July 05, 2018

Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in North America. Cases of melanoma have tripled in the last decade. It is growing at a rapid and alarming rate; most of the individuals with this disease are between 20 and 25. More people die each year from Melanoma than from breast cancer. That fact is scary. Consider how much attention breast cancer receives, and how little melanoma receives. We hear the warnings and we often don't listen, a voice tells us, it can’t happen to us.

Well, it can.

It happened to me.

In early summer 2009 I had my first run-in with cancer. Growing up, I had thought that cancer had a face. It belonged to the elderly, the old and the grey. I had never known a young person who had fallen severely ill. Foolish as it sounds, when I was really young, I believed ugly diseases such as cancer only took over those who had lived a long life. I was shocked and devastated when my face became a reflection of cancer.

I started the summer off by having an ugly mole removed. Why? My gorgeous cat, Miss Bubbles began scratching at the mole on my neck. For several weeks she would scratch and pick at this abrasion on my skin. Finally, out of superficial embarrassment, thinking “if Bubbles notices this mole so much, people must too!” I went to the doctor to get it checked out. The removal of this mole marked the beginning of my battle with malignant melanoma. Her taunting led me to the path that would save my life.

By Fall my melanoma had traveled to my lymph nodes, and actions had to be taken. Treatments robbed me of my self-esteem and happy heart. Bubbles was my companion who shared my bedside during sleepless nights, frequent bouts of nausea and wallowing in misery—she never left my side. When my lymph nodes were overwhelming me with pain, she would lay in the exact spot of the pain—almost as though she was my own personal supply of heat to relieve pain.

The loss of my hair was devastating. My hair falling out served as a good metaphor as to what battling cancer is like; everything that once was firmly rooted is uprooted and you have no control. My sweet cat saw how much the loss of my hair upset me and decided to take action. Each night as I tossed and turned, pieces of my hair would scatter unto my bedding. Bubbles would come in and sneakily collect my hair to hide. Later, during a cleaning session my hair was discovered underneath her bed. I think of all the work and effort she put into protecting me from further pain, and it warms my heart. When all of my hair was gone, she would lick my head clean. I think she saw this act as soothing me, almost like a mother rubbing her child’s back.

Her support saved my life. On and off I battled the beast from 2009 to 2016.

The battle spread from my neck, lymph nodes, brazen other parts of my body and eventually to my genitals. Melanoma of the female genitalia is rare. This uncommon malignancy is often fatal. I am tremendously lucky. I am alive. I will thrive. Life is too short and precious to choose anything but the pursuit of happiness.

Still think it can’t possibly happen to you? After you finish these words, please take a moment and think of those dear to you: if you aren’t willing to stop tanning for yourself, do it for them. I promise, your loved ones will value your presence and health much more than a tan.

Check your skin periodically throughout the year, follow the ABC chart and if anything is suspicious: book in with you doctor. Be cautious this summer. Grab a sunhat, UV blocking sunglasses and of course, slather on that sunscreen. Always look for SPF 30 or higher. Read the labels! UVA and UVB protection is of utmost importance. Sunscreen is ineffective without the addition of zinc oxide (a powdered mineral that sits on top of the skin, scattering, reflecting and absorbing UVA & UVB rays) don’t shy away from a product because of the inclusion of zinc! Zinc makes sunscreen work. A tried and true favourite is Rocky's rich sunscreen, the vanilla coconut scent is a huge draw for children and those who don't want the 'fuss' of sunscreen.

Being diagnosed with melanoma does not simply mean removing a mole and sending you on your way. This cancer is serious - it kills. It’s not ‘just skin cancer’ it can spread all over the body. Melanoma symptoms may vary - and not all melanomas develop from moles. Melanomas develop in areas exposed to the sun, but this tricky disease can also appear in areas with little to no sun exposure. This includes areas between the toes, underneath nails, soles of the feet, genitals and eyes. The estimated survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 90-99 percent, the survival rate falls to 63 percent when the disease reaches the lymph nodes and a grim 17 percent when the disease metastasizes to distant organs.

Entering a tanning bed puts you at a 70% greater risk of melanoma, and for what, really? To look fake? Think about it, you get into a coffin-like bed that bakes your skin. We all stress how much we hate fake people, so why would you want your body’s largest organ to be falsified—altered from its natural beauty to an artificial orange?

Your skin is your body's largest organ - it is important to do everything in your power to protect it. Apply SPF when exposed to the sun, take extra precautions not to risk too much exposure. The advancements of technology have made practicing sun safety even easier, Weather Apps will inform the hours when the UV index is highest and therefore, when we should stay indoors. Ultraviolet Rays from the sun and other sources like tanning beds are the primary causes of skin cancer. Shielding your skin with clothing and a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher significantly lowers your risk of skin cancer. Applying sunscreen once for the entire day is not effective - reapply every hours to keep your precious skin safe.


Guest Contributor: 

Lisa Lunney - a Rocky Product Advisor at our West Edmonton Mall location. She is a freelance writer, poet, avid reader & cat mom. Read more from Lisa at lisalunney.com.

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