Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guilt trip

A blonder, tanner version of myself.
Last weekend, I went out to dinner with a good friend of mine who beat testicular cancer shortly before I had my run-in with melanoma. At dinner, I felt disgustingly selfish when we were exchanging cancer stories. How could my stage I melanoma compare to my friend losing his hair during intense rounds of chemotherapy? I feel the same way when I read about young women like Chelsea Price, a fellow blogger and stage III melanoma survivor. She has more scars than I can count and is participating in a clinical trial for a new melanoma drug. It's like I'm swimming in the kiddie pool while these guys are diving in the deep end. Not that I want to be in the deep end by any means, but I worry that people will look at me and think: yes, melanoma is just a skin cancer that you can cut out and be done with.

Not so much. In addition to the three-inch chunk of flesh I had removed (and the $3,000 it cost me after insurance), there's been an overwhelming feeling of guilt that's haunted me every day since my diagnosis. Recently, I mentioned that I was writing a short story for teenagers about why tanning beds are evil. As I wrote, I asked a few friends to take a look at my drafts. They all had wonderful, insightful feedback that was able to incorporate into my final draft, but one comment in particular stuck out to me. In my essay, I wrote that I had been "lucky" to catch my melanoma before it progressed past stage I. It's something numerous doctors have told me and that I've told myself over and over. But what if I hadn't been so lucky? What makes me so different than all these other 20-somethings who didn't catch their cancer early? These were some of the questions I was grappling with in the days and months following my diagnosis. It actually wasn't until this week, sitting down and writing this short essay and reaching out to my friends for feedback, that I realized the impact of these feelings. My friend Liz said to me:
"Something that wasn't in the piece was the depth to your emotions when you were first diagnosed. I remember that you literally fell of the face of the earth, you didn't go out as much, you weren't as social, and it was difficult to even have a conversation with you over text messages, even. I feel like you were really scared that you could die. I know those emotions may be a little heavy in the short piece that you wrote, but saying that you 'were lucky' could give some teenagers who think they are invincible the impression that it's super easy to be cured of skin cancer and to move on with your life."
Liz's comment immediately made me rethink my strategy. Yes, of course I was lucky that I caught my cancer early. That doesn't mean that melanoma doesn't SUCK. Having a doctor tell me that I had melanoma shook me to my core. I never thought that tanning in my teens could have killed me in my 20s. But it can, and it does. Melanoma has become the most frequently diagnosed cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29, second only to breast cancer for women aged 15 to 29. Tanning bed use can increase a person's risk for developing melanoma by 75%, and yet indoor tanning is still a $5 billion per year industry, up from $1 billion in 1992.

Just for the record, when I talk about my melanoma, I'm not looking for a pity party. A prevention party maybe (ha!) but definitely not a pity party. Since I started doing some research and sharing my experiences with anyone who will listen, I've discovered a wonderful network of people whose lives have also been impacted by skin cancer. I've also had my fair share of run-ins with people who listen to my story and still choose to tan. Giving up UV tanning and living the "pretty in pale" lifestyle is easier said than done. Trust me. I get it. But if my story resonates with just one person and they change their behavior because of me, then somehow it seems like all this guilt will have been worth it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Red carpet recap

So thankful for all the starlets for walked the red carpet at last night's Oscars sans a tan. Hollywood: your breasts may not be real and your eyebrows may be pinched with Botox, but we've finally reached a point where Nicole Kidman isn't the only celeb basking in her own natural glow. Here's are some of my fave looks from the 2012 Academy Awards.

Emma Stone (Getty Images)

Rooney Mara (Getty Images)
Michelle Williams (Getty Images)
Ellie Kemper (Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My own "Dear 16-year-old me"

There's a good chance you're one of the 5.4 million people who has viewed the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund's "Dear 16-year-old Me" video on YouTube. If you haven't watched it yet, you should. Every time I see this video, it makes me a little teary eyed, and trust me, I'm not the type of girl to get a little teary eyed. Like the survivors in the video, I have a scar too, and of course I have pangs or regret about tanning (indoors and out) as a teenager and young adult.

A month or so ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman who's compiling an anthology of short stories about prom. I jumped at the opportunity to share my story about tanning before prom. Prom was, after all, the breaking point at which my mom finally caved and let me use tanning beds for the first time. While I have no doubt that prom has changed since 2002, I'm sure that tanning is still part of the pre-prom ritual for many.

