Gretchen Hoechner

"Pale is the new tan" has become my new motto.

 

"Oh honey, not again!" My moms look of anguish across her face as she carefully peels back my bathing suit straps trying not to touch the nasty sun burn I came home with after a long day at the pool. Unfortunately, by age 9, it was not uncommon for me to come home with a bright red face, shoulders and back. I was a swimmer and soccer player, and never liked to stay indoors, even in the winter.

I remember going to get my sports physical with my pediatrician at age 11 and leaving in tears after my doctor lectured me about how I'm going to most likely have serious issues with my skin/moles for the rest of my life. Some call it "pre-disposed" or genetic, but by my late teens, I had over 100 miles on my body. Majority of them abnormal in shape, color and size. The dermatologists would say "wow, I've never see someone with as many moles as you." I never really took them seriously about safety from the sun (other than the usual sunscreen before hitting the pool or beach, of course) until 2010, at age 24. I went in for a usual skin check and the doctor did a biopsy on my shoulder. I received an urgent voicemail about a week later saying I needed to have a full removal due to pre-cancerous cells. I thought, "Cancerous?! I'm only 24!"

Despute that mini wake up call, I was still not super cautious about my sun exposure until 2012. I was sitting at work and lifted my leg, and something strange caught my eye. I thought, "Hmm, that's odd, that mole looks like the end of a pencil eraser. I've never seen a pink mole before." About 2 weeks later, I noticed it again, except half of it had turned black. Immediately, I had a pit in my stomach and thought, "I need to do something about this." Thankfully I was able to see my dermatologist the next day and after receiving the biopsy results, I was told it was melanoma in-situ. All I heard was the M word, and the seriousness in the doctor's voice and thought, "Okay, this is the last wake up call I need. I'm 26 years old and I'm dealing with a fatal cancer." It really put things into perspective for me. I spent the remainder of that year researching and learning as much as I could about the cancer, how to prevent, how to treat and most importantly, how to spread awareness to others, like me, who think that tanning is still the 'cool' thing to do (both outdoor and indoor tanning). 

I am so grateful it was caught early. Since then, I have been getting frequent skin checks and experimenting with new and improved sunscreen and UVB clothing. 

There is still a huge need for awareness amongst the younger generation and I hope and pray that sharing my story will prevent them from having to experience 'wake up calls' for themselves. Our skin is one of our most vital organs, and we need to treat it that way and protect it. It's all we've got while we're here! 

 

 

Sat, 2016-07-09