Below is part 1 of 2 – A guest blog from a skin cancer survivor – who is only 31!
Never in my life would I have ever imagined developing skin cancer, nor did I ever imagine thinking I would have skin cancer before the age of 30. My name is Rachel Gammon, as of December 2011 I will have developed over 30 skin cancers. In March of 2012 I will turn 31, my battled started in 2008 at the age of 27. The cancers existed before then but I did not discover them until I already had 9 basal cells. This is my story and my battle. I will never give up, I will never stop fighting, and I will never stop spreading awareness.
I am a blonde haired, blue eyed, and fair skinned spunky female. I never tanned easily. Therefore, I was pale most all my life. I remember going to the beach every summer with my family and going to the pool with my mom during the summer months. I remember always burning. Never tanning. I was a very active child and loved to be outdoors. I wore sunscreen when I went to the beach and pool, just never tanned. When I was in middle school, I became very self-conscience of the color of my skin. I remember getting teased and it became bothersome. I would have probably teased me too, I was oddly pale in my opinion. On top of that I was a cheerleader and in the popular crowd and did not want to get teased. So I thought getting some color on my skin would help me become more attractive and would take away from the attention I would get for being so white.
In the 8th grade my mom signed a consent form for me to tan. I begged her to let me do this, all my friends were starting to tan and I wanted to as well. I was so excited. I thought I was not going to be pale anymore! I remember my first visit was less than 5 minutes in the tanning bed. It took me forever to develop any color it seemed. Once I started getting some color there the addiction began. I wanted to go every other day. I started to burn and stayed red all time. I went from being teased for being pale to being teased for being burned. I couldn’t win. I was extremely frustrated and kept aloe vera all over me thinking it would turn the burn to brown. Right before I turned 15 I got my first job….. at the tanning salon as a bed cleaner. FREE TANNING. Life for me could not have gotten any better.
I had no idea what cycle I was about to start in my life – a cycle of hurting my body and the destruction of my beautiful skin. From the age of 14 to my early 20’s I was an active tanner. I remember all my best friends in high school were tanning…. It was the thing to do. In the 1990’s you were cool if you were tan or at least that is what I thought. My girlfriends’ and I would see who could get darker the quickest. We would use different types of lotions to see what worked best. We tried lotions with bronzer, lotions with self-tanners, lotions with hot action to stimulate the blood cells, lotions with all of the above. It was absolutely insane. What is more insane than that is we would go tan in the summer at the salon and then go lay out at the pool. What a terrible idea but at the time it was genius.
From 19 to early 20’s I tanned year round, tanning almost every other day. Some days I would tan every day. Working at the tanning bed in high school became my job. I would go to work after cheerleading practice and tan before almost all of my games so I looked like I had color. I even worked at a tanning bed for a few months in college until I started coaching and got into sales. Even after I stopped working at the tanning bed I still tanned. I had a plan where money was drafted out of my bank account so I could tan year round. It was all about being tan and having a great image. I seriously thought that having some color was healthy. While I was a freshman in college I took a test to be certified in sun safety and tanning. It is all quite ironic now actually.
Here are just a few facts…..
*71% of tanning bed users are between the ages of 16-29. (www.skin cancer.org)
*Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have NEVER tanned indoors. (www.skin cancer.org)
*Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old. (www.skin cancer.org)
Looking back now I wish I could start all over and never have tanned. I wish I was stronger to where being made fun of never bothered me. I know I cannot change anything in the past but I can change and influence others now and in the future. I can share my story and spread awareness. Now let me begin to tell you where all of this tanning and burning led me…..
I did not start noticing damage until my early twenties. I noticed wrinkles under my eyes, more freckle would show up after being in the sun or tanning bed. My skin was not as smooth and flawless from all the over exposure. I developed sun spots and some skin irritations that would eventually go away.
My first big battle started in Marietta, Georgia at the age of 27. I went to Dr. Raman, at The Marietta Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Center of Marietta, GA for a check-up. ( http://www.mariettadermatologyassociates.com/) My main concern was acne and some red itchy spots that were very bothersome. I was examined head to toe. I knew I needed to be checked all over because of my passion for tanning bed in earlier years. After the examination I was told there were about 9 spots that need to be biopsied. They were all over me: left clavicle(collar bone), right hip, under my right breast, lower stomach, three on my legs, and two on my back. I was absolutely horrified. Waiting for the biopsies to come back was extremely nerve racking. I knew then I had over done the tanning bed and the sun itself.
I was not sure what to expect. A little over a week later I got the results: basal cell carcinoma’s. I was told BCC’s were the most common skin cancer and were treatable. Basal-cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It rarely metastasizes or kills. However, because it can cause significant destruction and disfigurement by invading surrounding tissues, it is still considered malignant. Statistically, approximately 3 out of 10 Caucasians may develop a basal-cell cancer within their lifetime
My treatment for all of these but one was: Curettage/Electrosurgery.
Curettage is the surgical removal of growths or tissue from the wall of a body cavity or other surface, using a spoon-like instrument with a sharp edge called a curette. Electrosurgery is a procedure that cuts, destroys, or cauterizes tissue using a high-frequency electric current applied locally with a pencil-shaped metal instrument or needle. When the two procedures are combined, the surgery is referred to as curettage and electrosurgery.
My other spot that was on my hip that was an abnormal mole/bcc
was excised with 7 stitches. I accrued a nice doctor bill because my insurance was exhausted. The total was over $2,000.00. The office worked with me and gave me a discount. I was so thankful.
In the fall of 2010, I had a worse bout with skin cancer than the first. I was living back in my hometown of Jackson, TN. I went to see Dr. Lucas at The Jackson Clinic Dermatology. There were 12 biopsies done that one day. I’ll never forget it. There were so many, one spot was forgotten to get the local anesthesia. I remember laying on the table and asking myself why? Why did this happen to me? What have I done to myself? Why did I let the tanning bed consume me? I still ask myself those questions even after over 3 years of this battle. Now I am telling myself that I can help change the world and use my struggle to change the lives of others.
Coming soon, Part 2 of My Skin Cancer Battle – Guest Blog!