Self described, lifetime sun worshiper and tanning bed devotee, 24-year old native Texan Ali Young was barely daunted the first time she was diagnosed with deadly skin cancer at the age of 18. Matter of fact, she recalls heading to the tanning bed the very day after her biopsy.
Finding a spot on her abdomen that she’d never noticed, Young was prompted by her mother to see a dermatologist. A slight numbing and shave biopsy left her with an eraser sized mark on her abdomen. Covering it with a Band-Aid, tanning bed rituals continued on into the next week. As graduation day neared, Young wanted to ensure her legs looked tan enough for the dress she’d be wearing. One week following, biopsy results showed that borders of her mole revealed melanoma cells evident at the margins, making it necessary for her to return to have the remainder excised. Cutting a long oval inch wide and inch long into her skin, Young says the healing process was both painful and frightening. That second biopsy would also prove to have unclear borders with traces of melanoma cells. Before her stiches were removed from that initial surgery, Young would face another excision, this time wider and deeper.
Despite being shaken over the trauma to her body being cut so severely, a few weeks down the road Young covered her scar with a Band Aid and headed out to the pool with friends. She admits to being impervious and going about life barely reflecting on her two biopsies.
After heading to Texas A&M, life as a busy student distracted Young from thinking any further about consequences of tanning or taking preventative measures to protect herself from another deadly diagnosis. Continuing to use tanning beds 3-4 times a week and spending 7 or more hours by the pool on weekends became the norm. “Having a deeper tone and continuous summer glow to my skin made me feel beautiful and comfortable in my clothes,” she says.
After MOHS surgery during her senior year in college, and two more that followed, Young came to the realization that she was no longer invincible. After returning to her hometown of Abilene to begin nursing school, Young located a doctor with the level of expertise she felt necessary in Lubbock, Texas. She considers the two and a half hour ride it takes to see him worth every second. Each visit prompts new suspicions and biopsies. As part of a regimen, she visits the dermatologist every three months, capturing images at each appointment while measuring visible moles and freckles to monitor for changes.
Now into her fifth surgery, Young launched a blog she says helps to deal with the emotional roller coaster of fear and anger she faces. Wearing high SPF sunscreen every day and avoiding the sun, her doctrine has become ‘pale is the new tan.’
“I don’t expect my story or blog to make a huge impact, but I hope it may encourage even one person to protect their skin, wear sunscreen, stop using tanning beds and get any suspicious spots examined,” she says.
Taking her crusade on melanoma a step further, Young includes a line of recommended sunscreens, self-tanner and beauty products on her website that she says excludes harmful chemicals. She lists a number of those chemicals to inform people about ingredients in products that should be avoided.
Now a certified nurse assistant at the Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, Texas, and a trained member of its skincare team, Young routinely assesses patients for suspicious skin abnormalities that can potentially be referred to a dermatologist. The assessments have also become a routine part of training for the hospital’s registered nurses, which she believes can save lives.
What now leaves Young feeling most distressed is knowing she had ample resources to prevent her circumstance, but spent too many years presuming she was invincible. But at 24, having undergone countless biopsies and diagnoses of skin cancer, and exhibiting a myriad of scars, she says she is now living in fear of her future and experiencing regret of the past.
“I am in my mid twenties, looking forward to my career as a nurse, marrying my best friend and beginning a new chapter,” says Young. “The fear of missing something or not catching it in time petrifies me. I’m not ready to die, certainly not from something I could have prevented years ago.”