‘It’s not worth it:’ Cancer survivor, dermatologists relay urgent message for summer months

Marcie Kelly, a skin cancer survivor, undergoes a screening at Heartland Dermatology in Wichita.
Marcie Kelly, a skin cancer survivor, undergoes a screening at Heartland Dermatology in Wichita.(KWCH)
Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 7:53 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - With the summer heat and more outdoor activities, dermatologists are putting out reminders about the importance of constantly applying sunscreen. Eyewitness News spoke with a cancer survivor echoing the message to take time to protect your skin before going outside.

That survivor, Marcie Kelly simply says a tan is just not worth it. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. But, if detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.

Kelly survived her fight against skin cancer, but a new normal in her life is a full-body skin check every three months.

“I was diagnosed with Stage 3B metastatic melanoma when I was 33, and I had to do a year’s worth of immunotherapy,” Kelly said. “It was terrible and I wouldn’t wish it even on my worst enemy.”

She recalls being a lifeguard in the late 1990s and not wearing sunscreen. She also remembers tanning as a teen.

“I am suffering from what I did when I was younger now,” she said. For some reason, melanoma, basal, they all just start to pop up 15 to 20 years after the damage you’ve already done,” Kelly said.

At Heartland Dermatology, health professionals highly recommend wearing sunscreen daily. They also remind patients who detect a concerning skin lesion to call them to get a checkup within 24 hours.

“The sun is not the only factor that will contribute to developing a skin cancer, but it’s a preventable thing,” said Heartland Dermatology Physician Assistant Crystal Brownlee. “So, if you have a tan, if your are bright red, it’s all a sign of UV damage. And over time, that UV damage can build up and cause some of your cells to become cancerous.”

Now, Kelly is more disciplined about wearing sunscreen. She also reminds people of the dangers of tanning.

“Its just not worth it, the killer tan. I mean, they don’t call it “killer” for nothing,” she said. “I know it makes you feel good, but you can go get a spray tan.”

For the cancer survivor the new normal includes annual CT scans along with the more frequent checkups. Kelly hopes that by sharing her story, she can help to prevent someone else from getting skin cancer.

Brownlee recommends avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s when UV rays are the highest. Most importantly, she said you need to find a sunscreen that you can regularly apply. She recommends a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF between 30 and 50. Just as important, she said, is to apply and reapply the sunscreen every two hours. If you’re swimming, she said that reapplication should happen every hour to 90 minutes.

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