I remember you all too well.

I remember the cheerleader, the girl who couldn’t wait for the winter formal, and then the prom. I see you looking at your pasty white legs, and I see the decision you’re about to make. I see your friends and the decisions they’re making. You all want to be tan and beautiful for all of the important things. I see you spending minutes of your evening in that tanning bed.

Dear 16-year-old me, it won’t be worth it.

I can’t go back and tell you this, but in 14 years from now, you’re going to find out the hard way.

Fourteen years from now, your life is going to look pretty great. You are married now. You have a handsome husband. Two little boys. They are grossly perfect. You have a beautiful home and an inspiring voice. You are intelligent and beautiful inside and out. Believe it or not, that small decision you made to hop in a tanning bed repeatedly didn’t provide you with ANY of these things.

Fourteen years from now, you’re going to find a mole.

It’s a big mole but nothing too hideous, and besides, you’re FULL of freckles anyway, right? Not right. Remember that tanning bed? This is a gift from that bed.

You are going to go to the doctor on January 11th, 2019. You are here for something completely unrelated to that mole on your side, but your gut urges you to quickly show her that mole. You pull up your shirt and flash that pretty little thing under your left breast.

Dear 16-year-old self, you have no idea how much your life is going to change after January 11th, 2019.

You are five months away from your 30th birthday (like, totally SO OLD, I know). You are going to leave the doctor’s office today with some stitches. You are going to go to a birthday party for your friend’s son tonight, and you are going to look around that room and see so many people you love. You are going to have weird out-of-body thoughts about what could be, and you’re still going to think, it’s not going to be me. Later that night the soreness will set in and you’ll see that you’ve bled through your shirt while you’re staying up late thinking, I’m sure it can’t be me.

Well, little 16-year-old self, on Thursday, January 17th, you’ll get the call. I am sure you can guess what comes from the voice on the other line.

It actually IS you. It actually CAN happen to YOU. It absolutely DID happen to YOU.

Now, there are three of the most common types of skin cancer. Basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Basal being the most common, but least dangerous. You don’t get that lucky. Squamous is a little more dangerous, but not as dangerous as melanoma, as it can spread, but not as violently. Not that lucky, either. YOU, my dear, have melanoma. Melanoma can grow quickly and become life-threatening in as little as six weeks. It can spread, and it can grow on other organs of the body.

You are now just inches short of your 30th birthday, with all of the weight of your world balancing on your shoulders. That beautiful life you’ve built, all of the things you’ve taken for granted, they look different now. Your mind goes to the worst. You don’t even feel bad for yourself, more for the people who love you. More for the unknown.

You will receive another phone call, one with urgency for your situation and you are now in the hands of another doctor. The next week is going to be full of confusion and more surgeries, blood, and stitches. After this is done, you’re going to go back to this doctor every three months.

You are going to sit on a cold table, naked and scared of what’s going to come.

You are blessed with the sweetest doctor who knows by the look on your face when she walks through the door, that you have another spot, and you’re scared. She is going to tell you there is urgency and you do not need to wait to make yourself a priority.

Dear 16-year-old self, you have a new life sentence. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not your fault cancer chose you. And you don’t get to live every day in fear that it’s going to show up somewhere else, anywhere else in your body.

What I will tell you, my sweet 16-year-old, is that choices that you make right now will flip your world upside down in 14 years.

You will be anxious and quiet and closed-off. You are going to have a different perspective on life, but you are going to be OK. Your cancer won’t be celebrated with marches or pretty pink ribbons. Black, actually. Black is the color of your cancer ribbon. You are going to have people diminish you and your feelings. You are going to have people that laugh and make jokes about skin cancer. These people are not aware that melanoma can take over every organ of your body, and are fortunate to never have been as scared as you are right now.

I wish that I could tell you that in 14 years, pale never looked so good, and the thought of someone you love in a tanning bed ACTUALLY makes you want to cry.

Now you are on a journey to create awareness. You are newly30 and have never been more inspired to make a difference in your life. I forgive you for the choices we made when we were 16, for the ignorant bliss we lived. I can’t even begin to count the stories I read or the number of fears I have for our future—but these next 30 years, we are going to be so much better.

Love,
Me

This post originally appeared on the author’s Facebook page

You may also like:

Dear Daughter, The Truth is Not Everyone is Going to Like You (and That’s OK)

Skin Cancer: My Huge Health Scare and Why You Must Be Aware

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our new book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Whitney Reimer

My Name is Whitney Reimer. I am from a small town in South Dakota. I have a love for writing, and I often write about topics that are a little less talked about but VERY relatable to.

Cancer Taught Me to Open My Hand

In: Cancer, Faith, Motherhood
Woman in cancer treatment holding a young child's hand

When I thought I was going to die, grief blinded me. Not really for myself. I’ve had a pretty good run. Reflecting on my life, it’s easy for me to see that my stroll into adulthood was leisurely. In college, I studied literature, a luxurious indulgence. Even as a naive 20-year-old, I understood the extravagance of being able to sit under a tree and read, albeit in sweltering Missouri heat. I studied the world’s literary masterpieces while sweat trickled down my back, mosquitoes nipped at hard-to-reach places, and the MBA students on campus wondered what I was doing. But those...

