When I was 21 years old, I had a creepy looking mole that everyone kept telling me looked weird. It was on my back so I couldn't really see it for myself. After being urged, I finally went to see a dermatologist. This same mole had been already removed five years prior, but for some reason it had been burned off and never tested. It grew back, and this time with a vengeance.
I sat there in a little hospital gown with my toes dangling in mid-air as she told me it didn't look good. "It might be serious," she said. "Do you have someone to take you home or are you by yourself?" she asked. Of course I was by myself. I'm an adult, I thought.
After leaving her office, I sat alone on the subway, listening to my music and studying the people around me. I thought about what it would be like to have cancer. I panicked and then decided that would be the last time I'd think about it.
A few days later I found out that the mole on my back was indeed melanoma. It was stage 2. I was scheduled in for surgery to remove a large section on my back and under my arm to test lymph nodes. Results would take two weeks.
Before the surgery, I was to meet with an oncologist. My dad happened to be in Toronto, so he came with me to the Oncology appointment. I hadn't been to a doctor's appointment with a parent since I was 14 years old. We sat there dumbfounded as the doctor laid out the plan.
"Melanoma is the only skin cancer that can travel inside of your body. If this has happened, we will have to either do chemotherapy or radiation and as you were told previously, definitely the surgery. I have to tell you, this could be a fatal disease." His voice was stale and bleak.
All I could think about was how sorry I felt for my dad. He'd sat in offices like that hearing words like metastasized and malignant for years with my mom.
We drove home in silence. I couldn't believe this was all from an ugly ass mole.
I had never been one to bake in the sun. Although I have always loved how a tan looks, I would get so cagey in such heat that I could never stay long enough to get a fabulous glow. So how could I have gotten melanoma? I can't say for sure, but I often refer to that one time in the south of France. Yes, that one time.
I had been traveling with a friend who was beach lover. She had beautiful olive skin that tanned perfectly, and I remember how fresh and healthy she looked after the beach in a dimly lit bar. I wanted some of that.
Apart from the few times I had entered a tanning bed in the early '90s, this was one of the very rare times I actually spent 'baking' my skin. After falling asleep on the beach one afternoon I burnt my back badly, and when my skin grew back after blistering, I didn't think about it again. That was of course until I heard the word melanoma and chemotherapy and surgery all in the same sentence. As it turns out, it can take one time, as explained in the powerful "Dear 16 year old me" video from DCMF. If you burn before the age of 18, this can double your chances of getting melanoma.
When they tested my lymph nodes they found that there wasn't any cancer present in those nodes. I was one of the very lucky ones. They sent me home with strict instructions to never go in the sun again without protection and to see my dermatologist on a regular basis. I was to watch my moles carefully. But like trying to feel a lump in your breast, it's pretty hard not to freak yourself out every time you see an odd-looking mole. Still, I look at those little brown blobs every day and remember that I was much luckier than some others and to respect that by protecting my skin.
As it turns out, that dark glow one gets from hours in the sun becomes embarrassingly meaningless when you're sitting under a florescent light being told you have cancer.
By Trish Bentley
The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.
Sign up for The Purple Fig newsletter coming out every Monday.
Visit The Purple Fig
To help spread awareness about this aggressive type of skin cancer and how to protect against it, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund (DCMF) released a poignant viral video targeting teenagers and young adults.
