Dear 16-Year-Old Me
Dear 16-year-old me. Dear 16-year-old me. Dear 16-year-old me. Please, don’t get that perm, it’s not as awesome as you think it’s gonna be. You have to actually practice in order to learn to play guitar. Whiskey? Tastes even worse on the way up. Dear 16-year-old me, there’s going to be a new set of Star Wars movies. Don’t watch them, they ruin everything.
Dear 16-year-old me, this is where they took the cancer out. It was something called melanoma. It’s called malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma. Malignant? That’s not a very friendly word. You’ll be diagnosed when you’re 28, 18, 36, 29, 22. It’s a tumor that starts in your skin cells, the cells that give your hair and skin color. It’s not just skin cancer. Well, it is. Well, it is, but not just the cut-it-out-and-it-will-be-fine kind, unfortunately. It’s the kind that you have to catch before it spreads. Because it spreads so fast, so fast, to places like your liver, your lungs, your brain. Yours will be a very rare kind, in your left eye, and that’s when you find out that melanoma can show up on your tongue, the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Your doctors will tell you you’re lucky that you caught it early. Yours will tell you that you need aggressive treatment. I’ll have to tell you it might take a year of chemotherapy and you’ll need to do some of the injections yourself.
Dear 16-year-old me, you’re doing ok, you’re strong, but there are some things I want you to know. I wish I’d known that one bad sunburn before you turn 18 doubles your chances of developing melanoma, that fair skin and red hair means that you are at higher risk of getting it, as if ginger people didn’t have enough problems, that you’re at higher risk if you’ve got more than 50 moles, and if you have a weakened immune system or a family history of skin cancer. I want you to know the outlook is very good if we can catch it early, but you have less than a 10% chance of surviving more than 5 years if we don’t.
Dear 16-year-old me, spend more time with family, they mean everything. If I had one piece of advice for you, don’t start the tanning bed, I know you want a healthy glow, but it’s gonna double my chances of getting melanoma. Sunscreen. Yes, I agree, it’s a huge pain in the ass, but so worth it. Please. Your skin’s like an elephant, it never forgets.
Dear 16-year-old me, helping spread this message is how you honor Glenny’s memory. At 16 she’s already an incredible lifeguard, she loves the sun, and the beach, and tanning, but she just doesn’t know. She’ll be diagnosed when she’s 22 and we’ll lose her battle when she’s just 26. I want you to know because it’s melanoma that’s gonna take the strongest man you know, your best friend and the love of your life.
Dear 16-year-old me, don’t be afraid. This isn’t about being afraid. I want you to be aware that melanoma is a young person’s disease. It is the second most common cancer in children and teenagers and one of the most common in young adults, and it can be deadly. I want you to know you’re not helpless. This is a cancer that shows itself right there on the outside of you. Start checking your skin. Please, check. Get to know your skin. Get to know your skin. Start checking your skin. If a new mole shows up, or if when you have, starts to change color or size or shape or feels different. If something seems out of place, get your doctor to have a look as soon as possible. Know what to look for and get help, these are all signs your skin can be developing cancer. You brush your teeth every day, maybe even floss. Ok, we both know you don’t floss, but just once a month I want you to check. It takes 10 minutes. 10 minutes.
Dear 16-year-old me, I do realize you’re not actually going to see this, but someone else will, and it’ll all make a difference to them.
Dear someone else. Dear somebody else, if you’re watching this, send it to a 16-year-old you care about. Send it to anyone who was once 16 or soon will be 16. Send this and check yourself. Educate yourself. You can download tools and information about melanoma here. Share this link. Tweet this link. Post this to your Facebook.
Please contact Dermatology Health Specialists if you have any questions about your skin at 541-382-8819. Stop by our office to see our dermatology services in Bend.
Video courtesy of David Cornfield Melanoma Fund.
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