I was Diagnosed with Skin Cancer & These Are The 5 Unexpected Things I Learned

Shaney Jo Darden

Recently I was at a conference called Cancer Con. It’s a place where young adult cancer survivors from around the country converge to learn and be inspired. My team and I were there also to learn and be inspired and to share our program Non Toxic Revolution with the young adult Cancer community. One thing I know is that young cancer survivors feel like they got ripped off in some way. What we do with NTR is educate about the toxins that are linked to cancer, and break down this difficult and confusing concept into actionable things you can do to actually lower your risk. This is for survivors too, because we (it’s odd to say we) always can run the risk of reoccurrence.

To avoid that ripped off feeling in your future we can offer some tips on things that you actually can control. When your taking care of yourself, really looking out for yourself, you just feel better in every way and that’s a fact. When I was at the conference I was out to dinner with a huge group of people from all around the country and I was sitting next to my friend Pat, a cancer advocate from Canada, who had noticed a mole on my tattoo arm, she made that serious and concerned face grabbed my arm and told me that when I got back home I needed to make an appointment to get it checked out.

She reminded me how important self care is and that getting this checked out was important. So I did just that.

I went to the dermatologist to get this mole checked. It seemed like it had kind of grown and spread out over the last 6th months. I wanted to get a full body scan while I was there, but as soon as Dr. Graves saw this mole, she went into action hero mode and said, “the body scan can wait, we need to remove this now.” I was a bit in shock, because when I walked in there I was not thinking I would go under the knife.

Well for sure it was strange to have the knife turned on me with this one, this time I was the one being told the I had cancer!! WAIT WHAT? For the last 15 years of my life I have been what they call a co-survivor, caregiver, cancer advocate. I have been the one people call to ask for support, I have been the one screaming at the top of my lungs about the importance of early detection, doing your self check, loving your boobies! and maintaining a healthy toxic free lifestyle. Now that big bright shining creepy light in the Dr.’s office was shining on me. I was diagnosed with Melanoma 1a, and was schedule for surgery to remove more skin around the effected area, approx 3” wide by 11/2” long. I have a 6“ scar with 20 stitches. Ew!

PEOPLE LOVE ME

At first I felt like keeping this news to myself. I called my sister in law first because I had just seen her a few days earlier and she knew that I was waiting to find out the results from the test of the mole. It took me like 4 days to be able to call my mom, because she worries and I knew she would cry. I felt like when I called her I needed to be in a strong space, for me and for her. I waited till my boyfriend came home from work to tell him. I felt like keeping this to myself was also a bit not fair, like I was keeping a secret form my community that is always sharing their cancer experience with me, so I stared to post what was going on with me on my Instragram and Facebook and the the most beautiful loving support poured in. I am truly lucky.

THERE IS SUPPORT

One of the first things I did was open up my instapeer app. Created by my friends at Stupid Cancer, it’s an anonymous mobile matching platform where you can connect with other people that have your same diagnosis. You can even filter by age, sex, etc… It felt weird to be setting up my platform and entering my cancer diagnosis information, and it also felt good to reach out to others and ask questions directly to someone who has been there. I’m friends with and I work with so many people that have experienced very serious and very devastating diangosis’s and have gone through years and years of surgeries and treatments. I felt like my cancer was no big deal, I was right away comparing myself to others, and I remembered what my friends at Stupid Cancer always say, “It is not a contest about body parts because the playing field is leveled when stupid cancer comes along. There are no “good” cancers. Benign tumors can be just as devastating as malignant ones.” My cancer community, friends and loved ones were taking my cancer seriously, which in turn made me do the same.

SECOND OPINIONS MATTER

A few days after I got my results I was at lunch with a friend and she asked me if I was going to get a second opinion. Right away I said no. I trusted my doctor, and if she said that this was protocol well then ok, and we scheduled my surgery. After lunch it hit me like a ton of bricks, how could I NOT get a second opinion? I tell thousands of women all the time when they are diagnosed with breast cancer to get second and third opinions. This was definitely one of those practice what you preach moments. So right away I started to see what I could do. Mind you, I’m lucky, I’m already a part of a cancer community and I knew what to do. I reached out to our Medical advisory board for advise and made apptointments to get second opinions. Part of me was feeling very strongly about not doing the surgery, I felt like when Dr. Graves removed my mole that she had got all that was there, and that it had not spread, so why go back under the knife it it’s not necessary? Then I spoke to Dr. Joel Evans and he said “Shaney girl, I really recommend you do the surgery, Melanoma is a very serious disease and if you don’t do this you are playing with fire”. Well there you have it. I did the surgery.

DIET IS EMPOWERING

To prepare myself for surgery and also to help myself feel like I had control of something, I switched up my diet. At Keep A Breast we always talk about the importance of a healthy diet, and we take a lot of cues from our friends in the community like Kris Karr, a breast cancer survivor who wrote a book called Crazy, Sexy, Diet. On the advice from one of our medical advisory board members, I decided to switch to an alkaline diet for 21 days. The theory is that Cancer cells thrive in an overly acidic environment and by taking action to become more alkaline, you can make it more difficult for cancer cells to regenerate, this is not proven, but it can’t hurt and it sure made me feel better.

I started a regime for 21 days and I called it my “self love affair.” No coffee, no sugar, no booze, 3000g of turmeric a day for inflammation, 3 in am and 3 in pm, lemon water all day for detoxification, and yummy, fun alkaline recipes from Honestly Healthy. I believe that because I went into the surgery feeling really healthy as a result of this diet choice, that my healing went really well because my body was strong.

THE SUN IS YOUR FRIEND

I don’t know why this happened to me. I grew up in Southern California and have spent plenty of time at the beach and “laying out” at the pool with my friends. I also grew up in the 80’s and went to the tanning salon before homecoming dances to get rid of my bikini tan lines for my strapless dress. I’m sure it’s a combination of my lifestyle and environment. I love the sun! I love the way it makes me feel. The sun is my friend and provides me with so much happiness and a healthy dose of vitamin D that also helps prevent cancer so WTF!?!?! Well, I need to do better, I need to be a better friend to my Sun, I need to take it in small doses. I need to protect myself from getting burned, wear sunscreen on my face and chest everyday, wear long sleeves to avoid getting burned if I’m out all day, and make sure to lather up when I’m exposing myself for a day at the pool or beach, because I’m not willing to give that up. We have a handy NON TOXIC sunscreen guide also. I guess it’s like any friendship, do not abuse it or it hurts like heck.

In the end, I’m so happy I caught this early, I’m so grateful for all the love and support I have from my friends, family and community. I’m cancer free and I’m definitely one of the very lucky ones. My tattoo of my sewing machine Guadalupe was chopped up a bit and now she has a funny nickname “squatalupe”.

* it felt good to write this.