From Tanning Lotion to Sunscreen :: One Mom’s Journey with Melanoma

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The official start of my skin cancer journey began when I gave birth to my son almost 5 years ago in 2016. But let me back up a bit – back to the days when tanning beds and baby oils weren’t a big deal. I was in middle school and hated how fair my complexion was so I spent my summers laying out on trampolines with bottles of baby and tanning oils and lemons (lemons to highlight my hair of course). Fast forward to age 14 when I not only got my driver’s permit, but I got my first tanning membership leading to hours upon hours spent in the tanning bed to try and achieve that golden glow. Now the sad and kind of pathetic mindset I had at the time was I considered every sunburn a success as I had hoped it would eventually turn into a tan.

Now that I have you up to speed on my not-so-healthy lifestyle, reality was about to set in after I had asked my OB to remove a couple spots (down there) after I had just given birth and was still numb from my epidural. I made this request purely out of vanity and not because I was worried about anything beyond that. Little did I know, this action was kind of a pivotal moment and jump started a completely different journey aside from parenting. 

After about a week of adjusting to life with a newborn, I received an unexpected call from a local Dermatology Clinic. A little perplexed as to why I would be getting a random call from dermatology when I have a brand new baby, and then I remembered that little spot I asked my OB to remove. Well, it must be a standard practice to biopsy any extracted skin because they called to inform me that one of those spots was severely atypical (potentially cancerous but not yet cancer moles) and they needed to remove more. 

Over the course of the next couple years, I saw the dermatologist every 3-6 months for skin checks and numerous biopsies (I lost count after 12 or 13), many of which were those mild to severe atypical moles. Then in January 2020 at one of my routine checks, my dermatologist found a spot that she was concerned about. It wasn’t a mole and kind of looked like a scar that couldn’t be explained. So she stated calmly, yet with a hint of urgency in her voice, that it appears to just be a scar but we need to find some explanation for this. Something just didn’t feel right and sure enough a week later, results came back as melanoma. Luckily it was in the very early stages and was able to be fully removed with a Wide Local Excision (WLE). As of now, I am happy to say I am still NED (No Evidence of Disease); however, since I am at a higher risk of a recurrence, I am paying a visit to my dermatologist every 3-6 months.

As I look back at my skin cancer journey, it is crazy to think about how different my prognosis could have been if my OBGYN had not been so proactive (because I sure as heck wasn’t). Looking forward, I have learned that I can’t undo that damage I have done but I can change my attitude and adopt new ways to become more proactive for myself and my kids.

A note from Greater Mankato Mom: For more on Melanoma, skin checks, risks and more see our Q and A with Mankato Clinic Dermatologist, Jeffrey Weideman.

RESOURCES:

From the Mankato Clinic Blog – Know the Signs of Melanoma

American Academy of Dermatology – Spot Skin Cancer

Video on the ABCDE’s of Melanoma and How to do a Skin Check

 Infographic – How to Spot Skin Cancer

Brittany grew up just over three hours southwest of Mankato in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa before obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. She and her husband settled in the Mankato area where they are raising their two boys. Brittany works as a Marketing and Communications Manager for Greater Mankato Growth and Visit Mankato where she promotes the region’s leisurely assets and events including the Mankato Marathon.