The Face of Melanoma — It Might Be More Familiar Than You Think
By Sadye Evyn Reish
As a SoCal native growing up in Orange County, the summer days of my childhood were typically spent in my backyard pool or at the beach. We’d pack up the car, loaded to the brim with ice chests, towels and chairs, and arrive at 15th Street in Newport Beach by 8:00 am. Mom was determined to get a good parking spot, but it also guaranteed prime waterfront real estate, where we’d hunker down until late afternoon.
I remember towing all my sand toys behind me, using my body board as a sled, and racing to keep up with my older brother and sisters as we jetted toward the water. Blankets would go down, the umbrella would go up and mom would promptly pull out the sunscreen, casting a white shadow, from head to toe, over each of us. That was usually the only time we lathered up.
Tumbling through waves, building sand castles, begging my sister Karly to play Smashball, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that inevitably had the gritty crunch of sand in every bite. I have so many fond memories from that time, so much laughter and silliness—the kind that makes you conk out as soon as you plop down in the car to head home, despite begging to stay just a little while longer.
Along with the joyous details, however, I also remember the sunburns and the awful stench from being doused in vinegar—a home remedy that mom claimed would take away the sting. I think it was more of a diversion tactic to take my mind off the pain. Either way, those memories of being sprawled out on my top bunk, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and underwear, and moaning in discomfort are etched in my mind, too.
Whether at the beach, during family camping trips or on the soccer field, my time in the sun was plentiful. And let’s not forget my teenage years, which were spent “laying out” by the pool or worse, in a tanning bed, all in pursuit of that glorious bronze glow that would make me appear more slender and prettier—a naive and dangerous stupidity I’d gladly undo if I could.
Diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma
Fast forward to today. I’m now 33 years old and despite my diligence for the past 10 years about wearing sunscreen and limiting my time in the sun, I was recently diagnosed with stage I malignant melanoma. Cancer. You might be saying to yourself, “That’s just skin cancer; it’s not that serious, right?”
Well, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, melanoma is the leading cancer causing death among women ages 25-30. And for those who are a little bit older, like me—ages 30-35—it’s the second leading cancer causing death.
So you tell me, is that serious?
Your childhood may have been different from mine, but I imagine, if you spent any time in the sun, either through sports, family vacations or just being a kid outside, you probably experienced at least one blistering sunburn (the kind that leads to peeling). That’s all it takes to more than double a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life. Just one. And if you think you’re safe because you’re a man or darker skinned, think again. Melanoma does not discriminate by age, race or gender.
I want people to understand how serious this cancer is and how deadly it can be if not caught early. It’s why I got naked and it’s the reason I’m encouraging you to do the same.
For the past few weeks, as part of a melanoma awareness campaign called #GETNAKED, I’ve been sharing nude photos of myself and four other brave women, captioning them with staggering facts and statistics regarding this aggressive cancer. We didn’t pose nude for notoriety, we did it to prove a point and to open millennials’ eyes to the fact that the face of melanoma has changed. It’s not just our parents or grandparents—it’s our friends, it’s me and it could be you.
When I decided to embark on this monthlong campaign, one thing was very clear: I’m not doing it for my health, I’m doing it for yours. If you go to tanning beds—stop. If you don’t wear sunscreen—start. And if you aren’t checking your skin through regular self-screenings for new or changing moles and lesions, then it’s time you #GETNAKED.
It’s how I discovered my cancer and it could save your life, too.