Trust Your Instincts, Skin Cancer Survivor Urges

Kim Fahnley says she spotted her tumors both times

MONDAY, May 26, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- When Kim Fahnley first noticed the bumpy patch of skin on the side of her thigh, it was about a half inch in diameter.

She might not have given it a second thought, except it was irritating. And, as a blue-eyed blonde of northern European descent, she was well aware that skin changes can spell cancer.

So she showed it to her dermatologist, who wasn't initially concerned. However, he biopsied the tissue, just in case.

The bumpy area turned out to be malignant melanoma, the most virulent form of skin cancer.

Fahnley had surgery to remove the growth and eventually recovered just fine.

But the going was rough for a while. At the time of the surgery, she was just 29 and newly married. "They told me to hold off having kids," Fahnley remembers. "They wanted to be sure it wasn't going to reoccur."

Fortunately, it didn't. And since that scare 13 years ago, Fahnley has survived a bout with another type of skin cancer, opened her own sun-protective clothing business online and given birth to two children.

Equally important, she's learned to trust her gut instincts.

More than 1 million people in the United States get a diagnosis of skin cancer each year, according to American Cancer Society estimates. And Fahnley is convinced that most of these patients could spot their cancers themselves, as she did.

"My advice is, when you notice a change on your own body, to trust your own instincts," she says.

When her second cancer surfaced six years ago, she again brought it to the attention of her doctor. "When I'd go to kiss my kids, it hurt," Fahnley recalls of the squamous cell cancer on her lip.

She told her dermatologist something just wasn't right. "He detected a small tumor on the inside of my lip," Fahnley says. Once more, surgery removed the cancer.

Always active outdoors, Fahnley had grown up with a passion for horseback riding and, later, gardening.

But after her surgeries, she found it difficult to keep her sun exposure to a minimum. "At my three-month checkups, my dermatologist would say, 'You are still getting sun,'" Fahnley says, "and I was using sunscreen."

So she launched Sun Solutions, a line of sun-protective clothing -- jackets, pants, hats, beachwear and other attire for adults and children -- to make it easier to ward off the sun while enjoying the outdoors.

Her children, now 11 and 9, are walking advertisements for the company, wearing her gear to outdoor activities and educating others about the benefits of sun protection. Her husband, Joel, also wears the clothes.

But the best advice, Fahnley insists, is to follow through with medical care if you notice a change on your skin -- even if a doctor reassures you it's nothing.

"You know your body best," she says.

More information

To learn more about protecting yourself from the sun, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation. For more on skin cancer, check with the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: Kim Fahnley, Sun Solutions founder and skin cancer survivor; American Cancer Society
Consumer News