I grew up thinking I was immune to skin cancer based on my ethnicity.  I was wrong.

I grew up thinking I was immune to skin cancer because of my ethnicity. I was wrong.

As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

I grew up in a family where the use of sunscreen was not talked about and was used very rarely. In fact, the opposite was true: we bathed in suntan oil and let the sun burn us. The more sun, the better!

As a Hispanic woman with brown skin, I have enjoyed watching my skin tone darken during the summer months.

Nobody in my family knew much about him. melanoma nor that anyone could contract it.

In 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I noticed a mole on my ankle was getting darker. By then, I was much more educated when it came to the dangers of skin cancer. As I write about health related issues, I related a story of a young woman who had melanoma and eventually died of it after the cancer returned and spread.

I made an appointment with a dermatologist. We had a virtual meeting because strict protocols to prevent Covid-19 made an in-person assessment impossible.

The dermatologist examined the mole as best he could virtually and said it appeared to be normal. He didn’t give me any additional information, such as signals to monitor or changes to be aware of, information that would have been useful in retrospect.

A year later, I had a completely different skin problem. She had what turned out to be a dermatofibroma, a small round mass, on my back. She itched and bothered me. So I went to a one-on-one medical appointment with a new dermatologist. He diagnosed dermatofibroma and said it wasn’t cancer, but still recommended a complete exam of all the skin on my body. This included a careful study of all the moles on my body.

I showed him the mole on my ankle which the previous dermatologist hadn’t found worrisome. He thought her appearance was suspicious and he biopsied her at the time.

A week later, she called me and told me the mole had revealed that she had melanoma. The next step was to numb my skin and remove tissue the size of a fifty-cent piece to ensure the melanoma hadn’t spread.

My diagnosis surprised me and my relatives. He was young, healthy and cultured. I wrongly assumed that when you take all precautions, you won’t have any sickness or disease. There’s also the notion that Hispanic or Latino people don’t get skin cancer, but they certainly can.

Although melanoma was detected early in my case, the word “cancer” carries weight. When you hear that you have melanoma, it makes you think, think about what’s important, and inspires you to tell others it could happen to them too.


I felt a little better when I met the surgeon who would be performing the procedure. His specialty was in burns and wounds. I also met the anesthetist who would be working with the surgeon. He helped ease my worries about the surgery and he also told me that he had had a Basal cell carcinoma on her face, which was successfully removed.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured. “We’ll take care of that.”

A nurse who was preparing me for surgery told me that she too was a skin cancer survivor.

People with darker skin often think that skin cancer only occurs in people with lighter or white skin,” the nurse said.

I agreed with her. After all, I thought the same thing too.

I was very lucky because the operation removed all the cancer. The melanoma had not spread and I needed no further treatment. I have since recovered from the cancer but still have assessments of all the skin on my body every three months.

I focus a lot on raising awareness in the Hispanic or Latino community. I started at home educating my parents about the importance of sunscreen (how to use sunscreen even in areas you wouldn’t consider using, like on your ankles or the back of your neck). I asked my mom and dad to have full body skin exams, something they had never thought of doing before.

I don’t know if my parents and extended family fully “get” it. But I won’t give up. I insist they have good sunscreen habits and have annual skin assessments.

I have also worked to raise awareness by using social media to inform people of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, as well as all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, about the threat of skin cancer. I was moved when a melanoma survivor contacted me to tell me how happy she was to have shared this message.

I want everyone to know that the sun does not discriminate. Contact your dermatologist and get evaluated. A simple annual exam could save your life.

This resource has been prepared with support from Merck.

From articles on your site
  • Why Using Sunscreen Isn’t Enough ›
  • My melanoma was dismissed as an inflamed hair follicle ›
Related articles Around the web