When Lisa Pace was a teenager, she hated looking at her pale, freckled skin.
Today, when she looks at her 44-year-old body, it’s covered with scars from 86 skin cancer surgeries — and she doesn’t love looking at them either.
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“If I could go back and talk to my 17-year-old self, I would tell (her) that skin cancer is avoidable,” Pace stressed.
“(I’d say) don’t get in that tanning bed. Wear sunscreen. Wear protective clothing.
People are going to love you for what you look like on the inside, not on the outside.”
Pace started tanning in high school — a friend had a tanning bed in her home.
She went a handful of times, but her “addiction” to tanning started when she went to college.
Pace played basketball for Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond and was frequently filmed or photographed while on the court.
“I’ve always been self-conscious of being light skinned with freckles and red hair,” she explained, elaborating that seeing pictures of herself in the media didn’t help with her self-esteem.
“It was addictive.
One thing that did help?
A darker complexion.
Pace bought a package at the local tanning salon and went regularly.
“I started tanning every day, or every other day,” Pace explained.
“It was addictive.
“People would say, ‘You look so good, you look tan,’ and it just encouraged me.”
Pace was diagnosed with her first skin cancer in 2000.
She was in her early 20s and working as a basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University.
Since it was her first full-time job with health insurance, her mum encouraged her to visit all of her doctors to get a baseline of her health.
During a dermatologist appointment, the doctor biopsied a couple of spots on her leg.
When they called her back a few days later telling her it was melanoma and she needed to come back to the office as soon as possible, she brushed off their concerns.
“I blew it off for weeks,” admitted Pace.
“They kept calling me and eventually, they said: ‘You need to get in here now.’”
During the first surgery, doctors removed the melanomas from her upper and lower leg.
She left the hospital in crutches because she couldn’t walk.
While it scared her at first, months later, she was back in the tanning beds.
The turning point
Within a year after her first surgery, Pace needed to have another skin cancer removed.
This time, it was from her face.
“It was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.
This whole time I had been worried about how I looked, and now I have a huge scar on my face,” Pace said.
“It was a huge chunk out of my face.”
That was when she finally realised she needed to stop tanning and take better care of her skin.
Unfortunately, it didn’t remedy the damage she had already done.
By the time she was in her mid-30s, she had 50 surgeries all over her body.
Skin surgery every three months
“By this point, I started finding the spots myself … I had a high success rate of spotting them, I’d get it right about eight out of 10 times,” Pace recounted.
“They were all over my arms, legs, back, chest, face and my nose.”
It was during this time that Pace underwent an additional 25 surgeries, bringing her total up to 76.
“It was hard to find a time to go to the doctor, to get the biopsies and the surgeries.
“It was stressful … I was going (to the doctor) nearly every day,” Pace said.
“Likely a result of indoor tanning”
“I’ve never seen anyone with no genetic disorder, who had the number of skin cancers that Lisa had at her age,” noted her former dermatologist, Dr. Arielle Kauvar.
“The most important thing about Lisa’s story is that in her case, this was likely a result of indoor tanning,” the Dr explained.
Today, Pace has had a total of 86 surgeries and is now vigilant when it comes to taking care of her skin:
“Sunscreen is part of my daily routine, I won’t go outside without it,” she said.
She applies it as soon as she gets out of the shower, all over her body, and reapplies throughout the day.
Pace always has a bottle of sunscreen on her, in her purse or her car.
“Everyone has a risk of skin cancer,” stressed Kauvar.
“All you need is one melanoma to kill you.”
If Pace is going to be outside, she’ll wear long-sleeve shirts and a hat, and try to limit her time spent outdoors.
She hasn’t had any recent surgeries, but does have a few spots she is keeping a close eye on.
Today, she’s loving the skin she’s in, and focusing on the fact that pale is healthy.
“I would much rather be pale, white, covered in freckles than to have all of the scars that I have.”
She wants younger girls who think they need to be tan to look good to know this.
“You’re beautiful to those who matter most without a tan,” she said.