In 1995, when Judy Cloud was 28, she went to see a dermatologist to check out what she thought was a scab. It turned out the "scab" was actually skin cancer.
The Indianapolis woman was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, which according to the Skin Cancer Foundation is the most common form of skin cancer. It rarely spreads and is treatable, but if left untreated, it can become life-threatening.
Now, 21 years later, Cloud is documenting her long struggle with the illness on Facebook, posting pictures of her face and body post-surgery. She hopes that the photos of her stitches and scars will scare others into wearing sunscreen and staying away from tanning beds.
And you know what, it's a good plan.
In a Facebook photo album titled "Skin Cancer," Cloud wrote about her fourth and most recent surgery in September 2015. Doctors removed 23 spots of basal cell carcinoma, 10 by excision (removal by scalpel which must be stitched up afterwards) and 13 by laser. The surgery took three hours under general anesthesia, and Cloud had to take the following two weeks off of work—her recuperation required that she remain immobile, either on the couch or in bed, with her legs elevated at all times to avoid blood clots. She writes that she also couldn't take a shower during those two weeks, because her lower legs were completely wrapped and she couldn't get them wet.
In order to remove cancer that had gone deeper than her skin, doctors had to cut into muscle in her mouth, necessitating a soft-food diet for two weeks after surgery. Four weeks after the operation, she still couldn't open her mouth all the way or chew anything particularly crunchy. The area above her mouth was still numb, making drinking from a cup somewhat tricky. Due to another spot of cancer that had grown over a nerve in her forehead, the doctor had to remove the nerve altogether, so Cloud has no feeling in most of her forehead. It's not clear yet whether the feeling in that part of her face will ever come back.
In an an interview with Self magazine, Cloud, 49, reveals that growing up, she was never cautious about the sun. She got frequent sunburns just like lots of kids and teens do, and when she was in 20s, she used a tanning bed about four times a year, despite the fact that she had a family history of skin cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will get skin cancer within their lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. Studies have shown that the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is increased by 75 percent in people who use a tanning bed before the age of 30.
Cloud told Self: “My 20-year-old self would never share [these pictures] and my 30-year-old self would never share them, but when my doctor said I was going to have another surgery, I said, ‘I’m going to document it this time and post it afterwards.' I never thought I would show myself on Facebook without makeup on let alone without makeup on and looking so injured. But, I’m old enough now to know this is needed.”
In her Skin Cancer photo album on Facebook, she wrote:
The face seems to be the fastest area to heal. The wounds on my arm, chest, shoulder, and legs are taking much longer to heal. I now have a 3” scar and a 2-1/2” scar on my chest, along with several laser scars. Does that sound worth it for you to keep going to a tanning bed? The removal of the skin cancer on my legs left indentations. The indentations won’t go away, although the scars will fade in time. Keep in mind that I went to a very skilled, very good plastic surgeon for removal of my skin cancer. Many times, a dermatologist will whack off the area, and believe me, a dermatologist doesn’t typically take quite the care that a plastic surgeon does - even on the face.
Total billed for my outpatient procedure? $26,845.87. I know tanning salons advertise tanning packages that are cheap. Does a surgery to correct what the tanning bed does to you still make the tanning special sound cheap?
I’m really hoping the thought of going to a tanning bed no longer sounds quite so attractive to you.
Mission accomplished. Also a lot cheaper than $27,000? Gallon jugs of sunscreen lotion on Amazon.com.