I vividly remember the first time someone confronted me with the term ‘melanoma’. I must have been about 6 years old and my hairdresser was – ofcourse – giving me a new hairdo. All of a sudden she stopped and asked my mom if she had seen this bumpy dark freckle on my head. it must have been there for a long time, but not in this size nor colour. Because of the changing shape, doctors were clear: it had to get out. Immediately.
Since then, I notice my skin iss getting more freckly by the year. Which I, from an esthetic point of view, actually don’t mind. On bad days my reflection reminds me of a freaking dalmatian, but on the other hand: those black and brown spots give me a unique look! I even feel attached to them! Like, I have this big, dark brown mole on my left boob, and I freaking adore it! The same for the new one above my top lip. I feel so Cindy Crawford these days 😉
“Everybody in my family has got small freckles and moles, especially in their faces. So from a young age my parents pointed out to me that I had to protect myself from the sun and go to the physician regularly. Which I do! Actually I just came back from a thorough check-up! Everything was fine…. Luckily, because through the years they already removed quite some suspicious moles! Now, I’m not perfect, I do forget to use sunscreen now and then, but I do my best to keep myself protected.”
But obviously, having lots of dark spots comes with another side, a more dangerous one. The chance of developing skin cancer is something I always have to keep in the back of my mind. My moles can change into threatening melanoma at any time, under the influence of the sun, or tanning beds, or because of my family history with cancer, or just because well….life happens.
Although some people, like I, have a higher risk of developing melanoma, you need to be aware that everyone can become a victim. Yes, even when you have a darker skin colour! (fait divers: Jamaican singer Bob Marley died of a melanoma on his foot) So using sunscreen is a must! Now, I am aware of the questionable ingredients in sunscreen that can have all kinds of negative effects on you, like skin irritations, hormone disruption and even an increased chance of cancer. Still this should not be an excuse to not apply protection! First of all, the risk of growing melanoma after a sunburn is much higher than the risk of developing cancer from the chemicals in sunscreen. Secondly, the beauty world is advancing and offers already a nice amount of protective creams that come without the most aggressive chemicals!
“It’s hard to know which freckle is new and which one is not. There are so many of them! I have to be honest, only 1,5 years ago I went for my first check-up at the doctor’s, and this only because friends pushed me to do so. My freckles and moles were never an obstacle, so I didn’t really pay attention to them. My bad… Luckily, they didn’t find anything suspicious. From this point on, I keep a more steady eye on possible changes… You never know what happens in a couple of months time.”
Every year, after the summer, my skin specialist checks me from top to bottom. An essential thing to do, to say the least. And next to that annual examination, it’s recommended to check yourself once a month.
So what should you look for when you examine yourself?
- Moles with changed colour, structure or shape
- Moles that bleed or ooze
- Moles that itch, sting or hurt
- Moles that are bigger than 6cm (although sometimes small ones can have risks as well)
I’ve been under knife for quite a few times now. And while I don’t really mind having some scars here and there, I do take my skin very seriously! I try to keep my immunity up, wear sunscreen almost every day of the year and ignore the existence of tanning salons. The fact that these places can still exist, is beyond me….
“The amount of moles and dark freckles is growing by age, that’s for sure. I treat my skin well, use a lot of sunscreen, never sunbathe and go for annual check-ups. Still, from time to time, some moles look too suspicious to let them be. I think I’ve been under the knife for about 8 times now. The last time was for a mole removal on my ear. It left it disfigured… Something I’m still trying to deal with. I’d be lying if I said I’m never afraid of developing skin cancer. After every check up or surgery, the fear comes over me.
So I keep on saying to people: ‘Go to the doctor at least once a year! There are always places on your body which are too difficult to check yourself!’
And speaking of tanning salons… One of my best friends got confronted with the effects when they diagnosed his sister with skin cancer after she grew a mole on her leg from tanning. The scares are deep, the outlook is somber, and at this very moment this awesome lady lives in ‘extra time’.
It’s scary to notice that our urge to look a certain way can harm our health irreversibly. We often consider ourselves untouchable, our actions harmless. But shit happens, also to us! And ignoring risks can come with great consequences!
Because people often walk around with a lot of questions and misinformation on melanoma and skin cancer, my above-mentioned friend co-founded the organisation melanoompunt.be. The site is filled with guidance and essential information and provides comfort to patients and people involved. Next to all of this, the association frequently organizes get-togethers and info days for everybody who is interested in the subject (which we all should be actually). The next one will take place in Antwerp, on the 16th of december. Feel like attending this day? Please subscribe on their website!
I’ll see you there?
Pictures by the amazing Sam de Backer