You know how when you are young you think that the bad stuff only happens to other people? You believe you’re immune and immortal, and are sure the advice parents give is just to “pop our bubble” or “rain on our parade”? Well, that was me. I didn’t even think I’d turn thirty one day, let alone contract one of those awful diseases my parents warned me about! Yet, here I am, now well over thirty and having had one of those diseases: malignant Melanoma. I learned my lesson too late so, for Skin Cancer Awareness Month, I’m sharing my story.

Fourteen years ago I started visiting a tanning salon in order to sport a healthy looking tan for a wedding I was attending. After the event, and looking like I’d been to the Bahamas, I was addicted to the glow. So despite all the warnings I read in articles and heard from doctors, I kept on tanning.

There was mirror placed right in front of the tanning bed, and I remember that one time, on my way out, I caught a glimpse of a very small, yet uniquely dark spot on the back of my thigh. While I have quite a few moles, this one somehow seemed out of place. I remember thinking: This serves me right, it’s probably skin cancer. However, as soon as I got home, I forgot about it. I erased it from my mind for two years until I visited one of my siblings and the subject of my tanning habit came up. I showed her the dark spot and she told me to go get it checked immediately. Her fear over the spot was enough to scare me into calling a doctor. 

Read Related: Is that Mole Dangerous? The Truth About Detecting Skin Cancer

When I got back from my sister’s, I went to the dermatologist who performed a biopsy. A few days later, while I was at work, the dermatologist called and told me to grab a pen and write down what he was going to tell me so I could explain it to people. I was in shock, but did as I was told. I wrote down: Stage 1 Melanoma, and a lot of other words I can’t recall. The only thing I understood was that I had to have surgery as soon as possible.

A couple of weeks later I walked out of the hospital cancer-free with a six-inch long incision on my thigh. The scar is big enough to serve as a good reminder of my tanning salon days.

For a few years I shied away from the sun completely. Now, I am less radical but I am still cautious. My tanning booth days are over and I use creams and lotions with high SPF every day to protect my skin. I use self-tanners to get that healthy glow. Yet, after everything I have read about skin cancer—and I’ve read a lot—no matter what I do, the chances of Melanoma recurrence for me are high. I do my part now, taking care of my skin and keeping regular appointments with my dermatologist, but that is all I can do. There is no way to undo the damage I did in my youth.

The message here is that we’re not immune to those diseases we think we’ll only read about! Take care of your skin and perhaps learn a thing or two from someone who’s been there—with the skin cancer diagnosis and scar to prove it. I was lucky I caught it in time, others have not been so fortunate.