Great Souls

Melanoma Month: A Journey Into The Sun

"Hmmm, what's that?" my mama asked, as I shellacked oil on my body and basked in her backyard.
                                                                    
It was Summer 2006 -- the heated months of Shakira's Hips Don't Lie and Nelly Furtado's Promiscuous Girl. I was a rising sophomore at NYU -- feeling invincibly on top of the world -- and home for the summer in Suburban Philadelphia, working at Express and saving up to study abroad. 
                   
"That looks funky," she frowned. She was pointing at a small freckle-mole on my tummy- about four inches above my belly-button ring that every young woman my age had back then, courtesy of Britney Spears. I probably began lathering up even more tanning oil as she examined the tiny mole, noting a small area which appeared more black than the rest of the freckle.
                                                        
My maternal grandfather, a fair Italian, died of Melanoma when he was 71. I can still remember humid summers at his house -- his mowing the lawn with his shirt off and a big black mole breathing on his chest like a spider. A year before he died, the mole started bleeding. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma. 
                                                                  
 Ever since my Pop Pop's diagnosis, my family has been vigilant about moles. Unfortunately didn't inherit my mother's beautiful au natural J-Lo glow and olive skin. In other words:  I'm Snow White and I burn. But that didn't stop me from achieving peak bronze in high school. In fact, looking back, I realize I had a small-scale addiction. I was a Type-A Control Freak Perfectionist who never smoked or drank, though tanning was my go-to high. To contextualize my addiction and make excuses: this was the era of belly-shirts and six packs and Shakira's Hips Don't Lie. I went to an all-girls Catholic School and in the winter, we all engaged in an unspoken competition to see who could be tanner. Hollywood Tans was all the rage and after a long day of studying for the SATs on a cold winter day, I loved the dose of endorphins and warmth a ten-minute session injected in me. It was like meditating on a beach.
                                                                    
 Fast forward some years later. I was 20 years old and wincing in my dermatologist's office in Soffe shorts and a hospital gown as he burned my stomach  open, removing a 3-inch circumference of full dermis around the mole my mom spotted   in her backyard.  If it were up to him, he wouldn't have removed it. 
         
"You're 21," he said, scanning my tiny freckle-mole. "This doesn't concern me." My mother glared at him. And so off it came. Fourish days later, I received a morning call before my shift at Express.  "Lauren, I'm glad your mother insisted on taking off your mole," he said in spooky Are-You-Afraid-Of-The-Dark cadence.  "You have Stage 0 Melanoma and we need to make sure it's not invasive."
         
 That explains the three-inch shark bite on my stomach. A scar that reminds me to listen to my mom. And to always wear sunscreen. Thankfully, my melanoma was in-situ and non-invasive. But the whole ordeal was a wake up call to consequences I willfully and blissfully ignored. 
                     
 I wish I could say that eleven years later, I'm over the sun -- that it doesn't do anything for me. But I'm a Triple Leo (google) and still love me a good sun-buzz. I have since become content with my fair skin, especially when complemented by a dallop of bronzer and Lancome's Flash Bronzer self-tanner. And I often joke I'm glad for the incident, for it has saved me many wrinkles.
                                                                        
                   
I am now based in Istanbul, where I have a yearly check-up. I've had a few moles removed here. Once I think something looks remotely weird, off it goes. But some things don't and can't change. When I visit my family in PA, I still sit with my mom in my bikini in her backyard. I just wear a hat and lots of SPF. Shakira still blares from the speakers, which are now on my iPhone and not my boombox and I still rock a cubic zirconia bellybutton ring. You can take the girl out of Philly...
     
Pre workout tips: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Post workout tips: Stretch, stretch, stretch. And more hydrating. :)
Tips for key moves or favorites workouts: I love Reformer Pilates, Barre3 and a good Vinyasa. Also, jump-roping is severely underrated.
Favorite nutrition hacks and /or fitness tricks:. Fitness-wise, I spend a lot of time on the road in the Middle East. I often don't have access to a gym, so I use water bottles as weights and the back of a chair as a ballet bar. I also do step-ups on a bed, if need be. And I always travel with an exercise band so I can get a deep stretch in. It takes a village! 
                       
 Lauren Bohn is the GroundTruth Project’s inaugural Middle East correspondent and editor-at-large. Formerly, she was one of the first women columnists at Foreign Policy magazine. She’s the co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, a start-up incubator and fellowship program dedicated to changing the ratio and getting more women miked and bylined. She’s also the co-founder of SchoolCycle, a United Nations Foundation campaign in Malawi and Guatemala to provide bikes for adolescent girls to get to school.