July 24, 2018

Overcoming melanoma as a young adult

Brooke Romero had just graduated high school when she discovered a suspicious-looking mole that turned out to be melanoma.

In 2008, Brooke Romero had just graduated high school. While enjoying a pleasant summer before beginning the next, exciting phase of her life attending college, she received some startling news.

Soon after visiting her dermatologist to check a suspicious-looking mole on her upper body, Romero underwent surgery to remove the growth that turned out to be melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“It was scary,” said Romero, now age 28 and an attorney living in Long Beach. “Thankfully, the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes.”

While the average age for melanoma diagnosis is 63, an escalating number of people under 30 years old are developing the potentially life-threatening disease. Researchers attribute the upsurge to excessive tanning, increased use of tanning salons, and other factors.

Growing up in warm, sunny climates in Southern California and Arizona, Romero led an active, outdoor lifestyle. Although she remembers using sunscreen consistently, she also experienced sunburns almost every summer. Like many youths, she also felt peer pressure to tan her fair skin and frequented the local tanning salon.

“It was a social thing to do — to tan together with your friends,” said Romero.

After Romero’s initial melanoma diagnosis, she immediately changed her daily sun exposure and skin care habits. She also began seeing the dermatologist every three months for skin checks. Over the next five years, Romero had new precancerous skin growths removed from various parts of her body. She also required another surgery to eliminate melanoma on her leg in 2013.

“All of that just shows the depth of the damage that had been done to my skin,” said Romero.

Fortunately, the rate of new, potentially dangerous skin growths for Romero has slowed significantly over the past several years. Today, she continues limiting her time under the sun and getting regular skin checks with Paola Rodriguez, MD, dermatologist, Southern California Permanente Medical Group. However, when Romero does participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, she wears long pants, long-sleeved shirts, UV-blocking sunglasses, a hat — and plenty of nonchemical-based sunscreen — to protect her skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

“You only get one skin for a lifetime — it’s best to do all you can to take care of it,” said Romero.