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Kara Sewell: Former tanning bed addict

Kara Sewell has a small scar on her arm where doctors removed a precancerous mole. (FOX19 NOW) Kara Sewell has a small scar on her arm where doctors removed a precancerous mole. (FOX19 NOW)
Kara Sewell (FOX19 NOW/file) Kara Sewell (FOX19 NOW/file)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

In the summer of 2003, I decided to be a lifeguard at Six Flag's Astroworld, a now-defunct theme park in my hometown of Houston. 

I wanted to be in the sun, do something different and, frankly, I liked telling kids not to run.

You would think spending eight hours a day in the Houston sun for an entire summer would leave me with one heck of a tan (and it did).

But, for some reason, bronze was not enough. I decided to wash away my tan lines with a healthy dose of UV rays from my local tanning salon. 

I bought a monthly membership, which meant unlimited access to bake for up to twenty minutes at a time. I took every minute I could get. 

By the end of the summer, I was grossly tan-- like glow-in-the-dark teeth, scary, older woman from "Something About Mary" tan! 

If you haven't seen the movie, Google Image Search it immediately and you will want to hit me over the head with some sunscreen. 

I continued my tanning ways well into the fall. Yes, I was a golden goddess at the Thanksgiving dinner table. 

My obsession continued into the New Year and became a habit like brushing my teeth and working out. I don't remember the exact date I noticed the mole on my arm, but I do remember the moment. I was coming out of the tanning salon and while examining my golden glow noticed a strange spot that had not been there months before.

It startled me - not because it was new, but how it looked. The mole was raised, had tiny black dots in the middle and was oddly shaped. It was like it had popped up overnight, and I was scared. 

I called my mom that week and, at my insistence, she booked me an appointment to see our family dermatologist the next time I came home for a visit. 

I wish I had a picture, but I'm not sure I even had a camera phone at the time. I doubt I could afford anything other than a disposable camera as a poor college kid.

A few weeks later, I visited the dermatologist. She was concerned enough to remove the mole and send it to a pathologist. She said she would tell me the results, but I never heard from her. 

Instead, my parents called me into their room the next week (I visited home often). They said the mole was considered precancerous. 

All you have to do is hear the "C' word, and you go numb. Now, a precancerous lesion is one that is not cancer but could become it over time. 

I needed to go back to the dermatologist so she could remove more tissue from the area where the mole had been, to make sure she could get a clear margin. 

A clear margin means that a lesion (or in my case mole) was removed and where it existed is surrounded by a rim of normal tissue that does not have cancer cells. 

This means that the likelihood of cancer cells remaining behind is low. She dug out more tissue until the area around it was clear. And voila! 

Twelve years later, I'm left with a scar about the size of my thumb that I've been asked about more times than I care to mention. 

Fortunately, the scar is starting to fade but it serves as a good reminder to stay out of the tanning bed. 

I never went back in a tanning bed, and now I wear 50 SPF when I'm out in the sun. 

In doing research for this post, I learned at cancer.org that nearly half of all fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. 

Dang! That's too many! So lather up!  And stay out of the tanning bed. 

My best advice: Take care of your skin. It's your largest organ (a little trivia for you). Ask your dermatologist about getting a body scan yearly to stay healthy for you and your family.

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