Melanoma survivor: Save your skin!

Woman recounts melanoma diagnosis at age 15 and how it changed her.

By: Sanford Health News .

cancer survivor Megan McManus applies sunscreen to her arm
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A sunny summer afternoon — perfect for poolside and soaking up the rays. But that’s not where you’ll find Megan McManus. She sits in a Fargo, North Dakota, coffee shop sharing an important message: prevent cancer by protecting your skin.

“It’s easy to be convincing when you’ve had personal experience,” says the cancer survivor. With highlighted hair, clear blue eyes, a bright smile and a warm personality, Megan brings summer all year long.

Cancer at 15

Megan figured the small growth on the left side of her face was nothing more than a long-lasting pimple. A doctor’s appointment and tests led to a devastating diagnosis: melanoma — the least common, most dangerous type of skin cancer.

At 15, she faced a tough course of treatment including multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. “I was scared at first, then realized this is a bump in the road and I’ll get through it,” she says. “I also kept reminding myself that my doctors didn’t tell me I had months to live, rather they told me I had months of treatment. There’s a big difference.” Her medical team included Nathan Kobrinsky, M.D., pediatric oncologist at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo.

In addition to her medical care, Megan credits her faith, family and a wide circle of support for helping her through. “Even my dad’s college buddies sent messages of encouragement,” she says.

Shift in priorities

Megan’s melanoma diagnosis made her grow up quickly. “My carefree years of eating pizza rolls, not getting enough sleep and not caring about exercise were gone,” she says, sipping on a protein shake. “Now I exercise every day, drink lots of water, get enough rest, take vitamins and calcium, and try to eat healthy. My whole life changed.”

She adopted new skin habits, too. Though she’d never spent excessive time in the sun or frequented indoor tanning booths, she took seriously the following steps:

  • Consistent use of SPF 50 sunscreen
  • Wearing hats
  • Choosing shade
  • Minimal sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

And for special occasions? She splurges on a professional spray tan. “It’s the safest option,” she says. “So many studies now show a definitive link between tanning (indoor and outdoor) and increased chance of melanoma. It’s not worth it.”

Enlightening others

Her own skin well-protected, Megan now works to protect the skin of others, including children. A summer camp counselor, she proudly says, “My kids never get a sunburn.” Her strategy? Just put sunscreen on the checklist of things to do before going out to play.

Her own age group isn’t quite as easy, as she’s realized in her job at a bridal shop. She frequently hears young women and their moms mention how much better a formal will look with a tan. In a kind and courteous way, she gently introduces other alternatives such as a spray tan — or no tan at all.

Megan admits it often falls on deaf ears. “There’s a false sense the bad thing will never happen to them,” she says. “I also think our culture needs to get away from the idea that a tan is healthy and beautiful.”

Save your own skin

What’s on your schedule today? If you’re headed outdoors, grab your sunscreen — and use it.

“Always think two steps ahead,” says Megan. “What you do today will have an impact years from now. It’s easy to skip sunscreen, but it sure isn’t easy going through cancer treatment.”