Keep Reading

“Wear It Anyway, You Never Know When You’ll Get Another Chance.”

In: Cancer, Friendship, Living
Two women holding up dresses, color photo

“It’s way too fancy,” I told my husband. “I’d be overdressed.” My new outfit was a beauty—white and lacy, perfect for a summer cocktail party, but too much for a school function on a Tuesday evening. In the back of my head, though, I heard my friend’s voice. Wear it anyway. You never know when you’ll get another chance. The last time I saw Shalean, I was bloated from chemo drugs, and both of us wondered if it would be the last time we’d see each other. My prognosis was bad: triple negative breast cancer, already spread to my lymph...

Keep Reading

This Is How to Show Up for a Friend Who Has Cancer

In: Cancer, Friendship, Living
Bald woman during cancer treatments and same woman in remission, color photo

One moment I was wrestling with my toddler and rocking my 3-month-old to sleep, and the next I was staring blankly at the doctor who just told me I had stage four cancer that had metastasized from my uterus to my left lung and spleen. “Well, I didn’t see that coming,” I smiled at the young doctor who had clearly never given this kind of news to anyone before. I looked over at my husband’s shell-shocked face as he rocked our baby back and forth in the baby carrier because I was still nursing, and we knew we’d be at...

Keep Reading

I Never Wanted to Be a Hospital Mom

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler standing with IV pole, black-and-white photo

Life as a hospital mom is not a life for just anyone. You have no other choice, there is no get-out-free card you can just put down and say, “Nope, Lord, I do not want this, take it back.” My heart hurts 99 percent of the time. My heart hurts for my child and the pain he is suffering. A necessary evil to keep him on the side of Heaven’s gates.  My heart hurts from the unknown of each day. Will he eat? Will he thrive today? What utter chaos will be thrown our way today? Will there be vomit...

Keep Reading

Cancer Is Weird

In: Cancer, Living
Woman smiling, color photo

Cancer is weird. For 3.5 years I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking at me.  First, it was scared eyes. My eyes had lost the look in them that made me feel invincible. I had learned I wasn’t.  A week or so later, I saw the cut on my chest for my port. Then it was a bald head. Then a bald, steroid filled, and puffed up faced person looking at me. RELATED: This is What Cancer Looks Like Sometimes it was a teary-eyed, defeated person. Someone who had been up all night in pain.  I...

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Let My Baby Die

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler boy lying in hospital bed, color photo

I wasn’t made for this.  I am not strong enough. Lord, where are you taking me? Why does this joyful time, filled with our last baby’s firsts, have to be this way? Why did the doctors look at me that way? They know what’s coming, and deep down inside, so do I. The inevitable word that is about to come out of their mouths.  The C-word.  Cancer. It’s life-changing.  Almost as if it were a car accident. Believe me, I know about that. To be the reason behind a grown man hanging onto a thread. Completely unintentional. I just needed...

Keep Reading

The Art of Showing Up

In: Cancer, Kids
Dad hugging young son

As a father of four boys, you may imagine that life is hectic from time to time for me.  While it truly is, in fact, quite crazy sometimes, it isn’t always because of the reasons you might think.  I have four boys, ages 11, 4, 3, and almost 2, and that certainly makes for an interesting daily living experience for my wife and me.  We do our best to remain patient and lean on God’s strength and peace to fill us on the days that seem overly daunting and occasionally even downright impossible, but we are human.  Therefore, we fail...

Keep Reading

No One Prepares You for When Your Husband Has Cancer

In: Baby, Cancer, Marriage
Family sitting by window

No one ever prepares you for the moment you hear your spouse has cancer.   More so, no one prepares for you to hear this when you have a 5-month-old at home. “Mom, they said the tumor is cancerous, and they need to enucleate his eye on Thursday,” I say quietly into the phone as I pump in a dirty bathroom stall at the eye hospital.   Whir. Whir. Whir. Whir. Gosh, I hate pumping.  Today is my first day being away from my daughter. My mom is watching her while I made the trip to the eye hospital with...

Keep Reading

l Will Never Stop Missing My Sister

In: Cancer, Grief, Loss
Woman in red shirt

It might be 16 years too late to properly depict the depressive senses that engulfed my whole being when I lost my only sister Aurora to colon cancer in 2006. Painful flashbacks continue to fill my everyday life at the most inopportune moments that  writing about it might somehow alleviate my grief. I remember getting that random phone call from her one sunny day in September 2006 and how guilt automatically hit me. It had been a while since I last saw her. “It’s positive,” she said. Backed with years of joking around and playing tricks on her since childhood,...

Keep Reading

Having Cancer at 34 Taught Me How to Live

In: Cancer
Husband and wife on boat, color photo

This picture came up in my Facebook memories today. It took my breath away for a moment, just like it has for nine years now. It was the last picture taken of me before my midwife found the lump and my life changed forever.  The first time I saw that photo, I realized I didn’t know that woman anymore. She was naive. Laying there in the sun without any inkling that a cancer was growing inside her. Look at her—unafraid and without anxiety. Less than 48 hours later, she would be gone, replaced by someone who was afraid of each...

Keep Reading