Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Me and my friend Debbie dressed up as loofah's last weekend.
Happy Halloween! I hope you're all warm, safe, and dry. The weather hasn't been so great this week, has it? When I celebrated Halloween on Saturday, I got drenched, but at least I didn't have a hurricane to contend with (I'm looking at you, Sandy).

Anyhow, funny story: Shortly after I published this blog post about body image and Halloween costumes, I found myself waiting in line at Joann Fabric to purchase 25 yards of tulle. I had seen a couple of girls at the 5k dressed up as bath loofah's and I thought it was such an amazing idea that I had to be one, too. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. I got stuck in line behind another group of would-be bath-poufs who were having a really difficult time deciding which color fabric to buy. They seemed miffed that I had taken the last few yards of purple.

"Ugh, I can't be light pink! I'm not tan enough!" one of the girls said.

Of course, in my head, my first instinct was to think, wow, wasn't I just talking about this? My second thought was, what is this girl talking about, she's already eight shades darker than me.

As the bath loofah fiasco continued (they had the nice lady working behind the counter measure out 20 yards of light pink, only to tell her they wanted to do blue instead), I couldn't help but wonder why we sometimes have such skewed perceptions of ourselves. When I see olive skinned women berating themselves for being too pale, skinny women berating themselves for being too fat, etc. I wish I could smack some sense into them and let them see what they look like from where I'm sitting. I know I'm guilty of self-hate, too, but it just kills me when people beat themselves up for not being tan enough. I lived with that feeling for so long, and I wish there was something I could do to prevent other people from feeling the same way.

Side note: Totally reminds me of that scene from Mean Girls where The Plastics are huddled around the mirror, commiserating over all their physical "flaws." Enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

White as a ghost

I've always loved playing dress up, so it's no surprise I adore Halloween. Last weekend, I got to celebrate a bit early by running a super hero-themed 5k with a couple of my friends. I re-purposed last year's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume into something that was more 5k appropriate, while my bestie found a little boy's size XL Batman costume at Walmart about an hour before the race. Believe me when I tell you: running three miles in a Halloween costume as harder than it looks.

Dressed up as a ninja turtle for the 5k last weekend.
Run Like Hell in downtown Portland.
When I dressed up as a ninja turtle for Halloween last year, I wore a teensy green dress--not rain-proof running gear. Now, when I say that being diagnosed with melanoma impacted all aspects of my life, it really has. Even Halloween.

Pre-melanoma, Halloween prep meant hours in a tanning bed. After all, how could I dress up as a sexy cop, nurse, cowboy, schoolgirl, etc. without the requisite tan? Stopping by the tanning salon was just as essential to my Halloween costume as stopping by Party City to pickup a new pair of fishnet tights. The Halloween after my diagnosis, I made a conscientious shift to seek out a costume that would flaunt my pale skin like an accessory. After watching hours of YouTube clips on how to fix my hair just right, I decided to dress up as a sexy, tan-free pin-up girl. Red lipstick and all.

Halloween 2007.
Then last year, I picked the ninja turtle costume because I wanted to try something new. Something slightly less cliche and slightly more badass. I strut out in my teensy little costume, fully aware that almost every inch of my ghostly white legs were showing. Perhaps it's narcissistic of me, but I'm always worrying about what other people are thinking about me. On Halloween I worried less so because, well, everyone was dressed up, too. Consequently, it caught me by surprise when my friend's boyfriend made a comment about my costume/white legs.

"Shouldn't you have gone to a tanning salon a few times before wearing a skirt that short?"

Flaunting my fair skin in 2010.
I was pissed. Really pissed. Not pissed so much that my friend's boyfriend was making fun of me. 30-year-old men act like high school boys all the time. I really could have cared less that he was giving me a hard time about my Halloween costume. What drove me insane was that he chose to mention the one thing he should have known would really piss me off.

So it appears that no matter how old we get, I can't quite escape critique from my peers about choosing to embrace my natural skin color. *SIGH*

Have you ever gone tanning or spent extra hours at the gym so that you'd look better in a Halloween costume?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Melanoma claims another young life

I'll be completely honest with you: I've had a crappy week. Sometimes I wonder why, in addition to work, family, and friendships, I keep trying to change the world. Why do I always take on so many extracurricular projects? Why do I read until I can't keep my eyes open at night? Why do I take vacation days so that I can go work a volunteer event? Why do I spent hours researching and writing about something that happened to me three years ago? Why can't I get over it already? The result is inevitable--sometimes I get burnt out. I feel like giving up.

And then I hear that the young woman who we all fell in love with on last month's Stand Up to Cancer Telethon, Hillary Kind, passed away this week. I never met Hillary, but I couldn't help feeling emotional when I learned about her death. When I hear about young women like Hillary or Glenna, it scares me. These women are my age. Hillary was just three months younger than me. She looked radiant just weeks ago. How could something like this happen to her?

I wish I could just give up and start blogging about food or fashion. That I could leave work at night and just zone out--not have to worry about anything except laundry. But I know I can't. As long as there are woman like Hillary who are taken away from us before they can cross off all the items on their bucket lists, I'm going to keep evangelizing the importance of skin cancer prevention and early detection.

