News & Press
Guest blog post by Summer Sanders, Olympic gold medalist in swimming, American sports commentator, reporter, television personality, actress, cutaneous melanoma survivor and MRF advocate:
My name is Summer Sanders and at one point in time I think people would have referred to me as that “California swim kid.” I swam my entire life, from 18 months old until age 24. It was always outside and always for, at least, 2 hours at a time. And it was never with sunscreen. Swimming took me to the Olympic Games in 1992 where I won 4 Olympic medals, 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze.
I was born in 1972 and was raised to play outside. I was always tan. I had my grandmother and father’s dark olive complexion. But I was also my mother’s daughter and my mother was fair skin and blue eyes. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of sunscreen. I never used oils or went to a tanning bed. I remember using sunscreen in the 80’s but I would only use it on vacation. Even if I had a training camp in Hawaii, I would train without sunscreen but use my sunscreen if we went to the beach to hang out after training. I never associated sunscreen or sun protection with training.
In 2013, my husband noticed a black mole on my right calf. He urged me to get it checked out. It took me an entire year to finally do it and I only had it checked as an afterthought at the end of my dermatology appointment in 2014. I had forgotten all about asking the doctor but as I was walking out of the exam room I asked him if I should get it looked at. He wasn’t concerned about my mole but said, “We can take it off or we can do it the next time you are back.” I hadn’t been to see this doctor in over two years so I figured I might as well do it then.
Seven days later I received the call. That is when I heard the term “malignant melanoma” for the first time and where my journey began. This little black mole was a stage 1 malignant melanoma and he wanted to see me the next day to get it taken out. They removed an ice cream scoop of flesh out of my calf and said they felt comfortable that I was clean but would know for sure in five years. They also took a mole off my left calf and sent it off to be checked out. That new mole came back as in situ melanoma and was excised.
Since that day in 2014, I have had two more melanoma in situs on my right triceps area. Both very small, unassuming and caught so early that I didn’t need to worry. I started 2014 with barely a scar on my body and now I have a road map of my life in the sun.
I have had to rework my relationship with the sun. I actually used to love the way the sun made me feel. I loved that moment when the sun would hit your skin, warming you up with a giant hug-like feeling. That wasn’t the feeling anymore. I learned a ton about when, how and why to protect yourself from sun exposure. I actually thought the water was a barrier of protection from the sun but reality is that it magnifies the sun’s impact. I thought through how I apply my sunscreen and focus on the back of my legs and arms just as much as the front.
My kids may think I am nuts at times but they can thank me for never having a sunburn. We still go outside, we still play in the sun but with healthy knowledge of how to protect ourselves. That’s why I’m so honored to participate in the MRF’s 2022 #GetNaked campaign. I want to help spread this same knowledge to everyone – you can still enjoy your time outdoors and in sunshine but knowing how to protect yourself and the importance of sun safety can make the world of difference!
The MRF is committed to increasing awareness of melanoma, sun safety and how important it is to #GetNaked for a monthly self-skin check and yearly full body exam by a board certified dermatologist. Your support makes this work possible; please consider a tax-deductible gift today: