#body positivity

I Was 28 When I Found Out That I Had Skin Cancer. Here’s What It Taught Me

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Like many people, I grew up loving the sun, beach and being outdoors. I craved that feeling of being warmed by the sun and having it bronze my fair skin. As a teen, I never thought basking in the sun and tanning my skin could be so destructive. When I was younger, it was all about just being tan. For me, that meant not always wearing sunscreen. Little did I know how stupid I was being.

There is a very unsexy side of sunbathing and tanning beds. And I can tell you firsthand that not caring for your skin is a big mistake. I hope that you can learn from my lesson rather than go through it yourself.

My countless hours in the sun, many of which were unprotected, caught up with me eventually. What’s crazy, too, is that I didn’t even realize it at first. I had this dry, red, scaly patch on my forehead. Even though the spot had been developing for years, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just from touching my face or adjusting my hair. I kept it hidden under makeup and would just go about my day. Then I was home over Thanksgiving with my family and wearing no makeup.

My brother, a physician, said, “What is that on your forehead?” I remember him examining me like doctors do, and he said very seriously, “I think you have skin cancer.” With a bit of attitude I said, “I don’t have skin cancer!”

I then went to my dermatologist the following week to find out for sure. They took a biopsy, and sure enough, I had skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma). I couldn’t believe it. I thought that only happened to people who were much older than me. I definitely was not prepared to have my head sliced open and cancer taken out of my face.

A week later, my dermatologist, Dr. Jaffe, performed Mohs surgery to remove the cancer. My forehead was cut open about the size of a quarter to remove the tumor. He told me that it was imperative that I had it taken care of right away.

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Riverchase Dermatology, Naples, Florida

Dr. Jaffe said that the jury is out on whether my skin cancer was due to sun exposure at a young age, a burn, or just chronic sun exposure over a number of years that made me predisposed. He performs about 10 Mohs surgeries a day and told me that this specialized treatment offers the highest cure rate but only if detected and treated early. His patients are normally in their mid-60s. I was 28.

The good news is that skin cancer is preventable and curable when caught early. Of course, we all want to be outside and enjoying ourselves, but you have to be smart about the exposure you get.

So, let me be your lesson. Don’t wait until you have skin cancer before you protect yourself and wear sunblock. Do it now!

I don’t like the scar on my forehead for vanity reasons and because I get my picture taken and appear on TV for a living. Sometimes, photographers ask me if I got into an accident and bumped my head because I have so much scar tissue in the area where I had surgery. Other people tell me they can’t even see it. On the flip side, my scar represents what I went through and definitely keeps me in check. Every day when I look in the mirror, it’s a reminder to put on my sunscreen.

I don’t want to scare people. I want to inspire them. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing in the sun and limiting your exposure to the sun isn’t scary. It’s smart. It’s responsible. I wasn’t smart or responsible in the sun growing up. I hope others can learn from my mistakes and be inspired to protect their skin, make regular appointments with their doctors, and stay healthy.

Even if just one person benefits from reading my story, it makes my headaches from nerve damage during surgery and my scar worth it. I wish I could have read a story like this when I was a teenager. It probably would have hit home a lot harder than just my mother saying, “Wear your sunscreen.”

To help prevent skin cancer, take the following precautions:

Wear chemical-free sunblock containing zinc and titanium every day.
Wear a hat and protective clothing.
Avoid being outside during peak sun hours.
Seek shade if possible.
Get an annual skin check by a dermatologist.
Remember not to be afraid to go to the doctor if you notice something changing on your skin or that a mole has grown or changed in color. The sooner you see a doctor, the less likely it will be bad news.

Story originally published on mindbodygreen.com

What I Learned In The Costa Rica Jungle

My favorite thing to do is laugh and make others laugh. I think there is so much joy and freedom in laughter, and I could not stop laughing at the SISTERHOOD retreat in Costa Rica.

