My family did not talk much about wearing sunscreen or using it; on the contrary: We soaked ourselves with suntan oil and basked in the sunshine as much as possible! In my mind, the more exposure to the sun the better!
As a Hispanic woman with brown skin, I enjoyed witnessing my skin shade change throughout the summer months.
My family members did not understand much about melanoma or that anyone can get it.
At the height of Covid-19’s pandemic in 2020, I noticed a mole on my ankle darkening over time. By this time, I was much better informed about skin cancer risks; being a health writer at that time had provided an example of someone battling melanoma who died after it returned and spread.
I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist. Unfortunately, due to strict Covid protocols, this meeting had to take place through video chat.
The dermatologist did his best to examine my mole through virtual visit and declared it normal, yet provided no more information such as signs or changes I should look out for that would have been invaluable in terms of healthcare management.
After about a year, another skin issue began surfacing: I developed what turned out to be a dermatofibroma — a small round bump — on my back which itched and caused discomfort. So, I visited another dermatologist. They diagnosed it and told me it wasn’t cancerous while still suggesting I undergo a comprehensive full body skin exam, looking closely at every mole on my body.
I showed her the mole on my ankle that had not caused concern among previous dermatologists; she immediately identified it as suspicious and biopsied it on site.
One week later, she informed me that my mole had tested positive for melanoma. To confirm its absence and ensure proper diagnosis and removal of tissue within half a dollar coin size was removed.
“My family and I were stunned to hear of my diagnosis of skin cancer; as was I. I was young, healthy and educated – all factors which could protect one from sickness or ailments – yet here I was! There’s an impression among some that Hispanic/Latinx people don’t get skin cancer — yet many do.”
Though my case of melanoma was caught early, the term cancer still holds significant weight. Hearing that you have it prompts reflection on what’s truly important in life as well as an urge to let others know this could happen to them too.
Meeting with my surgeon gave me added comfort; he specialized in burns and wounds. Furthermore, meeting with the anesthesiologist who would work alongside my surgeon helped ease my nerves about surgery; in addition, he told me about having had basal cell carcinoma on his own face which had been successfully removed by him himself.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “we will take care of this.”
One of the nurses preparing me for surgery shared her story of having survived skin cancer herself.
People with darker skin can often think skin cancer affects those with lighter, fairer complexions,” according to a nurse.
I agreed with her. Like her, I too had once considered these words of advice.
“I count myself lucky that the surgery successfully removed all of the cancer. Since it had not spread further, no further treatments were required and I remain cancer-free today – though full body skin checks continue every three months just to make sure.”
My focus has mainly been on raising awareness in the Hispanic/Latinx community. To do this, I started at home by teaching my parents about sun safety (such as using sunscreen on areas they might not think to put it such as ankles or the back of neck) as well as encouraging them to get full body skin checks, something neither had thought about doing before.
My parents and extended family may not understand, but I will keep pushing to educate them about sun safety habits and schedule regular skin checks.
I have also conducted advocacy work via social media to create awareness of skin cancer among all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and levels of education. One melanoma survivor reached out to thank me for spreading the word – she told me how grateful she was that someone was sharing this message!
I want everyone to remember that sun exposure does not discriminate, so consult your dermatologist regularly and get checked; even an annual examination could save your life!