When I started this blog, my main goal was to share my thoughts and knowledge about skincare, but its content would be incomplete if I didn’t share the most tragic piece of my family’s history: melanoma. This post will be extremely personal as I will be talking about my father’s loss, but since we all gather here to learn something new about our skin, I believe it is extremely important to spread awareness of this most serious type of skin cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, annually almost 200,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma. The latest predictions show that in 2022 approx. 60,000 women and 40,000 men will be diagnosed with melanoma and almost 8,000 of them are expected to die of it.
Unfortunately, my father was amongst those 8,000. Since I can remember he always had a lot of fair moles, but in the early 90s and 00s, no one thought about doing skin scans or going to the dermatologist. His disease caught him unexpectedly when he was 62 and it all started with losing weight. One month he lost 10lbs, then he lost another 20 pounds the next month. He went to various doctors, and they did diagnose him with melanoma, but at that time it was too late to determine where the disease originated from. At that stage, doctors were talking about metastatic melanoma, where cancer spread to distant organs and body parts. I remember when my mom called me and asked me to book a flight because these were probably my father’s last days. She didn’t say it directly: instead, she told me to pack something black to wear. The day I arrived in Poland was the last day I saw my dad alive. I have never seen anyone in so much pain and suffering. I spent 4 hours at my father’s hospice bed: the most painful and precious hours of my life. After he fell asleep, I went home to get some rest after a long trip hoping that I will visit him the next morning. The same night at 4:45 am we received a phone call from hospice saying that my father passed away at 3:45 am. When we got to the hospice first thing in the morning, one nurse told me that before he died he told her he was waiting for me to come and then he was ready to die…
It all happened in 2016 and it’s been 5 years since we have been trying to function as a family without my dad. And it's been extremely hard. I have days when I feel angry and jealous that my dad didn’t get a chance to see my daughter or that the doctors didn’t do enough to save him. I have moments when I want to blame my dad for not taking care of his health and seeing the dermatologist. I miss him every single day and whenever I have a worse day, I try to think of ways of how to spread melanoma awareness.
No, no, don’t get me wrong. I am not doing great campaigns or events… I go small.
GET IT CHECKED
I always make sure to examine my beauty marks after taking a shower. I do it in a well-lit room and I either stand in front of the big mirror or I have a hand-held mirror to look at the areas that are hard to see. I follow the ABCDEs rule to make sure if there are any new moles, any irregular shapes, different/darker colors of the mark. The ABCDE acronym stands for:
A: Asymmetrical: I always make sure to check if the mole isn’t asymmetrical.
B: Borders: I watch for any signs showing the unclear edges.
C: Colors: I am trying to see if any mark has multiple colors present.
D: Diameter: anything bigger than 6mm across needs to be examined by the doctor.
E: Evolution: I am spotting any changes in size, shape, and color.
Why you should self-examine your skin? If you do it carefully, regularly, and thoroughly, you’ll become familiar with the moles, blemishes, and freckles on your skin. That way, you can notice any changes in the future.
I also go for regular skin cancer screenings, which is usually recommended for anyone who has a history of melanoma, has many moles, has used tanning beds, has a history of significant sun exposure, or is an organ transplant recipient.
If during the skin self-exam, you notice something suspicious, you should immediately make an appointment with your primary physician who will refer you to see the dermatologist. They will ask a series of questions about any moles you have, but he or she will also conduct a physical exam for basal and squamous cell skin cancers… Say what? These are the types of skin cancers that develop in areas exposed to the sun. They usually take the form of a flat patch or growth, often bleeding once irritated. The good news is that these types of skin cancer are usually easy to detect and treat. So, whenever you are concerned about any growths, bumps, or patches, go get it checked.
1,2,3 SPF GO!
I also use sunscreen every single day as UV radiation is a proven human carcinogen. The sunscreen part is something I really must remind myself every morning to do because it is easy to forget about it, especially when you are in a rush. That’s why I get my Sun Stick ready next to the mirror: before I leave and check myself if I put on my jacket (yup: when you have a toddler, it’s easy to forget to put on your shoes), I make sure to apply sunscreen on my face. As annoying for my daughter it may be (“Mooom! Let’s go!!!”), it’s worth it. I haven’t had a sunburn in a good couple of years and my skin seems to age a little bit better (slower?).
TANNING? NO, THANK YEW.
I avoid tanning at all costs. I am pale as a paper. That’s it. If I want a little tan, I will choose the spray tan rather than laying in the sun. I also avoid exposing my skin in the summer between 10 am and 2 pm, which are the hours of the biggest sun exposure and the highest possibility of getting a sunburn.
ASK YOUR HAIRSTYLIST!
Last, but not least: I ask my hairstylist to check my scalp. If you are a regular at a salon, your hairstylist knows your scalp. They are an ideal person to ask whether they notice something unusual on your head and there is no shame in asking them to do so. I remember the first time when I asked Janette, my hairstylist, to check my scalp, she was surprised. But she did it and now it’s part of our routine. She always asks me before we start if I want to have my scalp checked and voila! 3 minutes later we proceed to do whatever she wants with my hair.
I know that this post isn’t directly about skincare, but it is definitely something that I care about and am very passionate about. In the future, I plan on writing more about melanoma awareness and hopefully, I can combine that with my love for skincare. For now though, I will leave you with this image I made in memory of my father to help spread melanoma awareness.