My story

Me at age 21, just two years before
I was diagnosed with melanoma.
Confession: I was a total nerd throughout elementary school and into high school. Maybe it was the glasses, the braces, or the schedule full of honors classes, but I was painfully shy and an easy target for class bullies. At home, in the privacy of my bedroom, I spent hours poring over glossy magazines, cutting out pictures of Britney Spears look-a-likes and creating collages that I posted all over my walls. If only I looked like this, I thought to myself, then maybe people would like me.

When I turned 16, my mom finally lifted the ban on bleach and I guilt-tripped her into taking me to a tanning salon. “You’re beautiful the way you are,” she would say, and then go on a rant about how tanning would make my skin look like leather by the time I turned 30. No matter what she said, though, I hated the way I felt when I looked in the mirror. I was sick of being known as the “smart girl” or the “theater geek.” So many other girls were tanning (plus getting highlights and French manicures). Why shouldn’t I be able to do it, too?

Every time I tanned, both indoors and out, I imagined the kids who used to make fun of my ghostly pale legs. If only they could see me now, I thought to myself as I slathered on the oil and powdered my cheeks with bronzer.

Tanning gave me a sense of control that I’d never had before. With the swipe of my debit card (and 12 sweaty minutes in a tanning bed) I was able to transform into a whole new woman. Gone was the girl who shied away from boys and was afraid to speak up in front of the class. I felt like I was on top of the world and that if I ever did get skin cancer, it wouldn’t happen until I was older. Besides, doesn’t everything cause cancer these days?

I never imagined that only a few years later, I would be diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. I *thought* I understood the risks of tanning, but who really thinks they’re going to get cancer before starting their first real job or saying “I do”? In reality, melanoma has become the most frequently diagnosed cancer for women aged 25-29 (second most common for 15 to 29-year-olds)—and it’s not going to stop unless we take a stand and start taking care of our skin.

My doctors told me I was one of the lucky ones. I caught my cancer early, so there was no chemo, no radiation, and I got to hang onto my lymph nodes. But honestly, despite my “good luck,” being diagnosed with melanoma did a number on me. For months I stopped hanging out with friends, I broke up with my boyfriend, and I drained my savings to pay for surgery (it’s not fun living with your parents when you’re 23, I promise). It shook me to my core that tanning in my teens could have killed me in my 20s.

It’s taken me years to realize this, but I feel much more beautiful now—my complexion fair and my hair naturally brunette—than I did when I spent years trying to make myself into a life-sized Barbie doll. My colleagues seem to treat me with more respect, and oddly enough, so do the guys I meet when I go out for drinks with girlfriends.

When I was 16, I’m not sure there was anything anyone could have said or done to keep me from tanning. That said, if you use tanning beds or even just occasionally forget the SPF, I encourage you to ask yourself: why do you do it? Write your answer down. Is the answer, “So I look better in a bikini” or “Because everyone else is doing it”? Sometimes when we take the time to write down our feelings or share them with a friend, they seem less rational. Realize that we all have our insecurities, and it could be that you just need a yoga class to boost your confidence and de-stress. I challenge you to flaunt your natural glow like Emma Stone, not like Paris Hilton. And don’t feel bad about splurging on a designer bottle of SPF and a cute floppy hat—you’ll thank me when you’re older.

Questions? Email me anytime at Katie@prettyinpale.org.

14 comments:

  1. Wow, this is truly inspiring. It's rare to find such an open and honest blogger these days. Writing about something so personal and deep, your honesty blows me away. I wish you all the luck in the future, and I look forward to reading about it here :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Our stories are all too similar. Although I'm so sorry that you developed melanoma so young, it made me feel less alone to read about someone else who was diagnosed at 23. Most of the time I read about people much older than me, thank you for sharing your story and for allowing me to feel less alone.

    I pray that you have a long, happy, and healthy future!

    ReplyDelete
  3. To be honest, I hardly think this is very inspirational. You used sunbeds when you were younger, with an attitude that getting cancer does not matter. You knew the risks yet your vanity took the better of you and that's why you got cancer. Your lifestyle choice gave you cancer.

    Also, it seems you use the melanoma status to profiteer from this blog of yours, even though you are just talking about your day to day life. Also, you only wore factor 30 in Dominican? This seems like you are not taking your diagnosis seriously: I wear factor 50 every day in the UK and you should be too - and I can't believe you weren't covered up. You are perpetuating to everyone that melanoma is not an issue. Why not put up some pictures of you protected and fully covered up?

    I was diagnosed with melanoma at 20, after not using sunbeds and always being careful in the sun - I'm the unlucky one huh? Yet you individually caused your disease. It ruins the empathy I want people to understand for me with stories like this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seems cancer happens- if she got it, and you got it and you both lived differently. So you just sound angry and think you deserve more pity because you didn't "choose" cancer. Bad form.....

      Delete
  4. A 20-something like you really cemented my new sunscreen habit in my 20s -- and that was back in the 80s. She was a co-worker who had a suspicious spot on her leg. Her mom told her to wait until the fall to get it looked at, but she did not wait. She was told that at BEST she probably would have lost her leg if she had waited.

    People STILL make fun of me for wearing sunscreen, especially in the PNW.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Don't listen to Anonymous, she clearly has issues.

    Thx for sharing your story:) it is insane the things we do to sometimes be accepted by other people, even damaging ourselves or others (for example through gossip). People should accept their bodies as they are. I personally don't wear make up, nor tan, I'm very pale but I like it :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's crazy the lengths we will go through to fit in, make us feel confident or just to change anything about ourselves. While this must have been something horrible to live through, you have learned life lessons and I'm sure are an inspiration to some other 16 year old out there feeling maybe the same way you did. I'm glad you're healthy and thanks for sharing your story!

    ReplyDelete
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