Proud to Be Pale – How a Melanoma Diagnosis Changed the Way I See My Skin

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Hey, Casper. Are you a friendly ghost?” “Are you a vampire?” “Are you an albino?” “Why are you so white??”

 

I know. I know. I know. I’m so white, I’d make a sheet of paper jealous. I get it. I’ve heard it all. I’m pale, fair, porcelain, delicate, etc. Yadda yadda yadda.

 

**sigh**

 

You know what the sad thing is? Now that I’m older, I absolutely love my skin exactly the way it is, but when I was in my teens and twenties, I HATED it!! I hated it so much because it made me stick out like a sore thumb, and I already stuck out like a sore thumb because I’m autistic, and nobody (including me) knew it at the time. I was just the weird pale girl with the huge, plastic glasses, the chronically stuffed-up nose, and the thousand-yard stare.

 

Me and my pale, awkward, allergic, confused self

 

If I go out into the sun for more than 10 minutes, I burn. Literally. That’s all it takes. When I was a child, my mom, aunt, grandmother, camp counselor, etc., whoever happened to be around me in the sun at the time, had to slather copious gobs of sunscreen on me every half an hour or so.

 

Teenage Crushes and Blending In

 

When I was a teenager, I was forced to go to day camp. I hated it. I had to wear shorts, and kids would cover their eyes as I passed, pretending that the white skin of my legs was literally blinding them. I had to put on a bathing suit, and even though I was actually quite proud of my developing body by the time I reached 15, I still had to deal with people gaping in open-mouthed amazement at the lack of pigmentation in my skin.

 

Which is whiter, me or the dress? lol!

 

I had a crush on a boy in camp, and when he called me “Casper”, I was done. Done. I had to do something about this “problem” right away, so I found what I thought was a perfect solution: Spray-on tanning lotion!

 

You know, tan in a can?

 

Can we say ORANGE? (I literally put Trump to shame in the ’90s, folks. How do you like that?) Eventually, I found the right one.

 

I hated the smell, and they cost a lot of money, but I’d actually panic if I started to run out because I didn’t know what kind of bullying I was in for if my naturally pale skin came peeking through its chemical disguise.

 

I used it religiously, and you know what? The comments did stop for a while. I reveled in my new sun-kissed glow and the new lack of attention I got from the bullies (and also the attention I got from the boy).

 

I always smelled like chemicals, though. That was the one thing that bothered me. It didn’t seem to matter what type of fake tanner I used, I would stink like a combination of Magic marker, fermented fruit, and sawdust. It was disturbing.

 

But, at least I wasn’t PALE!!! (God forbid.)

 

Something Just Wasn’t Right…

 

When 2007 rolled around, I’d been using some form of fake tanner for about 12 years. During that time, I’d been diagnosed with celiac disease and another autoimmune disorder, ITP. I was quite sick, and I changed my diet so I could be healthier. That helped for a while, but then something went wrong.

 

Somehow, it never dawned on me to change what I put on my skin. I ate healthily, took supplements, avoided gluten, went to my regular doctor visits, etc. I thought I was fine, but I wasn’t. Something dangerous was happening inside me, and I had no clue.

 

The first time I really noticed the mole, it was in a photo of me sitting in the grass with my legs straight out in front of me. On my left leg, on the inside of my calf, there was a black spot. I clearly remember Photoshopping it out. I thought it was ugly, but I remembered it always being there, so I didn’t think much of it.

 

I happened to be in the process of changing physicians at the time, and when I went to see my new one, she was extremely thorough in her examination due to my medical history. After she diagnosed me with severe vitamin D deficiency (first doctor who even thought to check), she said she really didn’t like the way that mole on my leg looked.

 

I went to a dermatologist, had it biopsied, and was sent home. I didn’t feel right. Honestly, I hadn’t felt right for months, but I never really did, so that was normal for me, but this…this was different somehow.

 

I wasn’t just pale now, my skin was ashen and almost gray. Weight was dropping off of me, and my energy levels plummeted. I also had this weird feeling of being “out of phase” with everything around me.