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SISTERHOOD retreat at The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Costa Rica. We are wearing our favorite yoga pants: Miami Fit Wear (www.miamifitwear.com), created by fellow sister, Raquel Ponce (front)

Fifteen women ranging in age from 19 to 47 arrived at The Sanctuary at Two Rivers in Cabuya, Costa Rica, for a weeklong adventure of self discovery, transformation and fun. We stayed in eco-chic tree houses enclosed with screens where we went to sleep and woke up to real-life jungle sounds of monkeys, insects and birds—no sound machines or alarm clocks needed! The howler monkeys (who sound like shrieking deep-voiced aliens) and the sun let us know when it was time to wake up.

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We showered outside surrounded by lush jungle plants and trees. To even get a cab into town, we had to hike down an obstacle course-like path filled with large rocks and rivers (sometimes in the dark using only my cell phone flashlight to guide my way.) The hike took about 30 minutes. I was soaking wet every time. Bug bites and bee stings were a common and expected occurrence.

We packed into old, beat up papi cars (a car driven by a Costa Rican man, whom I called papis), to get into town or go to the beach. I was so completely outside of my comfort zone (literally sweating 24/7 with no air conditioning in 90 degree jungle heat), but I found myself unable to stop laughing the entire trip. Literally, everything was hilarious. (We weren’t even allowed to flush our toilet paper because of weak plumbing.)

The Costa Rican jungle was stunningly majestic, but it was also extremely uncomfortable for me. It was hot. I was wet and sweaty at all times. There were no air-conditioned rooms to retreat to. I looked and felt like a wet dog. I didn’t feel remotely pretty. I wanted these incredible new women I was meeting to think I was beautiful, and that I looked like I do in my modeling portfolio.

Any makeup I tried to wear wouldn’t last five minutes, I would sweat it off. My usually perfectly styled, thick, wavy hair was tied up in a frizzy knot, trying to stay cool and out of the way.

I kept waiting for someone to care that I looked like a hot mess, but nobody did. I quickly learned it is okay to not look cute, seriously, nobody cares. It was like being eight-years-old again: the most important thing was to have fun, play, laugh, dance, climb mountains, get dirty, messy, swim, snorkel and go with the flow.

The freedom of it all made me laugh, thinking about how seriously we take our day-to-day lives, when what we should really be doing is surrendering to what is, trust we are on the right path (even in the dark), remember we are always supported, expect miracles and sit back, relax and allow true transformation to occur.

Stress has no place in the jungle. It gets laughed at. My absurd, self-limiting beliefs and stories I have created over the years that no longer serve me are comical. I let them all go with a deep breath and a deep, hearty laugh.

The heat makes me uncomfortable, but also present—I must stop and pay attention to the fact that even my knees are sweating, and it is okay. Self awareness is sexy. Joy is girl-next-door hot. Not needing to be anything but myself—sweaty face, bad hair day and all—is success. It is healthy to let go. It is safe for me to be myself. I am supported.

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The ultimate nourishment: homemade, fresh, organic, vegetarian meals prepared for us three times a day.

This epic adventure wasn’t about going to Costa Rica, it was about journeying inside, reconnecting with and embracing my fearless 8-year-old self, sharing my truth and coming home.

I wrote the following in my journal. This is my wish for everyone. You don’t have to travel abroad, you just have to be willing to open up and let go:

Fifteen sisters went off into the jungle and had the time of their lives. Opened up. Showed up big. Let it go. Let it fly. Surrendered to something so much greater than themselves. Relaxed. Released. Loved more. Lived easier. Created harder. Smiled. Felt free. Felt supported. Felt alive. Breathed easier. Got on with what’s really important, what really matters: They loved themselves. Effortlessly. Easily. And so it is. All is well.

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Santa Teresa Beach sunset

For more information on SISTERHOOD, you can email the creator, Emily Nolan: emily@mykindoflife.com.

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