my response to "dear 16 year old me" skin cancer video

A friend sent me a text this weekend: "Posted a link to a touching melanoma video on Facebook. Sure you've seen it already, but obviously made me think of you." The video, called Dear 16 Year Old Me shows real people, not actors, giving advice to their teenage selves. Some are malignant melanoma patients, while others lost loved ones to skin cancer. I hadn't seen it, so I watched.

As a two-time malignant melanoma survivor, I cried...okay, who are we kidding, there were huge, heaving blubbering-like-a-baby sobs as I ugly cried my way through it. One year ago today this week I had surgery to remove my second occurrence of skin cancer.

Inspired by the video, I wrote a letter to the 16 year old me. Here it is.

Dear 16 Year Old Me,

You're going to get malignant melanoma -- twice -- once in 1999 at the young age of 24 and again in 2010 when you're 35. As a light-skinned redhead, it was pretty much inevitable, even though you wear gobs of sunblock.

That mole you first got at 12 years old? It's going to start changing in October 1999, when you're 24. You'll notice it's no longer brown, but also pinkish on one edge and a little larger. You're going to go get it checked out like a good girl.

3 year old me, covered in sunblock,
circa 1978, Long Beach Island, NJ.
When the Big HMO doctor won't refer you to the dermatologist, instead telling you "to keep an eye on it" you're going to refuse to leave the examination room until she gives you the referral. (Even after she threatens to call Security because you won't leave.) This stubbornness will end up saving your life.

I know it sounds scary. Good news: your mom's going to fly out to San Diego from New Jersey to be there with you during the surgery. (Spoiler alert! You move to California!) They'll extract a large diamond-shaped piece of skin from your right forearm. Since you keloid, you're going to have a bitchin' scar for awhile. You'll use this to your advantage when you're out at the bars and total strangers ask you, "What's THAT scar from?" You'll answer, "Shark bite. Surfing La Jolla Shores." Enjoy all the free drinks. :)

You'll go to the dermatologist once a year for check-ups, every June, and get a clean bill of health.

The second time you get malignant melanoma will be in 2010. The year starts off with a bang: uterine cancer. Being ever the planner, you take humor in the fact that you're bookending the year with another cancer: malignant melanoma. Again. This time on your left foot. Like before, you notice a mole that begins growing and getting darker. Cue much cursing. It gets cut out, while you play a game called Angry Birds on your phone. You, once again, hear the sweetest words a cancer patient can receive, "The margins are clear."

My advice to you? Do what you can. Put on sunblock a half hour before you go outside. (ProTip: The spray kind is easier.) Educate yourself. Don't believe the hype. Believe in yourself. Trust your instincts. Wear a t-shirt when you go snorkeling.

And when people say to you, "Oh, it's 'only' skin cancer" (because they will), show them this video.


ps: My favorite line in the video: "Don't watch the new Star Wars movies, they ruin everything." Truth.

You can find out more information on melanoma from the Mayo Clinic.

Photo credit: Information is Beautiful.


Joy Macko said…
Thanks Kara for continuing to share your story and spreading awareness. This message is always timing. The video is very well done. I will share it!
Babydreams2011 said…
Thanks for making me ugly cry today.. But I needed to see this video! As I have told you before my friend, you are definitely a ROCK STAR!
Happy A. said…
As always, you've managed to educated and entertain me with your writing. As someone who has also dealt with cancer, I am so grateful that you share your story and create awareness that saves lives. Love you, Kara!!

Joelynn said… ROCK! You are such an amazing person. Thanks for sharing this and your letter to your 16 year old self. Take care!!!!
CaliforniaKara said…
Thanks everyone for support and kind words. The best thing you can do for me is share this post with everyone you know. :)

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