The million dollar question: How on earth do I tell a 16 year old to not use a tanning bed without sounding like my mother? Touching as this video is, especially now that I've had a run-in with skin cancer, would the 16-year-old Katie have paid attention to the things they say in the video? More importantly: would it have even impacted my behavior? Regretfully, the skeptic inside me says no. On the flip side, these days there are initiatives like the Melanoma Foundation of New England's "No Tanning Pledge Contest" (thank you for sharing Rachael!) By promising not to tan before prom, high school students from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, etc. can wish cash and an assortment of other prizes. Again, would this sort of a campaign have appealed to me when I was 16? It's hard to say.

I suppose all I can do is share my story and cross my fingers that it will resonate with someone. Would I have tanned if I knew I was going to develop melanoma at age 23? Probably not. In the meantime, let's hope that more states continue to follow California's lead and pass legislation to prevent tanning for minors. If you have any suggestions on how you'd speak to a 16-year-old about tanning, I'd love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Irony on my newsfeed

Turns out Facebook can be just as loaded with irony as the most poetic British lit. Check out this screenshot from my newsfeed over the weekend. To learn more about the study Aim at Melanoma is referring to, visit the American Academy of Dermatology website.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ladies of The Bachelor: Don't forget your sunscreen

Bachelor contestant Jenna's biggest faux pas was her
unnaturally orange skin. Bursting into tears six times an
episode was a close second. (Image: TV Guide)
It's Monday night and I'm watching The Bachelor. Embarrassing, I know, but I suppose there are worse guilty pleasures to indulge in. Gambling, smoking, or tanning--just to name a few.

Confession: In my high school yearbook, I was voted "Most Likely to be on a Reality Dating Show." Over the years, especially when I've been single, I've wondered what it would be like to be on, say, The Bachelor (shush, you know you've thought about it, too!) Enough though I'd probably be kicked off by the end of the first rose ceremony, I've thought about all the primping it would require to try and seduce a guy on primetime TV. You'd need formal gowns, bathing suits, and a suitcase full of beauty products. You'd probably get a new haircut before the show started taping, hit the elliptical, and give yourself a little color at the tanning salon.

This Bachelor contestant
could also cut back on the
fake n' bake. (Image: ABC)
A few years ago, if the producers of The Bachelor had called me and said "we want you on our show!" the first thing I would have done was drive to Palm Beach Tan. Chronically insecure about my appearance, tanning was one of the easiest ways to transform myself from an awkward, shy girl into a sizzling, sexy woman. In the back of my mind, there was always a lingering fear that my frequent UV exposure would cause wrinkles or cancer, but when you're 17 and the most devastating thing you can imagine is being rejected by a cute lacrosse player, tanning feels like a viable option. If I wanted a guy to like me, I felt like I had to bleach all the pigment out of my hair and become a slave to UV rays. It sounds insanely irrational when I say it out loud, but take a look at this season's Bachelor contestants.

Last month, when the show premiered, one of the first things I noticed was how unnaturally tan many of Ben's potential lady friends looked. Immediately, I tweeted: "Way too much fake n bake on the #bachelor" Seconds later, a follower of mine, , replied: "Everyone looked like they dove into a bag of Cheetos." I couldn't help but chuckle. In an attempt to make themselves look beautiful and more desirable to Ben, these young women (if they do choose to UV tan) are increasing their risk for skin cancer and making fools of themselves on national television--in more ways than one. Yes, there was a time in my life when I may have watched The Bachelor and thought to myself, "Those girls are so pretty. I wish I looked more like them." But this time around? Not so much.

VIP cocktail waitress
Blakely's look screams
"unnatural." (Image: ABC)
When I was diagnosed with melanoma at age 23, even when I was sick with guilt that my negligent behavior had caused my cancer, I would still think to myself, almost instinctively: "How am I never supposed to tan again? What will I do for my wedding pictures if I ever get married?!" It's taken years to change my knee-jerk reaction from "tan is pretty" to "pale is pretty." For the first time, watching The Bachelor this season, I think I'm actually starting to believe it when I say all women should embrace their natural beauty. Tan skin, which was once the ideal, just doesn't do it for me anymore.

Now that the ladies are in Belize, I just hope they remembered to bring their SPF...