 

You Have Melanoma, and You’re Going to Need Surgery.”

 

 

 

When the dermatologist called me personally, I knew what she was going to tell me. My cold hands broke out into a sweat, and I started shaking. I had melanoma, it was in the early stages, and it needed to be surgically removed as soon as possible.

 

Everything just sort of stopped in that moment, and then a strange peace came over me. I called my roommate and asked him to come home.

 

The consult is a complete blur to me. The surgery, unfortunately, is not. It was horrible. I was scared out of my mind when the doctor stuck five to six needles in my left calf muscle to numb the area, and I cried out, “I can feel that!” when a cold cloth touched my leg.

 

The doctor said it was OK and that I would be able to feel temperature and sensation but not pain. I held on to my roommate’s hand for dear life as the doctor cut away at my skin. I could feel that. Yes, it was numb, and it didn’t hurt, but I could feel the instrument inside my leg like a violation. There was digging and scraping and that feeling…I can’t describe it. I wanted to scream.

 

It was over in about 20 minutes. I was sewn back up, and as I sat back up, I saw that the doctor was just casually holding a plastic sample jar containing my flesh, blood, and tissue. He asked if I wanted to see it. I gagged, and he quickly pocketed the item, and I was sent on my way.

 

What was just another day for him was a life-changing event for me. I didn’t cry through the whole surgery, but I lost it when I got into the car. Part relief, part releasing extreme sensory overload.

 

Liquid Fire Running Down My Leg

 

Yeah, this is pretty much what it felt like.

 

Pain. God, one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt in my life was when that Novocain wore off, and I had to put my foot on the floor for the first time without its numbing effects. The blood rushing down into my leg was like liquid fire, and it was all I could do to get out of bed, hobble to the bathroom, and crawl back under the covers.

 

I needed my roommate’s help for days to make meals and do basic household chores. I took a week off from work, and I watched a lot of movies and started coloring again for the first time since childhood. (This was before adult coloring was a thing.)

 

I ended up walking with a cane for a few days before I finally found my feet again.

 

Being pale meant nothing to me anymore. I now had a 4-inch, red and ugly scar down my leg to remind me what vanity had done to me. It would be years before I wore shorts again. Long skirts and dresses became my best friend.

 

 

From that year forward, I used only organic and natural cosmetics, lotions, and sunscreens. I would never touch a fake tanning lotion again.

 

Sunbathing was never the problem for me. Like I mentioned before, I was always slathered in sunscreen, and I burned too easy to forget to use it. Also, my left inner calf was not exposed to the sun all the time. (Whose is?)

 

I Didn’t Get Skin Cancer from the Sun

 

What sucks is that I’ll never be able to prove it, but I doubt the sun caused my melanoma. I think it was a combination of vitamin D deficiency, autoimmune disease, and practically swimming in the carcinogenic chemicals contained in the sunless tanning lotion, sunscreen, and other cosmetics I used on a daily basis.

 

Body Shaming Is More Than Just About Weight

 

 

All I know now is I don’t give a flying flock of woolly sheep that I’m pale, and I never will again. Very few people make comments about my skin now. Honestly, if anyone makes jokes about it, I do. I’m not insecure at all.

 

When most people think about body shaming, they think of somebody being picked on because of their weight. But that’s not all there is to it. Body shaming can be picking on anything on or about a person’s body.

 

For example, the person is too pale, has too many moles, has too many freckles, has a unique slant to their eyes, has a large nose, large feet, small hands, a big head, etc. I could go on forever.

 

But, really, what is this ideal? When is someone good enough? What is the exact correct skin color? The exact correct shape for a nose? The perfect length for fingers? Does anyone actually fit this ideal, and, if so, where did it even come from?

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all an illusion. (Hey, that rhymes.) I’m me. You’re you. We are who we are. (Thanks, Kesha.) We were born this way! (Thanks, Lady Gaga.)

 

 

To learn more about the hidden causes of skin cancer, read this article on Health Scams Exposed!

 

 

About Author: Jaime A. Heidel