Save Your Skin

Melanoma nearly killed me and my unborn child. These are the lessons I've learned from that frightening experience.

Save Your Skin
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I was 33-years-old and seven and a half months pregnant when I found out I had melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. I’d been visiting relatives when I absent-mindedly scratched a mole on my arm. My sister-in-law noticed. “That looks terrible,” she told me. “You should have it checked out right away.” I did—and the verdict was melanoma. Things moved fast after that. I had to deliver my baby a month early so I could have the cancer removed in order to save my own life.

Since then, I’ve had another serious melanoma on my face, and three more pre-melanomas on my face, back, and arm, all of which required surgery. Doctors think my skin is more vulnerable to cancer because of the light treatments I had as a child for psoriasis. My story is scary but it could have been worse. Follow these rules to make sure you stay safe.

Check for Moles
Scan your body for suspicious moles and other skin irregularities (like persistently dry patches) every two to three months after showering. If you have no risk factors, have your family doctor check your skin as a part of a complete physical exam (the American Cancer Society does not currently advise screenings by a dermatologist for those at low risk).
Why: “Early detection is the key to surviving,” says Susan Boiko, M.D., of the American Cancer Society.
Get started: If you have risk factors, establish a timetable with your doctor for regular screenings, which involve a two- to three-minute visual inspection as well as questions about your sun habits and family history of melanoma.

Start Young
Limit your children’s time in direct sunlight to the morning and late afternoon (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.), apply sunscreen, and dress them in protective clothing, including a hat, in spring, summer, and fall.
Why: Sun exposure in childhood raises the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, as an adult.
Get started: For infants under six months, skip the sunscreen, which hasn’t been tested on babies; opt instead for complete shade.

Wear Sun-Proof Clothing
If you’re at high risk, wear clothing specifically designed to protect your skin from the sun. For everyday wear, choose tightly woven fabrics, tops in dark colors (they’re better at blocking the light), and hats with three-inch brims.
Why: Light-colored (unless designed specifically to block the sun) and loosely woven fabrics offer little sun protection.