepared to handle.
I don’t share my story with many people.
Many of my friends don’t even know. I went home quietly, and came back quickly. I just couldn’t handle the hubub in the moment. And after I was back out west it felt like it was already dealt with– so what was the point in making a fuss? It’s always felt a bit too dramatic to share, like a pity party.
In my life now, I meet new girls quite a bit. New friends. And unknowingly, eventually, one of them will will say this:
“I’m so white… so pale. I look gross. I need to go tanning”.
It makes me want to slap them. No offense taken on my part– I just want to slap the silly out of them. The silly that says that they’re not pretty until they’re tan. That they’re gross without it.
I’m sorry ladies, but you’re still beautiful in the winter. January doesn’t take that from you.
My point is this: you don’t need to tan– just own whatever you are. Claim it, and people will find the confidence in you far more beautiful than the tan would be.
I always hated the cliche, “I never thought it would happen to me”. So I will definitely not end on that note. Most people don’t think that bad things will happen to them– and in all honesty, you can’t live your life like that. So it’s good that people think “that would never happen to me”. Chances are, most of those things probably never will happen to you.
I will end it on this though: You’re already beautiful. You do not need to tan.
Tell your friends. Perhaps one of them will happen to be like me, and you could save their life.