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Judy Cloud is the first to admit she underestimated what it would be like to live with skin cancer. In 1995, Cloud was in her mid-20s when doctors first told her that a suspicious spot under her eye was basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a form of skin cancer most often caused by sun exposure.
“I didn’t take skin cancer seriously after my first diagnosis,” the 53 year old said in an interview with TODAY. “I was also the one who thought, ‘No big deal, I’ll just get it cut off, I’m fine.’ Now, 25 years later, it’s a big deal.”
In the years since first being diagnosed, Cloud has undergone procedures to remove an estimated 40 spots from her face and body - a far cry from what she initially thought to be a “one-and-done” diagnosis.
In her 20s, Cloud would use tanning beds before going on vacations to develop a “base tan,” and used to spend hours basking in the sun without sunscreen.
“We didn’t know back then what the sun would do,” Cloud said.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, BCC accounts for approximately 70 to 80 per cent of all skin cancers. Unlike melanoma, BCC begins in the lower part of the epidermis (basal layer) and can appear in many different forms. While melanoma typically begins as dark or asymmetrical moles, BCC and other forms of skin cancer can present in different ways: sores that bleed or won’t heal, raised or scaly red patches, a growth that itches, pale white or yellow flat areas that look like scars, or a pink growth with raised edges.
Now, Cloud bears the scars from multiple procedures and surgeries on her face, chest, arms and legs. She chronicles her treatment in blog posts for SkinCancer.net, sharing with readers what it’s like to be “granted a lifetime membership” to “the skin cancer club.”
“The skin cancer club is definitely not a secret club, at least not for me,” she explained in a post earlier this year. “Scars, biopsy marks, stitches...they’re all on display for everyone to see. Sometimes I forget that I’m a member, and then catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror after yet another procedure and have a moment of shock. I may feel the same on the inside, for the most part, but I don’t always look the same on the outside.”
While Cloud said she is grateful that she has never been diagnosed with melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer, she has undergone procedures to remove another form of cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) from her leg. Although it’s considered a slow-growing cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation has estimated SCC kills 15,000 people each year in the United States.
Cloud attends routine check-ups with her dermatologist every six months. Before each visit, she worries whether or not her doctor will find something suspicious.
“Every appointment causes anxiety because I know I could either be poked or prodded or scraped or burned or stitched or biopsied,” she said. “I can’t look in the mirror without checking for a new spot… it does cause a moment of panic if I see something, whether it’s a bug bite or something that I don’t know what it is.”
With Spring Break around the corner, Cloud is sharing her story once again in the hopes of encouraging people to be diligent about sun safety.
“I want them to realize that if they think skin cancer won’t happen to them, it could. They could very well be paying the price for it down the road. Look at my photos, look at what I’m still going through,” she warned. “Even if you don’t get the skin cancer, there’s a good chance you’ll have the wrinkly, leathery skin; the sun spots. If you’re in a tanning bed, you’re damaging your skin.”