CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "Protect the skin you're in." That's Cayce Burwell's message, especially during May.
Cayce lives in Charlotte but was born in Orlando. Cayce has lived on the water and laid out in the sun with baby oil as a teenager. When she got her driver's license, the first thing she did was visit the tanning bed.
"While growing up I firmly believed getting a tan would help me get noticed," Cayce said. "I started small. Laid in the tanning bed once a week for just a few minutes, but increased my time with each visit. When I wasn't laying in the tanning bed, I was laying out in the yard."
In November of 2004, Cayce was engaged and trying on a wedding dress at a David's Bridal store.
"As I turned around to check out the back and the train, I noticed a dark spot about the size of a pencil eraser right in the middle of my back," she said.
"I made an appointment with a dermatologist. He didn't seem too worried. In fact, it was only at my request he went ahead and removed the spot and sent it off for a biopsy."
Two weeks later results were back; Melanoma.
"My world stopped," Cayce says. "I couldn't breathe. I had no idea what it all meant, but I knew cancer wasn't good. I had surgery to remove all of the tissue around the tumor site and a handful of lymph nodes removed."
Cayce was lucky. Her melanoma was caught early.
Her Granny wasn't as fortunate.
In 2008, Cayce's Granny went to the doctor for what appeared to be an infected wound on her foot. It wasn't just a wound - it was melanoma. Granny underwent a new procedure at Duke University Hospital. Things were good for a couple months, but then in September
of 2009 it was found Granny's melanoma had metastasized throughout her body.
"Her PET scan lit up like a Christmas tree," Cayce said. "My Granny, 78 years young, had just weeks to live.
It wasn't even weeks. Granny died ten days later.
May is Melanoma Awareness month. Melanoma is the most preventable cancer out there.
I thought Cayce's story, and her grandmother's story, showcase how this cancer can hit any age.
So, I did a little research.
On the website, www.skincancer.org, it shows one indoor tanning session increases a user's chance of developing melanoma by 20 percent. Each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent.
People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by a whopping 75 percent.
Those numbers seem scary. I have a bazillion friends who go to tanning beds. I've never gone to one but I was a lifeguard, competitive swimmer, taught kids' swim lessons every morning for almost a decade, and continue to obsess over a beach.
Again, Melanoma is the most preventable cancer.
If you're diagnosed once, you're also more likely to be diagnosed again. Cayce visits the dermatologist every 6 months. She has had more biopsies than she can count.
She was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in late 2013 and underwent a procedure to remove all that cancerous tissue. That kind of monitoring is now just a part of life forever.
Thank you, Cayce, for sharing your story with us. Maybe this pretty May day you'll make some people think.