My Experience With Skin Cancer. (2-Part Series)

In an ever-increasingly loud world when it comes to our health and wellness, my desire to share my experiences, strategies, tips and tools with you continues to grow exponentially. I want to continue to raise my own awareness while inspiring you to do the same. If that’s what brought you to my page, then I am grateful to know we are each other’s people, and this week, my message is extra important, so I am very glad you are here.

Today, I’m sharing my own experience with skin cancer and next week, I’ll have Magdalena Tomczak with me to share her pro tips on treating our skin with love, compassion, dignity and respect. Magdalena is an expert in holistic skin care and the founder of Woman Divine here in my city of Ottawa, Canada. I cant wait to share!

But first, here goes…

I hope my story will serve as a reminder that we are more than our bodies, but that our bodies are precious gifts that need to be appreciated, revered, respected, and attended to with the kind of diligence they rightly deserve.

As a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I ran around outside with my friends, swimming in our pools, bike-riding without sunglasses or a hat or sunscreen and without giving a second thought to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. And no judgment to my parents, either…people just weren’t talking about it. Back then, the science and awareness hadn’t caught up to the damage that was being done to our youthful skin, and, hence, our time in the sun is now showing up in our thirties, fourties and fifties (if not sooner) as fine lines, wrinkles, brown spots, dehydrated skin and skin cancer, along with other skin issues.

When I was 18, I started using tanning beds about once a week in the winter, and this habit lasted for about two years. They were fairly new then (I mean, the first modern indoor tanning bed was introduced in the U.S. in 1978, but it wasn’t until the early 90’s that tanning salons started popping up everywhere). The marketing touted them as being a safe(r) alternative to the actual sun, which I bought into–hook, line and sinker.

We now know better. And, so, we must do better (Thanks, Dr. Angelou).

My own dermatologist shared her view with me that it’s not a matter of “if” tanning-bed-goers get skin cancer; but rather a matter of “when”.

I wish I had known her when I was 18. 

Fast forward to 11 years ago, when I was 35 years old. I hadn’t used tanning beds in well over a decade, but decided I just felt like warming up my body (it was mid-winter) and my skin with a little “glow”. Once locked inside the bed, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, readying myself for the warmth and relaxation I was about to experience. I pressed the button and heard the familiar cracking, snapping and then hum of the bulbs as they flickered on and got to work. I continued to breathe deeply and, after a few minutes, started dozing off. All of a sudden, I felt an intense heat–almost a burning sensation–on a single spot in my mid-back that made me jump. I flipped open the lid, shut off the machine, and spun around to look at my back in the mirror. As far as I could tell, there was nothing out of the ordinary. A little redness maybe and there was a mole in that spot that I assumed had *always* been there, and so I got dressed and left, much to the surprise of the employee at the front desk. After that incident, I intuitively knew that tanning beds were not safe for me, and I vowed to never visit one again.

I forgot about the incident and got on with life. But a few months later, at my annual physical with my doctor, she checked my moles as she always did. She noted the dark mole on my mid-back and said she wanted to send me to a dermatologist right away. I was seen a few days later and my dermatologist removed the mole and sent it to be biopsied. Shortly thereafter, I received the news that the mole had come back as a “proliferation of atypical melanocytes”, which my doctor explained as a mole that would become cancerous over time if we left it there. Hearing the word “cancerous” scared me. She went on to explain that I would also need to “remove the margins” which is a nice way of saying a larger section of flesh around the mole would be surgically removed from my back to prevent the cancer cells from spreading (incidentally, I’d had two other moles removed from that same area when I was only 11 years old). I had the procedure done, and over 10 years later, that scar is still there, serving as a reminder to me about the dangers of the sun, and I vowed to be more vigilant about sporting hats and glasses and sunscreen and staying in the shade for much of the summer.

Let’s now fast forward to last year, when I noticed a small, flat, skin-coloured “spot” below my right eye. At first, I thought it might be a pimple. Or a skin tag. When it didn’t go away, I thought it might be a new mole coming. A few weeks later, I booked an appointment with my family doctor who referred me back to my dermatologist, who took a look and explained that she thought it was a “basal cell carcinoma”. The word carcinoma scared me.

I knew it meant cancer. 

She explained that, yes, it was, but that it’s the most common and treatable form of skin cancer that most likely wouldn’t metastacize (spread) to other parts of my body unlike my previous experience. She told me to keep an eye on it and come back if I noticed any changes. A few months later, a second spot appeared below it. I went back in and my dermatologist referred me to an eyelid specialist who would perform the surgery. He explained that I would be left with some scarring, but that it would eventually heal and likely wouldn’t be noticeable. He reassured me that I could also wear makeup to cover the scar once it healed.

