Facing melanoma as a teenager

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710saoirse.jpgMelanoma was the last thing on Saoirse Murray's mind when she made her first appointment with a dermatologist at age 17. Prom was around the corner, and she was hoping to have a perfect complexion for the big night.

She never guessed that she'd end up with a skin cancer diagnosis.

Saoirse's melanoma diagnosis and treatment

At her first appointment, the dermatologist found two concerning moles on Saoirse's back. He asked Saoirse if she used tanning beds.

Saoirse nodded. She didn't use a tanning bed often. She already had an olive skin tone. But like she'd mentioned, prom was coming up, and she wanted to look perfect.  She'd only gone to the tanning salon a few times -- just like all her friends.

The doctor removed the two moles. 

A few days later, Saoirse received a phone call from her doctor asking her to come back for another appointment as soon as possible.

"I thought it was weird that they had called me at work," she says. "It was a little alarming, but I had no idea what was coming."

While Saoirse sat alone in the cold doctor's office, her dermatologist broke the news to her: she had melanoma.

"I didn't even know what it was at that point," Saoirse says.

After a surgery, Saoirse was declared cancer-free. Because the cancer had been caught early, that was the only melanoma treatment she needed.

"I got really lucky," Saoirse says.

Dealing with anxiety after cancer

Coping with a melanoma diagnosis at 17 wasn't easy for Saoirse, she says. Her surgery was scheduled just after prom, and the anxiety she felt cast a shadow over what she had once thought would be a fun-filled evening.

"Knowing I was about to have surgery made it really hard to enjoy prom," she says.

Saoirse felt relief once after learning she was cancer-free. But the anxiety returned with each follow-up appointment. However, over the years, it's become easier. She no longer faces her skin exams with the same dread she once did.

"I've learned not to worry as much," she says. "It's gotten easier for me."

Sun safety after melanoma
Saoirse was once embarrassed to wear a one-piece swimsuit on a weekend float trip following her melanoma treatment, but now at age 25, she's diligent about protecting her skin from the sun.

She hasn't let her fear of skin cancer keep her from living her life. She still goes to the beach and the pool with friends. She just wears a hat and finds a spot in the shade.

 "Sunscreen is the number one thing for me," she says.

Most importantly, she stayed away from tanning beds, and encourages her friends to do the same.

"I preach to all my friends not to use tanning beds," she says. "It's just not worth it."

Kids and the tanning bed trap: Time to talk
Melanoma survivor: "Being tan is not worth my life"

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