The Moment I Learned To Embrace My Scars
We've heard it time and time again—apply sunscreen, stay out of the harsh rays, and for goodness sake, do not use tanning beds. For some reason, I completely ignored anything I read or heard in regards to protecting my skin. I justified tanning with the facts that I never burn and am naturally tan. I also just felt more attractive when I was tan.
Now whenever I wear a backless dress, or lie under an umbrella on vacation, I am inevitably asked “What happened to your back? What are those scars from?” I want to make it clear why I embrace my scars. I embrace them because they taught me a lesson while I still had the chance to save my life and hopefully, save the life of anyone who sees them.
My Life-Changing Trip to the Dermatologist:
When I was in high school I thought I was invincible. I was regularly questioned by my dermatologist as to whether or not I was applying sunscreen as she looked over my inevitably tanned skin. I would, of course, lie and say yes knowing that in reality I only applied a coat of SPF 15 oil once throughout my day by the pool. Then, just before I left for my freshman year of college I went to my yearly dermatologist appointment. I was waiting for the usual lecture on staying out of the sun and applying sunscreen, when my dermatologist grew silent as she examined my skin. She told me that I had an “irregular” looking mole on my back and she wanted to check it out just to be safe. Thank goodness she did.
She numbed the area and took a scraping of the mole for the lab. A few days later I received a call and instantly started to cry. The mole was cancerous. My doctor told me that she wanted to biopsy the area beneath the mole and around it to see if the cancerous cells had spread. In that moment I felt instant regret. Was laying out and applying oil just for a dark tan really worth the possibility of having skin cancer? I had trouble sleeping for a couple of nights feeling antsy, feeling regret for not listening to my doctor or my parents and brushing off the countless articles I had read about skin cancer, while literally soaking in the sun.
I had my appointment a few days later. My dermatologist made me feel incredibly comfortable and told me that I should not worry until there is something to worry about. I changed into a gown and laid on a table, my stomach doing flip flops. The nurse injected a local anesthetic into the area on my back. The doctor then cut out the base of the mole and the surrounding tissue to send to the lab. I had stitches put in, was given care instructions, and sent home.
I waited anxiously for a couple of days until I finally received the call that the cancerous cells had not spread. Again I cried—this time because I was happy, but also because I felt stupid. How could I do this to myself? This is something I can prevent but I chose not to. This happened to me a second time in the same area on my back and now I am left with two sizable scars.
The Scoop on Skin Cancer:
You're probably thinking that this could have been worse and the truth is, it very well could have been. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women age 15-29. Melanoma in caucasian women under the age of 44 increases 6.5 percent each year and more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with this cancer in 2016. This is a wake-up call for me. I can’t control everything. But I can control my exposure to the sun and understand the importance of preventative skin care. So I embrace my scars because they saved me from something that could have been.
If you see something that looks odd, get it checked out immediately
I now go to see my dermatologist every six months and do a monthly check of my body to see if any new moles have come about or if anything looks abnormal. Better safe than sorry. Ask your dermatologist to do a skin scan as a baseline and download a mole mapping app so that you will be aware of and track any changes.
“But there’s SPF in my makeup” I would say to my dermatologist. She explained to me that although there may be SPF in some of my makeup that does not mean I am getting the appropriate coverage from the sun as there is no way of knowing the amount of SPF I am applying exactly. According to http://www.skincancer.org you should always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen which will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. The site also suggests that you apply about one ounce (a shot glass) full of sunscreen. It is also vital to reapply every two hours. Adding sunscreen into your morning routine takes a couple of minutes and trust me the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Sunscreen is important year round. Not just in the summer.
My Favorites Right Now
Yes now I am going to tell you all the horrible, not so great things about sun exposure with the help of WebMD . Don’t you dare skip this section!
Exposure to the sun causes:
+Pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions
+Fine and coarse wrinkles
+Discoloration of the skin
+Telangiectasias -- the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin
+Elastosis -- the destruction of the elastic and collagen tissue (causing lines, wrinkles and sagging skin)
If You Must Be Tan, Self Tanner Is Bae
Like most women, I still want that “healthy” summer glow and you can achieve it without sun exposure. I am a great advocate of spray tans (they have come a long way from the carrot look, I promise) and self-tanner. There is a plethora of self-tanner on the market right now and trust me you will find a holy grail product and never turn back.
Two of my all-time favorite self-tanners are:
Finally, Learn To Embrace Your Look
I always felt that I should meet a standard of beauty set when I was in high school. Among the many things I learned was attractive, was having a summer glow all year long. I've since learned to love who I am in my natural state. I love my olive skin that gets pasty white in the winter, I love my messy, wavy hair and my crooked smile and I love being able to share the story of my scars. My scars allow me to educate others on the importance of treating your body like a temple.