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.
This post originally appeared on the author’s Facebook page
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