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I grew up on California’s Donner Pass, near Lake Tahoe, so I’ve been skiing—both in water and on snow—since I was two. I was a golden girl; I never thought about the dangers of the sun. But as you get older, you get educated, and I’ve been careful. I wear sunscreen. I wear hats. I get my yearly skin checks. I felt like I was doing everything I needed to do to protect myself so I could enjoy Colorado’s beautiful outdoors.
Then, early in 2022, I was having problems with my scalp. It was fine, but on the way out the door—my hand was literally on the knob—I said to my doctor, “I’ve seen these age spots rise up on my skin. What can we do about this one on my nose?” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t just an age spot. I got the biopsy in late May, in between my son’s eighth-grade graduation festivities, and a week later a doctor called and told me it was basal cell carcinoma. The words hit me hard.
The good news is that I didn’t have melanoma, which, if it metastasizes, has about a 20 percent five-year survival rate. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common kind of skin cancer (nearly four million Americans are diagnosed every year) and isn’t fatal, but the doctor still wanted to remove it through surgery. “If it’s slow-growing and not going to kill me,” I asked the doctor, “why do you want to cut up my face?” (I’m on TV, you know.) True, it wouldn’t kill me. But left untreated, the cancer would become an open wound on my face.
The doctors told me I’d need two procedures on one day. The first, called a Mohs surgery, involves cutting a tiny horizontal section of the skin, testing it for cancer, and then cutting incrementally deeper until the margins around the spot are clear of cancer. They thought it would take an hour. I was there for four, because they needed to make three cuts and the surgeon found a second cancer between my eyes. The second procedure was reconstructive surgery. When I showed up to the plastic surgeon, part of my little nose—which I really liked!—was missing, so he had to cut a piece of my ear cartilage out to put in my nose so it wouldn’t collapse.
I didn’t know if this was going to be a profession ender for me. I mean, I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein. It would be months before I really looked like myself again. When I posted a photo to social media, one guy wrote, “Well, I guess we’ll call that a career.”
But besides that jerk, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Everywhere I go, somebody comes up to me and tells me they had this same surgery. I had no clue skin cancer was such a thing here: In Colorado, 21.9 people out of 100,000 get skin cancer every year, according to the Colorado Health Institute, which is slightly more than the national average (19.7). That number skyrockets in higher-elevation communities, where ultraviolet rays are stronger. The rates in Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Eagle, and Chaffee counties, for example, are all above 30.
So many people have this and don’t talk about it. They hide out in their homes while they recover—like I did. But at least 200 people have gotten their skin checked because my photo scared them. The picture, which is hard to look at, seemed to push them to action—and it’s such an easy appointment. Ten minutes in a dermatologist’s office. You can be isolated and depressed and think you’re never going to get back to your life, and I’m here to say, Yes, you can. I have a weird-looking nose. But I’m OK. —As told to Spencer Campbell