Throughout my experiences with melanoma, I have unfortunately heard the phrase, "be thankful it's just skin cancer" many times. Hearing this from friends and even strangers made me realize that people are still so uneducated about the dangers of skin cancer. CANCER IS CANCER. I strongly believe that people have different reactions based on the type of cancer you are diagnosed with. I have found that when I tell someone, "I had cancer." They usually ask what kind. Then when I say that I had melanoma skin cancer, they say, "Oh okay." What, is that not a real cancer? It seems as though I would get a more concerned response if I told someone that I was recovering from strep throat. Unfortunately, many won't believe that skin cancer is just as scary as any other type of cancer until they get a devastating call from a doctor. I am personally doing everything I can possibly do to prevent those calls and help educate others that IT'S NOT JUST SKIN CANCER.
If you type the word "melanoma" into any search engine, the first phrase that will pop up on most sites is, "Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer." Unfortunately, I didn't know this until I was diagnosed.
I don't claim to be an expert on any cancer, but I have tried to educate myself and others to the best of my ability level on melanoma. The key with melanoma and many types of cancers is early detection. If it is not caught in the early stages, it can be fatal. So no, I am not "thankful" that it's just skin cancer.
Of course I am the "tanning nazi." I don't care what people think of me, but when you mention using a tanning bed in my presence, I guarantee I will proceed to lecture you and show you my scars. When someone mentions tanning, every once in a while, someone else would step in and say, "Don't say that around Jess, she'll yell at you!" You got that right. Why wouldn't I? The scars, physical and emotional pain, stress, and tears that melanoma has caused me in the past five years will be a memory that will run through my head every single day for the rest of my life. My only way of dealing with the negativity is to help to educate others. Should I take personal offense when close friends go tanning despite seeing all that I have gone through? I have shared these thoughts with Chelsea Price, a fellow melanoma survivor, and I still struggle with these feelings all the time. Was what I went through not enough to make you stop damaging your skin? Are my scars fake? Am I that good of an actress that my daily tears were not genuine for eight weeks as I was going through my second battle with melanoma?
Please educate yourselves and realize that no, it's not just skin cancer. Yes, I am thankful that my cancer was caught in the early stages, but I will never discredit the harm that skin cancer can do to someone's health. When talking with someone who has battled cancer, please be aware of how you approach the situation because it is ABSOLUTELY TRAUMATIZING to be diagnosed with cancer, even if it's "just" skin cancer.
Our public service announcement was completed last night. Each day, I read posts on Facebook from fellow melanoma warriors and how much they are experiencing because of this ugly disease. After reflecting how many lives are affected each day by melanoma, these thoughts just came to mind and probably caused me a little trouble sleeping. I hate you, melanoma.
Here is a link to the Miles Against Melanoma PSA. Those featured in the film has each been personally effected by melanoma. My name is misspelled, but it will be fixed shortly. Each of us is affiliated with Miles Against Melanoma in some manner. Stephanie directs the one in Kansas City, Amalyn directs the one in St. Louis, and I direct the one in Pittsburgh, PA.