With my fair skin and red hair I always knew I had to be careful when it came to sun exposure. I was especially aware of my risk after a trip to my dermatologist when I was proclaimed the “moley-est” of my family. When I went to the beach as a kid I was forced to wear baggy t-shirts to protect my sensitive back and shoulders as well as wear a wide brim hat to shield me from UV rays; not to mention a healthy slathering of the kind of sunscreen that refused to rub in, leaving me even more white and pasty.
As a senior in high school I thought I had it all. I was captain of two varsity sports, class president, and involved in a slew of extracurricular activities. I had a wonderful group of friends, a supportive family, and a recent acceptance into the college of my choice. However, in the spring of 2011 when I visited my dermatologist for a routine mole check I was told I needed to surgically remove an “interesting” looking mole from my right shoulder immediately. Even though I was well aware that my mom had recently had a malignant mole on her forearm, I never thought some “interesting” mole could amount to anything. Shortly thereafter I had the mole removed. I was playing softball the very next day.
When the test results came back I learned that the mole was pre-cancerous. Where did I go wrong? Sure my fair skin and maybe genetics put me at an increased risk, but I thought I took all of the precautions. Oh wait, could it have been those long weekends in the sun playing softball? Could it have been that time I didn’t reapply sunscreen after hours at the beach? Surely those sunburns I could count on one hand couldn’t have brought me to the brink of cancer. What if I had not gone to the dermatologist or waited just a few more months for my check up?
I am 18 years young and I will have a wormy looking scar on my right shoulder for the rest of my life. At first I was scared of what that scar represented. It was a reminder that I could have had cancer. Now, however, the scar is a part of me and it serves instead as a reminder of the precautions I must take.
Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you are only 17, if your family has already had enough of it or even if you’ve tried to avoid it. Cancer can affect anyone. By no means will I stay indoors during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm or panic at the appearance of a new freckle, but I will continue to wear protective clothing and seek shade when I can. I can do without that “healthy” glow. I’ll stick with my pasty white sunscreen.
About the author: Rebecca Bronstein completed a volunteer internship this summer in the Air Protection Division at EPA Region 3 where her work focused on climate change, promoting renewable energy and educating students. Becky is a rising sophomore at the University of Delaware, where she is majoring in Environmental Science as a member of the Honors Program and the Dean’s List.