I want minors banned from tanning salons. I want to go to a professional sporting event where the cheerleaders aren't all orange. I want little girls growing up loving their natural skin tone and hair color. And I want to see a decrease in the number of young adults being diagnosed with incurable diseases. I like to think that Hillary would, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The skin cancer paradox

Image: Skin Cancer Prevention
A statistic that continues to perplex me: 86% of tanning bed users acknowledge that tanning causes cancer, and yet they do it anyway.

A reality that continues to perplex me: The number of people I'm friends with who continue to tan even though they know I've had melanoma (it's surprisingly high).

I realize that not all cases of melanoma are caused by UV radiation--natural or artificial--but some of them are. Yesterday, my dad sent me an article from that reiterates what I'm always saying about tanning and skin cancer: "Despite piles of research on the skin cancer risks of sun exposure and tanning beds, dermatologists and cancer groups struggle to persuade people to protect their skin from ultraviolet rays."

We know what we're doing is bad, and yet we do it anyway. It's like some sort of skin cancer paradox, isn't it?

If you're unfamiliar with recent findings, statistics, and legislation on melanoma, the CNBC article gives a great overview. I've read many of the studies it references in their entirety. I also love the suggestion from the University of North Carolina dermatologist at the end of the article: "Changing public opinion may be more effective than legislating change [for young people]. Effective campaigns to prevent skin cancer may need to emphasize that skin is most beautiful and healthy in it's natural, untanned, state."

P.S. Best of luck to my girl Chelsea Price who is speaking at the uber-fancy Skin Cancer Foundation Gala this evening. Besides hobnobbing with the rich and the famous, Chelsea will be sharing her experience of what it's like being a Stage III melanoma survivor in her mid-twenties. I hope that people pay attention because Chelsea isn't an anomaly. Melanoma isn't just an old person's disease anymore, and by limiting our exposure to harmful UV rays, we may be able to reduce the numbers of young people diagnosed with this crappy, crappy disease.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Even soup turns pink in October.
Image: Goodlifer.
As I'm sure most of you are aware, we're only a couple days into October, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month is already in full swing. Several of my favorite melanoma bloggers have beat me to it and thrown in their two cents about breast cancer and melanoma. Now let me throw in mine.

If you're a regular reader (or an acquaintance who found my blog on Facebook), you may not know this: my melanoma was actually on my breast. I can't ever claim to understand what it feels like to be diagnosed with or treated for breast cancer, but I do know what it feels like to go under the knife and have a chunk of your lady parts removed. After I was diagnosed with melanoma, my dermatologist referred me to an oncologist who specialized in breast cancer. Both were hyper-conscious that I was a 23-year-old woman who didn't want to end up with lopsided breasts. Don't get me wrong--my first priority was always to get the melanoma off--but of course I was worried about losing breast tissue. I didn't have much to begin with.

Today, I have a neat, three-inch scar that wraps around my right breast like a phantom underwire. Even in a swimsuit, you can't see it, but it's still there. Something I'll never forget: During a post-op appointment, my surgeon cautioned me, "Just so you're aware, women who've had melanoma are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer later on. I don't want to worry you. Just something to be aware of."

What's the purpose in me telling you all this? Sometimes, when it comes to fundraising or allocating federal research dollars, we see a pink ribbon versus a black one. What makes one cancer any more worthy than another? Rev. Carol Taylor wrote a great blog post yesterday that explores the history of breast cancer advocacy. She comes to the conclusion that, above all else, we all need to be in this together. Yes, we can learn from Big Pink, but at the end of the day, the women (and men) affected by breast cancer are our mothers, our sisters, and our friends. Hell, if my surgeon was right, it might even eventually impact me.

All that said, please do your homework before purchasing products that claim to support breast cancer research. If you buy a "pink" lipstick, for instance, how much of the proceeds are really going to the cause? And what organization are funds being donated to? I hate to think that companies are making a profit off of cancer, which brings me back to my favorite topic in the whole entire world: the indoor tanning industry.

We all know that the tanning bed industry has undergone major scrutiny by the government and the media over the past several years. Because tanning has become more widely identified as a health risk, marketing strategies have changed. Inside tanning salons, posters of beautiful women have been replaced by posters that say things like “Indoor tanning: 100x more vitamin D than milk.” Such posters are sold by lobbying groups like the Smart Tan network to help change customer’s negative perspectives about indoor tanning. Some articles on their website suggest that indoor tanning bed use can actually decrease breast cancer risk. While science has far from proven that tanning can decrease breast cancer risk—quite the opposite—by proudly selling breast-cancer-pink ribbons, salon owners are presenting themselves as sympathetic to the millions of Americans who have lost a loved one to breast cancer.

My friend Al at Black is the New Pink wrote a blog post yesterday because he was outraged at the way tanning salons are leveraging Breast Cancer Awareness Month to boost sales.

"This would be the same as placing your pink endorsement upon cigarettes," he said.

I couldn't have said it better myself.