“They said it was nothing to worry about.” Rochester resident Elaine Sheaf clung to those eight fateful for almost 20 years while the mole on her face continued to grow in size, shape and irregularity—only to find out it was actually malignant melanoma (a likely result from her tanning-bed habit as a teenager). “From 1995 to 2013 [the mole] had grown from a small, Domino-sized dot to a round an inch,” Sheaf tells DailyMail.
After seeing a dermatologist when she noticed a sore on the mole, it was confirmed to be skin cancer. Over the next four years, Sheaf would undergo surgeries, biopsies, skin grafts and the devastating news that the stage-four cancer had also spread to her lungs. Sheaf says that shortly after she would arrive home from a surgery, she would notice a “little black speckle at the bottom” and call the hospital back. Doctors would reply, “that needs to come off immediately,” and she would go in for follow-up surgery where surgeons would have to cut even deeper into her face “and shave some of the cheekbone away,” she explains. “Now, even with makeup on, if I turn sideways my face is indented because my cheek has been cut away.” (Images can be seen here.)
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Looking back at her destructive habits, Sheaf says that she and her friends would use tanning beds for hours at a time in their 20s, often staying in them for an hour at a time, only taking a break for a drink. “You really have to be careful—I wish I’d known.” Studies show that overexposure to UV rays during this time period (namely childhood and teenage years) greatly increases the chances of developing skin cancer later in life. As a result, recent legislation has been introduced stateside to prevent minors from using tanning beds until they are over the age of 18.
But the U.S. government isn’t the only voice hoping to make a difference and prevent Sheaf’s story from happening to someone else. Now, she is urging others to stay away from tanning beds, to get into a dermatologists’ office, and to never be afraid to ask for a second opinion. “If you are worried about a mole or something on your skin, don’t let [doctors] tell you that it’s fine,” Sheaf says. “If I had done that I wouldn’t be here now. Stand your ground because I should have done that 20 years ago.”