|A blonder, tanner version of myself.|
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.