I just finished Pale Girl Speaks: A Year Uncovered (a memoir written by Hillary Fogelson.) I borrowed the book on Friday afternoon and couldn’t seem to put it down.
Fogelson is both laughable and (genuinely) honest regarding her experience with melanoma. Her transparency is refreshing.
I immediately plucked the book off the shelf after noticing the title. Being a redhead definitely has its pros and cons so I was curious to see what exactly Fogelson would be ‘speaking’ about.
Now having completed the book, I am so glad to have read it. Fogelson’s story encouraged me reflect on my own experience as both a redhead and someone who’s had several pre-cancerous moles removed
I remember the first time I saw a dermatologist. I was a sophomore in college and had been urged by my doctor (and yes, my mom) to get an all-over skin check.
At the time, I didn’t find it vital to my health; however, I decided to make an appointment to appease everyone’s urging. Flash forward to me on a cold patient’s table, impatiently (and a bit nervously) awaiting my doctor’s arrival.
After ten minutes or so, my magazine-buried head jolted upwards to the infamous knock, knock, knock and my new doctor smiling as she walked through the door and approached the table.
We greeted one another, had the routine introductions (yada, yada, yada) and then it was time to divulge my medical history. Oh shit.
Me (paraphrased): My medical history? I mean I’ve never broken a bone, needed stiches or had surgery before…
Doc (paraphrased): Yes, I see that here in your file; however, I meant your history in the sun: the number of times you’ve been sunburned, the amount of UV exposure (either in the sun or in tanning beds…)
Inside my head (paraphrased): Oh the hours I used to spend in the tanning bed – did I mention the few times I tanned twice in one day? Divulging this kind of information to a dermatologist was guaranteed to get me a lecture.
I first visited a tanning salon in high school (while trying to look like my fellow
orange tanned high school friends.) I had never been able to tan in the sun but I figured it might be easier in a bed. Wrong. My first few visits I got burnt – not just a little on my shoulders or nose – I’m talking complete backside, (surprisingly) my feet, and face. I was a 5’10 tomato, and yet, I’d wait a few days and go back for more.
I eventually stopped tanning for several months (I began to realize that bronze skin wasn’t in the cards for me) but, yet again, picked up the dirty habit when I started working out at a gym. Girls at my gym wore short shorts with ‘back-from-vacation’ bronzed legs while I covered mine up in sweats. Not only was I out of shape but to be fair-skinned on top of it all? I had to do something about it. So I started tanning again.
My dermatologist wasn’t pleased (could I blame her?) She lectured me on the warnings of tanning beds and then performed the skin check. Everything seemed normal and routine.
Until she found something.
A mole on my shin, right below the knee, appeared ‘irregular’. And then another on my lower arm. She removed both that day for the possibility of pre-cancerous cells.
I received my results a few days later…basal cell carcinoma (AKA slow growing cancer cells.) Less than a week later, I was back in my dermatologists office for removal of a bigger portion of skin. Hooray I now have an inch long scar under my knee – and all that time I was worried about my fair, pale skin?
It was then and there that I realized I needed to start changing my habits when it came to my health – specifically, my skin’s health. I’d always be sure to lather up, I’d limit my sun exposure (as much as I can control) and I’d NEVER step foot in another tanning salon.
It has been four years since my first visit to a dermatologist and, I must say, I am so thankful that I decided to get checked out. Yes, my moles were only pre-cancerous; however, since my first experience, I’ve had six more irregular moles removed and two more basal cell carcinoma spots (adding two more scars on my body – lower back and shoulder blade.)
Friends: if there is any takeaway from this post, let it be that anyone can get skin cancer. Anyone. Yes, there are certain skin tones that are less likely to ever experience a problem; however, with the use of tanning beds, our overexposure in the sun and genetics (yes, genetics!): we are all at risk. If you’ve never seen a dermatologist, I highly recommend you schedule an appointment (especially those of you that are fair!)
Thank you Hilary Fogelson for your lovely, witty memoir.
Things I’ve Learned as a Redhead:
– Having tanned skin doesn’t make a person beautiful – confidence does.
– Sunscreen is my best friend (especially in the summer months.)
– As a redhead, I was always envious of my ‘normal-looking’ friends who had brown or blonde hair. On that harmonious day when my parents told me I was old enough to decide what color my hair was; naturally I began to dye it (highlights, lowlights, brown, accidently black one time – yikes!) It was a little more than two years ago when I decided, ‘No more!’ Red really is the best (for me 🙂 )
– Black eyeliner does not look good on everyone – especially, me. My days of dark liner are gone. I’ve found that browns are less harsh on fair skin and really make light eyes pop.
– Green is flattering to both hair color and skin tone . It just is.
I know this was a longer post than usual, so for those of you who stuck through it – thanks for reading! 🙂