Happy May and almost summer! Lately, it seems like there is a different theme or celebration every day and month but each May I do proudly jump on the bandwagon for melanoma awareness month.
I like to do my part for this each year, and as often as I can, because I know how terrifying it is to face this diagnosis. My heart truly breaks every time someone reaches out after a recent diagnosis.
While this post is to increase awareness, it’s mostly to give some form of hope, a positive outlet, and love to those of you facing their diagnosis for the first time.
If you’re going through this now, I hope this makes you feel a little less alone in your fear. If you know anyone who is going through this please share this post with them so they too can feel less alone.
You are not alone
What breaks my heart about melanoma is that the majority of people diagnosed nowadays are only in their 20s. Melanoma is actually the 2nd most common form of cancer for young people ages 15-29. I know it doesn’t make it any easier, but if you are facing this, know you are not alone.
If I was in front of you right now I would give you the biggest warmest and most loving of hugs. If you cried, I wouldn’t try to tell you it will be ok right away... I would let you cry and just be there with you so you could feel less alone in the fear. Then when you were ready, when you looked up at me and asked me to tell you it will be ok I would tell you this….
I’m so sorry you are going through this. I know how unfair and scary it is, you’re so young and you don’t deserve this. But YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS and it could end up bringing so many unexpected beautiful things into your life.
When you feel like crying, just cry! There is so much that comes with this diagnosis, the fear, the confusion, the life changes, the emotions, grief even. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel and know there are many other women out there who have gone this ahead of you who are thriving and loving their life.
Yes, you will have to be much more careful in the sun now, but guess what…. That just means you’re tapping into eternal youth at a young age! ;)
Here are some of my favorite sun safety products - I’ve spent YEARSSS trying them all and at the very least I would love to help you get a head start on making sunscreen a little more bearable and glamorous ;)
When you feel like crying, just cry. Crying does not make you weak. On the contrary, it helps you work through and release the emotions. I learned this the hard way. After my first diagnosis, I refused to fully face it. I tried to “stay strong” and pushed down all my emotions and fear. Yes, this helped me get through it initially, but anything you bottle up only resurfaces later… And usually with a vengeance!
Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel. That will help you process and truly grow stronger.
Be cautious about what you research online, and have someone you can express your fears to when they creep up.
It will be hard to understand for a while, and your life will change, but it could change for the better, I know mine did….
How my diagnosis changed my life for the better
It’s still hard to believe, but by the age of 30, I was diagnosed with melanoma twice, thyroid cancer, and faced over a dozen other precancerous scares.
Each time there was a period of total fear, confusion, and almost paralysis. But each time I was also blessed with a whole new perspective on life. I learned so much more about who I was and what I wanted my life to stand for…
My first melanoma opened my eyes to how little self-confidence I had and how superficial my life was.
I was totally guilty of spending countless hours in the sun, tanning booths and wearing the oil. Truthfully, I didn’t really know any better when I was younger. I had a handful of spots removed in high school, but it didn’t really sink in until I was diagnosed with my first melanoma at 24. Looking back, all I remember was that I felt so much better about myself when I was tan. So many people even encouraged it to combat SAD. How little we knew then and it wasn't even that long ago!
I was very fortunate that we caught the melanoma early enough so surgery was all that was necessary. Still, so much changed with this diagnosis.
Initially, I went through an identity crisis. Yup, full on identity crisis! I had been blonde and tan my whole life and it might sound silly but that played a major role in my confidence. All of a sudden that had to change, so…. I died my hair jet black, got extensions, and tried to embrace being pale. As you can image, it didn’t solve my problem or make things better.
But with this identity crisis, I became aware of the superficiality of my life. All of a sudden I could see how much of my self-confidence came from “being tan & looking good”. I consider this my first wakeup call in life. If it weren’t for this diagnosis, I may have never started to take better care of myself from the inside out. I learned to make self-care a priority, and more than anything it started the journey of true self-love for me. It made me want to be a better person and with that, I learned that beauty and confidence are about so much more than what’s on the outside.
My second melanoma woke me up to just how precious life is.
After my first melanoma, my health and sun safety became a top priority. You can imagine my frustration, my fear when I was diagnosed with a second melanoma only 3 years later. I remember thinking “but how!? I have been doing everything right. This is so unfair!”
Initially, it was numbing. But then, once I processed the news, I realized pouting about it wasn’t going to change it.
After my 2nd diagnosis, I made a promise to myself… I’ve been given another chance here. This life, it’s not something I am going to waste. With that, I started to live with the end in mind. You could say I started to live a bucket list life.
I couldn’t be in the sun anymore, but I could be more adventurous. It sparked my passion for new activities way out of my comfort zone. I started to hike, challenge myself in fitness, and traveled to places other than the beach. These experiences are now some of my best memories.
