"The mole was cancerous." The doctor had told me.
"Am I going to be okay?" I ask in stunned disbelief.
"I don't know."
I had just turned 18 and the ugly mole on my thigh I had removed 10 days prior was malignant. I thought young people didn't get skin cancer. I was supposed to be looking forward to graduating from high school and going to college in the fall. I had so much to look forward to! I had my whole life in front of me and I felt like I hadn't really lived.
I grew up on a dairy farm in NE Iowa. The responsibilities of a family farm meant we didn't travel, unless it was a Sunday afternoon day trip. My summer vacations entailed picking rock and stacking bales in the barn. I admit I was young and dumb when it came to skin protection. I rarely used sunscreen. I would go out in the field in a tank top and shorts. I had numerous sunburns. I remember having trouble sleeping some nights due to painful sunburns. There was never a need for a tanning bed because I was always tanned.
I was a sophomore in high school when an ugly, irregular, dark mole appeared on my inner thigh. It was bigger than a pencil eraser and appeared to be almost black with a little blue in it. I remember it almost had a numb sensation when it was touched.
It was right before my 18th birthday when I noticed the center of the mole had turned white. That wasn't the only change. I was tired all the time! I had also been experiencing a tightness in my throat. It prompted us to visit the doctor. He didn't find anything with my throat, so I was diagnosed with having panic attacks. The doctor looked at the mole and said he didn't think it was cancerous, but he would remove it just to be sure.
It was a snowy day in February, a few days before Valentine's Day, when I got the news that I had melanoma. It was a Friday morning and we had an appointment at Mayo Clinic on Monday. I had a whole weekend of uncertainity. The Mayo doctor told me I had a stage II melanoma. He assured me it was a shallow melanoma, but that the surrounding skin would have to be removed to get the roots of the mole. I had surgery the next day, the lab report came back negative for melanoma. Forty-some stitches later, I was left with a seven inch scar on my leg.
Since then, I cover up and use sunscreen. I've had numerous moles removed through the years. One mole on my back I had removed a few years ago was precancerous. I now see a dermatologist annually. I'm 39 years old. I've been married for 16 years and we have three girls. I'm proud to say my daughters have never had a sunburn.