05/17/2016 04:19 EDT | Updated 05/18/2017 05:12 EDT

It's Time We All Take Skin Cancer More Seriously

Jonathan Storey via Getty Images
Young woman pulling down bikini bottom to reveal tan line, close-up

Two years ago, my daughter saved my life. In the doctor's office for her sore throat, she urged me to have our physician look at my mole. The mole I had had on my hip all my life, the mole that had changed colour and shape over the course of six months, the mole I had been putting off having looked at due to my hectic mother-with-career life.

The mole that I would quickly learn had mutated into stage 3b melanoma and metastasized to my lymph nodes. A late-stage detection that would've been even later if it wasn't for my daughter.

I was in shock and in denial. I wanted to be there for my twin daughters, especially because their father and I are divorced. I wanted to hold their hands in difficult times and celebrate their many future accomplishments. Their 12th birthday was a month after my diagnosis and it broke my heart that I couldn't be there to celebrate after my second surgery... with my biggest fear being that I wouldn't be there for the girls' next birthday.

Through multiple immunotherapy treatments, my daughters took care of me while I was on bed rest for two months to recover from invasive surgery, they kept me company. They sat with me to do their homework, they made drawings for me and read stories out loud and they filled my water glass constantly.

They inspired me to get up and walk again, to try to stay positive, to wake up each morning with a renewed attempt at survival. They reminded me that "every day is a new day, Mom," and they encouraged me to love myself even through the darkest moments.

An even tighter bond

We have always had a very close relationship, but through my journey with melanoma we have become even closer. My every waking moment is devoted to making myself a better mother, a better person, a melanoma survivor. It wasn't just me in the hot seat, my whole family has been affected by this battle.

Every step of the way my daughters have been by my side and now we are on a joint mission to stop other families from going through what we went through. Sadly, more than 6,800 Canadians are diagnosed with melanoma each year.

We are honoured to be part of the #NotJustSkinCancer campaign. Alongside other survivors across Canada, we're working to help shed light on melanoma and the complacency that exists around skin cancer and sun safety.

Since I have experienced the painful effects of cancer and gone through multiple difficult treatments, I am dismayed to learn that people are complacent about sun safety and melanoma.

We want to better educate Canadians on the seriousness of skin cancer, especially as there is a shocking online conversation with jokes about tanning using hashtags like #SkinCancerDontCare and #SkinCancerComeAtMe.

The pain and fear that my family has lived through should be avoided at all costs. I am compelled to share my story to try to stop others from going through what I have. What my kids have gone through.

I was especially affected by one of the examples of comments: "I NEED a tan... sorry Mom #SkinCancerDontCare." I reacted both as a mother and as a daughter.

As a mother I would be heartbroken if my daughters were to put themselves at risk of a disease such as melanoma with such carelessness.

As a daughter, I think of my own mother's experience with me, driving me to my appointments, nursing me post-surgery, dealing with my emotional outbursts. I think of the pain and guilt in her eyes and I know I must mirror them. She never wanted this for me, as I would give my life for it to not happen to my children.

Life doesn't (and shouldn't) wait

Now my daughters are teenagers and soon heading to high school. They have so many bright aspects to their future -- a solid knowledge of sun safety for one. They are also observant and considerate, they look after themselves and their loved ones with a fierceness that I can only assume comes from the life-changing experience they have witnessed firsthand.

They have lived their latter childhood years balancing normalcy with a deep personal fear, so they know the value of a well-timed hug or a quiet offering of an extra chore to be done. They live for the day, appreciating each moment of their days with a healthy balance of self-care and of consideration for others. They are not afraid to tell their friends they want to stay home to watch a movie with Mom, and they are not afraid to tell me to enjoy some quiet time, they are going out!

While I wouldn't wish this experience on any family, especially those with young children, I'm grateful for coming out on the other side with a new appreciation of life and parenting. A metastatic melanoma diagnosis shook up our whole world but our already tight bond became closer in ways we never imagined.

About the Author:

Natalie Richardson is a mother to identical twins, writer and melanoma survivor. When diagnosed in 2014, her initial reaction was that it's "just skin cancer." Today, after going through multiple surgeries, a clinical trial and experiencing the devastating impact the condition can have, she regrets this misperception. She now advocates to raise awareness about this deadly disease and has been sharing her journey on her blog, The Impatient Patient.

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