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Beauty is skin deep, but cancer kills

As the calendar flips its page to June, even central New York residents can expect to see some sun in the coming months.

It will peek its head out here and there — long enough for a lunch break, or maybe on your ride home. Weekends of sun-filled activities replenish vitamin D and good spirits.

But the sun’s a killer — it doesn’t discriminate, and it doesn’t take much. It only takes one sunburn to nearly take a mother from her daughters’ world.

My mom was about 16 when she got the worst sunburn she can remember. Her pale skin sizzled in the scorching sun, and by the day’s end, her skin matched her vibrant red hair.

Doctors say it was that single bad sunburn that lead to an unthinkable conversation in a Genesee Street doctor’s office. A devoted wife and mother of a 5 and 12 year old, our family was facing surprising news. The mole on her right arm was Clark’s level four melanoma, cancer of the skin that has spread far past the skin’s top layers. Tests showed the cancer hadn’t made it to the lymph nodes, but by surgery’s end, doctors took much of her muscle in the area where the cancer had begun. A scar of three inches would bear the burden of a sun burn nearly two decades prior.

Five years later, she was in remission. In ten, she had been cured.

Except not.

The cancer returned. More cells multiplied in ways they shouldn’t. Surgery cleared her of cancer again. Next summer will mark remission, round two. The thick, deep scar remains as a lesson for myself, her daughter who inherited her family’s fair skin and red-toned hair.

Skin cancer is the most common of the cancers, melanoma alone takes on about 125,000 new victims each year — many of them preventable. About 65 percent of those cases are due to overexposure to UV rays, be it natural or from booths of death rays. The prevalence of tanning booths and the rise in popularity through pop culture has only exaggerated the issue. The incidence of melanoma is rising at an alarming rate — a 45 percent increase between the 1990s and today.

With the amount of information available today about skin cancer, it’s surprising that so many are still resorting to tanning booths and long days in the sun without protection. The numbers are stacked against my generation, and it’s sad to see. I’d rather be pale and know my skin is healthy, than be tan and dead. Beauty is only skin deep, but cancer can kill you.


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