I grew up in Jersey: the originator of GTL (gym, tan, laundry). Being tan was honestly a lifestyle. Scary, right? I am also of Polish and Irish descent, some of the palest nationalities that you can be! But let me tell you, I gave it the old “college try.” I remember having my dad take me to the tanning salon after school because I needed to get dark for prom. If I could kick old me right in the shins, I would. I took all the desperate measures – from not wearing any sun protection at all (hey 2nd degree burns and blisters, how are ya?) to mixing iodine and baby oil together to get that dark glow (neither worked, by the way). Had I kept going, the inevitable would be getting skin cancer. Who thinks of that when they are young? Not me, that was for sure!
I then went to Esthetics School and learned proper sun protection. With my new-found knowledge, I thought I could take on the world educating the masses about what to do and not to do in regards to properly protecting against harmful sun rays.
Check out my Instagram for all the skin protection and skin care tips!
Fast forward a few years, living in the Sunshine State, I went to my yearly dermatologist appointment a week and a half before my wedding, only to find out that I had to do a ton of biopsies on my back. Here is the f**ked up part of this whole situation: My immediate thought was “I have a backless wedding dress that’s going to look so bad with bandages!” A few snips and scrapes later, I walked out of the dermatologist appointment ready to go on with my day.
That is, until I received a voicemail 3 days later stating that I had Basel Cell Carcinoma.
Read that again…
I found out I had skin cancer, driving to work, listening to my voicemail. I bet I am not alone in this. Actually, 3.6 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Back story: I lost my mom to cancer, so hearing the “C” word in any form stopped me in my tracks and brought my Murano to a screeching halt.
Still, not processing the gravity of having skin cancer, I called my dermatologist to ask if I could wait until after my wedding to have surgery. (Remember that backless dress I was so concerned about)?! The answer was a clear and obvious No. And so, my husband and I went to the dermatologist a couple days later to have my excision surgery.
Here are some of the things they don’t tell you: if cancer margins are unclear, they remove and then test your skin while in surgery. As I laid on my stomach, my doctor would cut an area off my back and run it to the lab downstairs to test my margins. If they came back unclear, they would cut a little more. Two incisions later – 20 internal stitches on one, 10 on the surface – I had two spider-looking wounds on my back. The severity of the situation STILL didn’t hit me, until 9pm at night when the lidocaine wore off and I was in pain.
I never once got the tan I was dreaming of. Was the damage I had acquired over the years worth it? Not now, not ever. My younger, vainer self thought that being tan would make me feel better about myself. I was convinced I was doing it for the Vitamin D, to look better in my clothes, to make my blonde hair pop. The eye-roll I am giving myself as I type this out could literally make me fall backwards.
The next decade plus, would consist of going to the dermatologist every three months for a skin check. Sometimes, I would graduate to six months. Most times, I would digress because my dermatologists would find areas of concern that they had to biopsy. I went the next 10 years of my life acquiring battle wounds from the damage I did as a child and teen.
I am happy to say, at 35, this is the first time since the age of 23 that I have graduated to a normal, yearly skin check. I do everything in my power now to protect my skin. This includes using SPF daily, reapplying regularly, and wearing UV protective clothing in the summertime. Do I enjoy wearing a long sleeve out on the paddle board in the summer, not really? But I enjoy it way more than getting surgery, so I suck it up.
Bottom line is that we do the most damage to our skin between 5-17; ages where we don’t have the proper knowledge of protecting ourselves from the UVA/UVB rays of the sun. Am I saying to be a hermit and hide from the sun, absolutely not? The true Jersey girl in me still loves the way it feels when the sun hits my skin. I am just more responsible now than I was. I have educated myself in the safe ways of sun exposure, while still being able to enjoy the warmth the sun brings me.
Teach your kiddos proper sun protection while they are young. Give them a fighting chance to not be one of the 3.6 million individuals that get that “C” word diagnosis. If you are not sure where to start, feel free to bring them in to me, I would be happy to help them plan out ways to take care of their skin when they are playing sports, hiking outside, or enjoying the lake. Education should start when they are young in order to prevent the potential wounds as an adult. I share my story not to scare anyone, but to let you know that skin cancer is real and becoming an epidemic that we tend to regularly overlook, until it’s too late.
Call the office or stop by to get summer-ready by stocking up on the sun protection basics (and check out our summer survival guide to insect protection). You can also find my favorite SPF products on my online shop. Everyday Play Sunscreen is a good all-around family SPF to start with and one of my faves that I use daily! There’s something for everyone and for every activity.