Sunscreen is crucial for healthy skin, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We like this version by Up & Up for its SPF 30 and sweat-proof, water-resistant formula, which means you can go longer in between applications. <a href="http://www.target.com/p/up-up-spf-30-10-4-oz/-/A-11982646" target="_hplink">SPF 30, $4.54, Target</a>
If you have sensitive skin, consider a sheer sunscreen just for your face. It protects with SPF 70 and won't irritate your skin or clog your pores. <a href="http://www.cvs.com/shop/product-detail/CVS-Ultimate-Sheer-Daily-Sunscreen-for-Face-SPF-70?skuId=822567" target="_hplink">Sheer Daily Sunscreen For Face SPF 70, $10.99, CVS</a>
Lotion not your thing? This spray sunscreen is easy to use and takes just seconds. Because the spray is sweat-proof and water-resistant, that means you can spend more time in the water and less time re-applying. <a href="http://www.target.com/p/up-up-sport-spray-spf-15-6-fl-oz/-/A-11982772" target="_hplink">SPF 30 spray, $5.24, Target</a>
Block out the sun's rays with a sporty baseball cap. (The choice of team is up to you -- that's one fight we don't want to get involved with!) <a href="http://www.walmart.com/ip/MLB-045-New-York-Yankees-Fan-Favorite-Adjustable-Hat/20452764" target="_hplink">New York Yankees Hat, $15.99, Walmart</a>
The retro look is back in a big way this summer! Stay stylish and safe with a floppy hat with a wide brim. <a href="http://www.forever21.com/Product/Product.aspx?BR=f21&Category=acc_hat&ProductID=2000037498&VariantID=" target="_hplink">Bow Accent Floppy Hat, $10.80, Forever 21</a>
Rock this menswear-inspired topper with a bright bikini and denim cut-offs. Instant beach chic! <a href="http://www.forever21.com/Product/Product.aspx?Br=F21&Category=ACC&ProductID=2015035416&VariantID=" target="_hplink">Classic Straw Fedora, $12.80, Forever 21</a>
Wayfarers are a classic summer staple. Get the Ray-Bans look without the hefty price tag! <a href="http://www.forever21.com/Product/Product.aspx?Br=F21&Category=ACC&ProductID=2015035416&VariantID=" target="_hplink">Risky Business Sunglasses, $12.00, Urban Outfitters</a>
Take a bold style risk with pink cat-eye glasses. We'd love to see these glasses with a white dress and your most confident smile! <a href="http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=24557845" target="_hplink">South of 5th Cat-Eye Glasses, $16.00, Urban Outfitters</a>
We like the cool, laid-back vibe of these Vans sunglasses with mirrored lens. <a href="http://shop.pacsun.com/Mens/sunglasses/Vans-Damone-Sunglasses/index.pro" target="_hplink"> Vans Damone Sunglasses, $15.00, Pac Sun</a>
These aviator sunglasses are perfect for hanging by the beach or just looking cool.
This six foot tall beach umbrella is perfect for keeping you and your crew in the shade. The cheery pattern is too cute to resist! <a href="http://www.target.com/p/beach-umb-re-6ft-tilt-umbrella/-/A-14126338#?lnk=sc_qi_detailbutton" target="_hplink">Beach umbrella, $20.00, Target</a>
These bright board shorts give you a fun dose of color and serious protection from the sun all in one; they repel the sun with SPF 40. <a href="http://www.rei.com/product/828130/patagonia-stretch-wavefarer-board-shorts-mens" target="_hplink">Patagonia Stretch Wavefarer Board Shorts, $69.00, REI</a>
This beach cover is made with specially designed fabric to protect you from the sun. Available in four colors, this dress will keep your arms, torso, and thighs completely safe from the sun -- but the pretty beads keep it fashion-forward. <a href="http://www.coolibar.com/01268.html" target="_hplink">Sun Protective Beaded Beach Cover Up Dress, $45.99, Coolibar</a>
This sarong blocks out UV rays and can be worn as either a skirt or a dress. Talk about double duty! The sun-proof fabric helps protect your skin and acts as a layer of SPF 70 sunscreen. <a href="http://www.coolibar.com/03220.html" target="_hplink"> Sun sarong, $49, Coolibar</a>
Protect your torso and arms from the sun's rays with this long-sleeve t-shirt, as good as an SPF 50 shield. This tee is available in four colors. <a href="http://www.sundayafternoons.com/men/sun-clothing/sun-shirts/men-s-radiant-tee-long-sleeve.html" target="_hplink">Men's Radiant Tee (Long Sleeve), $42.00, Sunday Afternoons</a>
With a hoodie this cute, who would know it's made from sun protective fabric that's as effective as wearing SPF 70? Choose from navy or gray. <a href="http://www.coolibar.com/01312c.html" target="_hplink">ZnO Harbor Hoodie, $69.00, Coolibar</a>
Follow The Purple Fig on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thepurplefigmag