Cancer has always been something that scares me. My mom had skin cancer in her 20s, so my childhood was filled with sunscreen, checkups at the dermatologist and rashguards at the beach. I was always covered in sunscreen, the odor of “unscented” lotion heavy in the air.
Even though I would reap the benefits of wearing sunscreen somewhere in the future, nothing said middle school popularity quite like Coppertone.
My name is Kennedy, and I am a 15-year-old living in Southern California. I play club soccer, and I love to go hiking or to the beach. During my summers in middle school, I participated in the California Junior Lifeguard program offered at my local beach. Junior Guards is where I first learned about the John Wayne Cancer Foundation (JWCF). A representative from Block the Blaze, JWCF’s youth skin cancer education program, visited my beach to educate us on sun safety, skin cancer prevention and self-screening. (Each summer, Block the Blaze reaches 23,000 youths in California through the Junior Lifeguard program – 250,000 to date.)
Although I already felt educated about sun safety, Block the Blaze shared a new piece of information that turned out to be crucial to my health: Melanomas can appear as pink or blue moles. In the spring of 2014, a new mole appeared on my forearm. Unlike most of my moles, it was pink. It made me sick to my stomach, but I tried to ignore it and focus on finishing the school year. Finally, I went with my gut and asked for an appointment with
Though he didn’t think the mole was of much concern, he did give me the option to watch it or remove it. Remembering Block the Blaze, I opted for removal. Four days after the mole was removed, my mom received a call from my dermatologist, who had diagnosed my mole as a melanoma. I was immediately scared. I was 13, and I had cancer? I knew my chance of survival was 100 percent, but the word still scared me.
Since then, I have been seeing three dermatologists. My skin is examined every other month. I’m much more vigilant, but also much more worried that my other moles could be melanomas.
I’ve had 38 moles removed over the past two years, four of which came back as potentially cancerous. One of my dermatologists always reminds me that I cannot forget to live my life. For the time being, that means SPF 30-plus sunscreen, whether or not I like the smell. At the beach, I always opt for a rashguard on top of my two-piece. My hat collection, which started at…