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22-year-old with melanoma: 'You can't just cut it out'

22-year-old with melanoma: 'You can't just cut it out'


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KAYSVILLE — Most young adults her age are more concerned with getting through college than with beating cancer.

For Brittany Wilson, though, it's the melanoma that is on her mind, as she sits Saturday at a crowded fundraiser in her name, shielded by a canopy from the pouring rain.

"The one day it rains, we're out here," she said. "But," she continued, gesturing toward the heavens, "no matter how stormy life gets, there are always blessings."

Blessings, such as countless community members who turned out in support of the 22-year-old, watching professional wrestling, listening to local bands Peace & Quiet and Chasing Chance, and signing a banner to be given to Primary Children's Hospital in support of cancer patients.

The event was part fundraiser — the bills for Wilson's treatment come to more than $4,000 a month after insurance — and part opportunity to educate.

"A lot of people don't understand skin cancer," Wilson said. "They think you can just cut it out, and it's not a big deal. But you can't just cut it out."

Wilson has even lost friends because of her cancer: people who saw her in public and assumed that it couldn't be "that bad" if she was able to go about her life with any sense of normalcy.

Melanoma statistics
  • More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year.
  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
  • Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old
  • It is the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
  • Melanoma is increasing faster in females 15-29 years old than males in the same age group.
Credit: American Melanoma Foundation

"I've lost quite a few friends and relationships because they didn't think I was sick," she said. "They thought that I was just having a pity party — that it was not that big of a deal."

Those experiences, however painful, have spurred her to focus on education as a way to fight cancer. While genetics play a role in determining one's susceptibility to melanoma, activities such as tanning make one more likely to develop the disease.

Wilson said she recognizes it would be unrealistic to try to ban all use of tanning beds, but she at least wants tanning-salon patrons to understand the risks before they decide to tan.

"Any time you try to ban something, it just pushes people more toward it," she said. "But I would support legislation requiring that the dangers of tanning be taught in health classes."

Current Utah legislation says minors may use tanning beds only if a parent or guardian is present. Written permission must be given before each use.

Wilson had only been tanning twice before her diagnosis, though; for her, it was a matter of genetics.

"It runs on both sides of my family," she said. "But genes aren't everything. We need to educate the upcoming generation."

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It is a generation that, along with her own, faces increased rates of melanoma: a 3-percent increase per year since 1992, among Caucasians. That rate has increased further in recent years among young, white females.

Wilson said she believes that despite recent efforts to educate young adults about melanoma, many do not take the disease seriously due to its high initial survival rate: more than 90 percent of patients ages 10–39 survive for at least five years after being diagnosed, if the cancer is caught early. But it is rapidly becoming the most common form of cancer among young adults, and the survival rate is less than 10 percent if the cancer is not caught in time.

It's not a disease that just disappears, but Wilson hopes that as awareness spreads, people will come to better understand the causes and dangers of the disease that has become the center of her life since her Sept. 8, 2011 diagnosis.

"It's my generation and younger who are getting it," she said. "It's not fun, but I'm determined not to let it get me down. I'm going to advocate. I'm going to fight."

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Stephanie Grimes

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