It also helped me shift my priorities… I stopped putting work first and spent more time with my friends and family.
In short, I refused to just go through the motions and put off all the things I really wanted to do. Instead, I started to be so much more proactive with my life.
I started a business that would allow me to feel more fulfilled, made traveling a non-negotiable, became more charitable, committed to ongoing growth and I could go on. You could say I completely leveled up my life after my 2nd melanoma and looking back the diagnosis was a catalyst that changed the trajectory of my whole life in such a positive way.
Over the next few years, I would face a couple more pre-cancerous scares and then be diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 30. We still to this day are not sure if that was related to the melanoma. But I am forever grateful to my dermatologist for his care and help through this time.
I won’t lie, getting through these times was tough, but I got through them and I’m so grateful for all the ways they’ve changed me. AND YOU WILL TOO.
What helped me get through it?
1. Maintaining a positive attitude is crucial. You might read that and think how the hell do you expect me to do that. Know it’s possible and that it will make the world of a difference in your recovery and life moving forward.
It really helped me to think of all the people who are fighting battles much worse than I was. I’m not saying to diminish what you are going through, but this helps you shift your perspective to stay positive and find your fight….You have been diagnosed, but you’re still here and with a whole new appreciation for life! You’re now being proactive with your treatments, and your doctors are going to be watching you so much more closely. Train yourself to focus on the good and to be grateful for the life you have.
2. Commit to a fitness program. This might sound like the last thing you want to do right now but fitness is a powerful outlet. It is about so much more than how you look. It’s a mental outlet. It helps you shut off your mind, which at this point in your life is wandering and could drive you crazy if you let it get ahead of you! It also helps you strengthen yourself from the inside out. Believe it or not, fitness trains you just as much mentally as it does physically.
3. Start a journal. This has saved my life more times than I can count. You are going to have so many things running through your mind. You need a way to release them and work through them. A journal is an unbiased place where you can say whatever you want to say. You don’t have to filter or worry that it won’t understand you. You can just release and heal.
4. Connect with someone who is thriving in life regardless of their diagnosis. I am here, you can send me a message anytime! There are also so many warriors out there sharing their journey on social media. Rather than googling everything and anything about melanoma - find hope in the stories of people loving life despite their fight. Talking with other women who are older than me and healthy despite melanoma helped significantly.
5. Get excited about the chance to try to new things! If you’re a beach person this diagnosis will hit you hard. The beach used to be my happy place, I won’t lie, it was really hard initially. People will say you can still go to the beach... which is true… but they don’t understand how paranoid you will be while you are there. I’ll still go to the beach occasionally but it really helped me to find new hobbies. Eventually, I loved these hobbies so much I lost interest in the beach. Today, the mountains are my happy place :)
6. Partner with a great dermatologist you trust and feel comfortable with. I adore my dermatologist and see him every 3 months. Definitely partner with a doctor who will keep a close eye on your and help you feel more at peace.
7. Find a spiritual outlet. At the time of my diagnosis, I was so far from religious. I went to a Catholic school my whole life but I was by no means turning to God at the time. Truthfully I think this sparked part of my anger towards God (which I have resolved now!). But the beautiful thing about a spiritual outlet or practice is that it works regardless of your religion. It’s a place you can go to, or thing you can do, that makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself. IT GIVES YOU HOPE. For me, it was journaling and time in nature. A few years later I started to pray again. What I’m encouraging is to do or follow whatever gives you HOPE. Hope is powerful and will propel you through the toughest of times.
Will I be afraid of the sun forever?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer that definitively for you, we are all different and time will tell. 🙏💗Yes, you probably will right now. In full transparency, I feared it for a few years. But that is not the case anymore! You learn to adapt. Sunscreen and sun safety are definitely habits for me now. I don’t spend too much time in direct sunlight, but I still fully enjoy the outdoors!
I always have sunscreen packed and reapply every few hours reminding myself it’s good for eternal youth ;)
And if I know I’ll be outside for an extended period of time I’ll have some SPF clothes and hats with me as well.
An inspiring note for hope 💗
I hope this all helps you in some way! In closing, I think the most powerful thing I can tell you is that sometimes bad things happen.
There might be times when life tries to knock you down and you cannot control that. But you can control how you choose to react to it. You can choose to crumble, or you can choose to feel the emotions, feel the fear and the pain… but then let it wake you up in life and use it as a catalyst for living your life more intentionally 💗
We all only get one life and it’s ours for the taking. You now have an entirely different perspective on it which is SUCH A BLESSING. Let that fuel you forward 💗
I’m sending you all the love and prayers during this difficult time. Please please know that there is some positive that can come out of this. It might be hard to see initially when you are trying to navigate through the fear, but you are powerful, you have a purpose here, you will get through this!
Have hope, fight like hell, and focus on doing whatever you can to move forward, even if it’s just one tiny step at a time.
All the love,