So there was that.

But this is my face we are talking about, and if you have followed me for any length of time, you will know that I have struggled with my appearance taking up too much room in my life for as long as I can remember. I allow(ed) my looks to define me in a lot of ways. My appearance has always been inextricably linked to my value as a woman, and it is something I have been actively working on for YEARS.

And I have come a long way.

But I was scared.

First, there was the surgery and what that would mean to my life and appearance. And second, even though it’s common and easily treatable, knowing that I had skin cancer (again) was unnerving.

On the surgeon’s recommendation, we put off the surgery until after my TV show wrapped and the holidays were behind us, and so, three and a half weeks ago, I went in to have it done. I was made comfortable with a mild anesthetic, and felt no pain while the surgeon got to work. Once I was stitched up, I shared with the nurse in the recovery room that I had not been fully prepared for what this entailed. The surgeon had drawn a picture of my wounds so that I would know where to apply the antibiotic ointment on top of the bandages, and the picture looked scary to me. I was instructed to sleep propped up for the first 5 days. Not to shower for a week as I couldn’t risk getting it wet (baths were ok; I’m not a savage!); No exercising for 10 days, either. No bending, stretching, moving or doing anything strenuous until it healed. And NO makeup for SIX weeks.

Ok. I could handle all of that–albeit begrudgingly–but I could do it. I had no choice.

My surgeon was heading away for a month, and so he used dissolving sutures on me. I didn’t know what to expect with my recovery, so I assumed the pain and discomfort I felt was “normal”. A week after the surgery, I went in to have the bandages removed. When the surgeon uncovered my wounds, I wasn’t prepared for his reaction. He wasn’t happy with what he saw–wounds that weren’t closing properly; too much swelling; too much redness, bruising, inflammation.

He immediately put me on a round of antibiotics. UGH. As you know, I avoid them as much as humanly possible and bemoaned the time, effort, energy and money I spent cultivating a stellar gut microbiome that would be all but wiped away by this heavy dose of medication.

With my surgeon being away, it was hard to know if I was making progress, but he asked that I text him pictures every few days, which I did. I decided to book an emergency appointment with my dermatologist who took one look and shared that she thought my body was rejecting the sutures. She said it happens in a small number of people, and that I was just “unlucky”. I texted my surgeon with her thoughts and he agreed. He suggested a cortisone cream to be applied twice daily OR to have someone remove the sutures. The thought of being opened up again and having the sutures removed sounded awful to me, and so I opted for the former.

I’m now almost 4 weeks post-op, and definitely appear to be on the other side of this health issue, but it will be some time before my scars fade. And I have found some peace around that. I went out for the first time at about 3 weeks post-op (other than to see doctors) as it has been so cold in Ottawa lately that I didn’t want to risk my eyes watering on my wounds. It felt nice to get out, even though I also felt anxious about exposing myself with these new scars to “the world” (the world, by the way, was a Starbucks and a grocery store). I have always felt more “myself” with makeup; it’s allowed me to enhance my features, but it’s also allowed me to hide in many ways, as well.

Right now, I have nowhere to hide. And it feels like personal growth.

I have also prioritized my mental health during this time by meditating daily, listening to soothing music while I work, keeping a positive attitude, staying hydrated, nourishing my body with healing foods like ginger, turmeric, bone broth, a natural probiotic, and tons of vegetables, and by sharing my feelings with my partner, Roger, who is always so wonderfully reassuring.

I am also grateful to my amazing students who have been with me throughout this ordeal and with whom I am forced to be naked and vulnerable, sans makeup, for our weekly classes. They have helped me work through this more than they even know.

If you are still reading, then I thank you for being with me, supporting me on this leg of my journey. If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the sun as a kid and I would have learned about sun protection much earlier. I feel incredibly blessed to live in a country that values the health of its citizens the way Canada does, but no matter where we live in the world, we each have to be our own health advocates.

