February 1, 2011
Whenever a photo is snapped of Kristine Fargotstein, the 24-year-old turns her left shoulder away from the camera to hide the 3-inch scar on her upper left arm. Even two years after surgery to remove a pre-melanoma area, she can’t help herself. She’s self-conscious when her scar is showing and dreads heading into tank top season.
“I grew up in the Southwest where it’s gorgeous outside 24-7 and we were always outdoors. We didn’t always think about sun precautions,” Fargotstein explains. “I went to college in San Diego and I was a ‘beach bunny.’ I even went to tanning beds for awhile. I admit I was stupid. I wanted to be tan for graduation.”
After her trips to the tanning beds, Fargotstein noticed that a mole on her arm was a little darker. She wondered if it was something to worry about. A short time later, while she was in her dermatologist’s office for an acne consultation, she hesitated to mention her concern. Thankfully, she did say something and her dermatologist took a biopsy. When the test results were back, Fargotstein got the news that it was serious — she’d have to see a plastic surgeon and have the mole removed.
“Doctors told me that it hadn’t yet developed into melanoma and they were able to ‘cut it out,’ but that I would now be susceptible to melanoma the rest of my life,” she says. Fargotstein is now adamant about wearing sunscreen, reapplying it and having annual skin exams. Every time someone asks about her red, zigzagging scar, she’s not shy about educating them about the risks of tanning beds and sun exposure.
Fargotstein, who now lives and works in the Washington D.C. area, urges others to talk to their doctors when they notice something is wrong with their skin. “Had I not said something to my dermatologist that day, I wouldn’t have seen her again for months. It could have developed into life-threatening melanoma by then.”
Skin cancer has been on the rise for decades. Melanoma is the most lethal kind of skin cancer. One of its first signs is a change in color, shape, feel or size of a mole. While melanoma usually strikes adults in their 40s or 50s, doctors are also finding younger people with the cancer. The best way to prevent melanoma, doctors say, is to limit your sun exposure, especially during the peak hours of 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; wear protective clothing; wear sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 15; and avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.
Skin protection is now an issue Fargotstein is passionate about. “You’re young and think you’re invincible and then you realize at the age of 22, you could have a life-threatening cancer,” she says recalling the shock she felt after her diagnosis. “I had a 100 percent control of preventing it, but I didn’t because it was too important for me to look good in my graduation dress.”
“With skin cancer, you literally have the power in your own two hands to prevent it,” Fargotstein warns. “Be aware and realize that it can happen to you.”