#women’s health

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

Sports Illustrated Releases Its Most Body-Positive Swimsuit Issue Ever

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History-making, ground-breaking, trailblazing, body-positive, shocking.

These are a few of the words and phrases being used to describe this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. The brand revealed not one but three cover girls, including Ashley Graham—a curvy Size 16 model—along with UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and high-fashion model Hailey Clauson.

For the first time in 52 years, and annual swimsuit issue features three women with three very different body types.

The controversial, unprecedented move has generated a lot of buzz and stirred up body image conversations in a big way. Some say this year’s SI Swimsuit issue will inspire more women to love and accept their uniquely different bodies, while others say Ashley’s body type has no business being in the popular men’s magazine.

There are so many varying opinions about what’s hot, sexy, healthy and acceptable when it comes to body image. Working as a curve model myself alongside models like Ashley, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of judgment and confusion about what exactly a “plus-size” model is. I think the biggest debate is, “Are plus-size models and women size 12 and larger healthy?”

Here’s what I know for sure:

1. Healthy looks and feels different on different people.

Plus-size models range in size from a 6 to 18. When I was a size 14, I booked a lot of modeling jobs, but I didn’t feel good about myself, because my body naturally is a size 8/10. So for me, being a size 14 is not healthy. However, I have friends who are size 14, who exercise, eat healthy, maintain a healthy BMI and have bodies that are naturally meant to be that size.

To look at Ashley Graham and assume she is out of shape, never works out and eats pizza and fries everyday because she is a size 16 isn’t a fair assessment. Only Ashley knows what’s best for her, just as only you know what’s healthy for you. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to body types. You have to own and honor your own specific body type, and make healthy decisions that are best for you.

2. I am not everyone’s ideal standard of beauty, and I am ok with that.

I’ve learned (through a lot of tears, weight fluctuations, losing clients and not feeling good enough), that I can choose to be MY OWN standard of beauty.

3. I am so much more than what I look like.

Being physically beautiful isn’t the most important thing to aspire to. Seeing a woman in a bikini, regardless of her size, is never going to empower me.

Cultivating characteristics like kindness, compassion, a sense of humor and intelligence is always drop-dead gorgeous sexy to me.

Women who encourage, support and lift-up others are empowering to me.
This notion that a size 16 woman on the cover of a mainstream magazine in her swimsuit is supposed to make all of us who are not a size 2 feel good about ourselves is extremely misleading. The message being sent is that a woman’s value is based on what she looks like in a swimsuit. It’s completely missing the point of what self love and a healthy body image is all about because size 16 is not a healthy size for many women, and we are certainly more valuable than our bathing suit size and appearance.

4. What people say about me has more to do with them than me.

Whether you think Ashely looks incredibly stunning and healthy or overweight and unappealing says more about how you feel about your own body than Ashley. One thing’s for sure, she is an extremely confident woman to put herself out there and own and embrace her unique shape and image. That’s so sexy to me!

5. Learn to love, honor and validate yourself. You’re worth it.

It doesn’t matter who SI or anyone else puts on the cover of their magazines. Nobody can validate you or determine your worth except you. I think it’s great some brands are choosing to promote body diversity, but ultimately, it is up to each of us love ourselves rather than wishing or waiting for someone else to do it for us. I’m finding that when I am confident in my own skin, just as I am, others are naturally drawn to me as well.

6. Listen to your inner voice, not society.

Society tells me I am too old and too big to work as a model. I smile every time I cash a modeling check. Advertisers show me ways I don’t measure up to some pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic standard of beauty everyday. I choose not to subscribe to those messages. I pray, meditate and tune in to my own inner wisdom for strength and guidance.

7. The next time you start to criticize your body, stop and think of everything it does for you, and say thank you.

Sure, I have been guilty of comparing myself and my body to other (much thinner) models on set, especially when shooting swimsuits and lingerie. I used to criticize my thick thighs and wonder why I could never attain those beautiful washboard abs. Then I realized what a waste of time that was. I have so many positive messages to spread, people in need to serve and more important things to create. And my body, my strong, beautiful body is the vehicle through which all great things are possible. I choose to love and honor it each and every day.

Check out my interview on this hot topic on CBS News.

Read my story on mindbodygreen.com.

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