  • Be mindful that basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and no one is immune, although it is more common among fair-skinned people with a history of sun exposure and is very rare among dark-skinned people. Basal cell carcinoma usually develops on skin surfaces that are exposed to sunlight, like the head, decolletage or neck.
  • More than 4 million people develop this type of cancer in the U.S. alone each year.
  • Checking your moles (and your kids’ moles) regularly is crucial. I do it once a month when I check my breasts in the shower–once I get out, I check my moles.
  • My dermatologist recommends taking pictures of our moles so we can compare over time and share with them any changes we notice.
  • Basal cell tumors enlarge very slowly, sometimes so slowly that they go unnoticed as new growths, which is why vigilance and taking pictures can really help.
  • Basal cell carcinomas rarely spread to other parts of the body. Rather, they invade and slowly destroy surrounding tissues. When basal cell carcinomas grow near the eyes, ears, mouth, bone, or brain, the consequences can be serious and can lead to death. Yet, for most people, the tumors simply grow slowly into the skin.
  • Treatment is nearly always successful, and basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal. However, almost 25% of people with a history of basal cell carcinoma develop a new basal cell cancer within 5 years of the first one. So anyone with one basal cell carcinoma should have a yearly skin examination.
  • Because basal cell carcinoma is often caused by sun exposure, people can help prevent this cancer by: Avoiding the sun (seeking shade, minimizing outdoor activities between 10 am and 4 pm and avoiding sunbathing and the use of tanning beds); Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and broad-brimmed hats; and using sunscreen.

Our skin is our largest organ and we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. While we can (and should) enjoy the sun in small doses (hello, vitamin D!), we need to protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburn) and also UVA rays (the ones that cause aging and that are present in daylight all year round). UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, which is why dermatologists recommends a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects us against both UVA and UVB rays, all year round. Note that the term “SPF” only applies to UVB protection.

I hope this post serves as a reminder to prioritize the health of your skin just as you would other areas of your body. Taking care of my skin now (much more than I did 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago) has made a huge difference in the texture, quality and appearance of my skin, let alone its health. Doing so has also improved my mental health, as it feels wonderfully responsible and “adult” to take care of me. No one else is able to do this work, and so I treat my experience in this area with genuine curiosity. I ask myself, “Who do I want to be throughout this experience?” I realize that it’s a very real possibility that I may develop more suspicious moles or tumors as I continue to age, and I have to decide whether or not I want to be paralyzed by fear or whether I want to use this experience as an opportunity for growth.

I choose growth.

And as my experience has taught me, there is never a better time to start prioritizing my health than RIGHT NOW. While there is nothing I can do about the damage I have done to my skin in the past (with sun exposure and using tanning beds, with picking at it, with the use of toxic chemicals I’ve used on it, and with not being mindful that my skin is an organ–and needs support), I am much farther ahead than I would have been had I never started.

It is never, ever too late to prioritize your health, and your skin is a great place to start! Keeping our heads in the sand only delays things and can make things worse. Prevention and early detection are important strategies when it comes to our health and wellness in all areas.

I want that for me. And I want that for you, too.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. For anyone interested in learning more about the dangers of tanning and tanning beds, here are just a few articles:…/uvb-tanning-beds-are-safe…/the-ugly-truth-about-indoor……/105867-negative-effects…/

P.P.S. If you’d like to prioritize your health for 14 days, perhaps you’d like to sign up for my 14 Days of Wellness! Enter your name and email address up on the right to begin receiving the messages today. It’s free, with no diets, products, challenges or catches…just a chance to remember how amazing your brain–and body is–for 14 days.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of prioritizing our health, on May 4th and 5th, 2019, Roger and I are hosting The Healthy Brain and Body Show for our THIRD year! We are so excited to bring this show back even bigger and better! We would love to see you there as an attendee, where we have so much we want to share with you. We can’t wait to explore, connect, learn and shop at the show WITH you! Please say hello if you come. Roger and I will both be there the entire weekend. It would be a thrill to meet you. 🙂


P.P.P.P.S. Let’s be friends! I’d love to connect on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. Plus, as a thank you for joining, you will receive my 14 Days of Wellness.



  • Gerri

    Reply Reply February 20, 2019

    Hey Sarah!!!!
    I too have had numerous bouts with basal cell. I have a standing appt with the dermatologist every six months.
    I’ve had four spots removed – ALL on my face!!!!!!! The dermatologist is VERY good with sewing up the skin left from the removal of the cancerous cells. They are hardly detectable.
    I war 100 SPF when I go golfing. 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

    • Sarah

      Reply Reply February 20, 2019

      Hi Gerri!

      I am so glad you are followed so well and that you haven’t had any issues with healing. Beautiful! Unfortunately, I am experiencing issues with being allergic to the sutures, so I didn’t heal properly, and my scars are developing thick ridges and are still very red/inflamed. I now wear a medicated patch that is designed to help “flatten” them out. Fingers crossed!

      I am learning so much about sunscreen and even at 100 SPF, you want to make sure it’s a “broad spectrum” (UVB and UVA protection) to protect your beautiful snow white skin! I will be sharing more as I learn from top experts in this field. I feel very lucky to be able to share my experience and hear about others’, too. So much love to you! xo

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field