This week I spoke to Michelle, a 2 year Stage 2a Melanoma survivor and founder of the Spread the Lotion Facebook page. She is a spunky, care-free, and positive spirit! From speaking to her I could tell right away that she wasn’t they type of person that would go down without a fight. I’m happy to share her story and I hope you can take something away from it.
Here is Michelle’s story…
Growing up in Alabama, outdoor activities were common in her family. They spent many summers on the beaches of North Carolina. Michelle said that she got many sunburns as a child and recalls one really bad one in particular. There was one camping trip where somehow everyone failed to remember the sunscreen and aloe. After playing in the sun for most of the day Michelle remembers getting the most painful sunburn she has ever had. To her dismay, with nothing else to soothe the pain her Grandmother applied mayonnaise to her burned skin! Sunburns are no laughing matter, but smelling like a hot dog kind of is (her words not mine). I guess now we have another home-remedy to add to the list on how to soother sunburns.
One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
In the South, Michelle says there was a “culture” to be tan. Body image had a lot of influence and because she was a “bigger girl” she was taught to cover-it-up and if you can’t then you get darker. Michelle was 19-years-old when she began tanning in a tanning bed, mostly because of peer pressure and a lifetime of cultural pressure to be tan. Her yearly ritual was to buy a tanning package in January and go almost every day until May. Then once summer hit you could find her laying out for hours at a time. Just to be tan.
One day, 25-year-old Michelle, had just come from the tanning salon when she noticed a mole on her back. A thought flicked through her mind that maybe it could be skin cancer and it was kind of strange, but soon the thought was dismissed. Ignored. Five years after noticing that strange-looking mole on her back, Michelle became pregnant. The change in her hormones caused the bothersome mole to change and turn colors rapidly. Ignoring it was no longer a choice. At 25-years-old Michelle was told that the mole, now the size of an eraser and very discolored, was Stage 2 melanoma. After hearing this shocking news Michelle said she, “…never thought that something could knock me on my butt. It changes everything.” Shortly after her diagnosis Michelle miscarried her baby, but believes everything happens for a reason. Who knows how much longer she would have gone on ‘ignoring’ the strange mole on her back. She doesn’t believe that it is coincidental that the original due date of the baby was the exact date the cancerous mole was removed.
She admits that the worst part of her experience was the waiting; waiting for test results, waiting for appointments, and waiting to know whether melanoma would claim her life. She made it through the waiting period, the cancer had not spread. Michelle told me, “A huge part of my recovery was the love and support from not only friends and family, but my furry family as well. I have entirely too many cats and a German Shepard that were with me every step of the way!”
One of her biggest struggles has been transforming from being a sun worshiper to being covered. Now her must-haves at the beach are a big umbrella, a huge floppy hat, and plenty of sunscreen. Lucky for her, as a cheer-leading coach, she is able to use her scar as a teaching moment for the young girls who look up to her, reminding them to wear sunscreen and cover-up. Michelle is also spreading awareness through her Facebook page, Spread the Lotion, and speaking about tanning dangers and melanoma prevention at local high schools which she has dubbed the “Michelle-A-Noma Tour.” Michelle says, “The goal is to get the word out and hopefully start working on a bill to limit use of tanning beds for minors.” She also wants to organize a walk or 5k event after being inspired from participation in Relay for Life.
“I would rather be white and alive, than tan and dead.”
Her ambition didn’t just fall from the sky. Michelle admits to be the type of person that has to be busy! Melanoma didn’t keep her down for long, but she admits that she feels like a poster child because she never thought it would happen to her. Now her mornings begin with a self-skin check. Even though she has survived melanoma the fear is still lingering. Could you imagine being afraid to become pregnant? Michelle is. Once cancer has touched your life the residual feelings don’t leave. Music is something that gives Michelle strength and offers words of encouragement when she needs them.
Here are a list of songs from what she calls, “My Super Duper Whop’ Cancer Upside the Head” playlist: