My risk for skin cancer is high: I was an indoor tanner for YEARS. While my skin does (eventually) tan, I am light skinned with blue eyes. Probably a II on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type classification. I had SEVERAL terrible sunburns PER YEAR — as both a child and an adult. I was a sun worshipper by beach or by pool. I have visible sun damage by way of freckles and age spots. And now I’ve had my first basal cell carcinoma. While I’d like to hope it will be my only experience with skin cancer, I’m realistic in that is probably unlikely.

Now that I’ve had one, my risk is 50% greater for developing another in my lifetime. And the statistics were already not in my favor to begin with. Plus, all things considered, I’m still young.

At my annual skin cancer screening in April, I let my dermatologist know that I had a rough patch of skin near my right eye — it broke open once over last summer, bled, but never scabbed. A few times it broke open again when I used my Clairsonic in that area. I just thought it was a sensitive spot. Like, my sunglasses gave me a callous. There was no mole, no freckle and no discolored skin. But I’m glad I brought it to her attention anyway.

She said the skin had a “sheen” to it and biopsied from that area.

A week later, I learned that the pathology report read basal cell carcinoma, a common and, thankfully, treatable form of skin cancer. But still, I HAVE SKIN CANCER. Because of my curious and over-driven (possibly over-anxious) brain, I had to learn everything about it: how it occurs, the differences between the types of skin cancer, treatment options… so many disfiguring pictures.

My dermatologist recommended MOHs surgery, since the BCC was on my face. ON MY FACE. During the procedure, a MOHs surgeon removes the cancerous tissue, testing the margins of each piece to ensure all of the cancer is out. You don’t leave until you test cancer free. Some people need several rounds of this — thankfully, I needed only one, which means the cancer was small and caught early.

Even still, I needed approximately 15 stitches to patch me back up — some of those are INSIDE my skin, and will be in there for up to three months. I get my bandages off tomorrow afternoon, and I think they’re taking out the exterior stitches.

Progression of healing:
mohs surgery face 30s

I definitely have some healing left to do. Emotionally and cosmetically. Scarring is inevitable when removing skin cancer. And I will always have the reminder looking back at me every. single. day. I probably still have yet to reach full acceptance and accountability.

It’s really hard to accept that, at a certain level, I could have protected myself from this. I’m the only one to blame, thinking for so many years that Tan is Beautiful. While I’ve given up my tanning days several years ago, I can’t erase time and terrible mistakes. It’s heartbreaking… and an emotional roller coaster that won’t end for some time.

The noticeable bruising and swelling is very difficult to cover, especially when you can’t just hide inside your house for the next three months. So, that’s why I decided to share my story and my pictures, even though this was really hard for me. To every 30-something: GET YOUR ANNUAL SKIN CANCER SCREENING. Yes, I’m yelling. And for those young people who think you’re invincible, please stop tanning — indoor and out. Use 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen. Always.

You may think that Tan is Beautiful too. But cancer is not.

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  • Erika Fields

    I am kind of freaking out. Just turned 36 and having mohs done next week…right next to my eye, between nose and lower eyelid.

    • Mel

      I’m so sorry, Erika. 🙁

      I hope that you and your doctor were able to catch it in early stage. My thoughts are with you. Stay strong. <3

      • Erika Fields

        Thanks! It is early. Did you have a lot of pain the first few days after surgery?

        • Mel

          I didn’t think it was too bad – but I know that pain is relative. Tylenol was enough (I didn’t need any prescription-strength pain meds). I did have a little weird nerve damage that made my nose feel numb for a while – but it eventually healed as well.

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