If you could give your teenage self a bit of sound medical advice, what would you say?
Lisa Pace, a woman in her mid-40s who has had 86 skin cancer surgeries over the years, knows exactly what advice she would give.
Once a self-conscious teenager, Pace thought she would find confidence and acceptance if she could change her pale, freckled, red-headed complexion.
She started tanning when she was 17, but when she started college at 18, Pace began using tanning beds religiously as a way to darken her undesirable skin tone.
More than 20 years and 86 skin cancer surgeries later, Pace has a serious message for young people who are walking down a similarly dangerous path.
“If I could go back and talk to my 17-year-old self, I would tell her that skin cancer is avoidable,” Pace told “Today” in a 2018 interview.
“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.”
A star basketball athlete, Pace played for Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond before moving on to coach women’s basketball at the collegiate level.
During this young season of her life, Pace regularly frequented the tanning salon.
“I started tanning every day, or every other day,” Pace said. “It was addictive. People would say, ‘You look so good, you look tan,’ and it just encouraged me.”
A dermatologist diagnosed Pace with her first skin cancer in 2000 at age 23 after doctors biopsied spots on her legs, “Today” reported.
When the doctor’s office called to schedule surgeries on her melanoma, she did not really understand the seriousness of her diagnosis and hesitated to make the appointment.
“I blew it off for weeks,” Pace said. “They kept calling me and eventually, they said, ‘You need to get in here now.’”
But the surgery and recovery did not stop Pace from falling back into her old addiction. She continued using tanning beds, and within one year from her first surgery, she needed a second.
This time, the skin cancer was on her face.
“It was gut wrenching and heartbreaking,” Pace said of her facial surgery. “This whole time I had been worried about how I looked, and now I have a huge scar on my face. It was a huge chunk out of my face.”
The facial surgery was a wake-up call to the young basketball coach, and she stopped tanning and started taking preventative skin care measures. But for the most part, it was too little too late.
By the time Pace was in her mid-30s, she had endured 50 skin cancer surgeries on various parts of her body.
As she continued to age, the number of skin cancer surgeries continued to climb. Doctors told Pace that they believed her skin cancer is a direct result of her habitual tanning bed use.
Scheduling a steady stream of surgeries, follow-up appointments, and recovery time became stressful and time-consuming, not to mention filled with moments of deep sorrow.
“I’m a positive person and I try to be a light for everyone around me,” Pace told People. “But there were times … where it would take my breath away, ‘There’s another spot.’ I’d look at all the stitches or the scars and be like, ‘Why?’ It was hard to make it through the days.”
While Pace cannot change the past, she can propel a message forward that she hopes will help young people now and in the future.
“I want people to realize that it can happen to anybody. I’m adamant about young people knowing this before it’s too late,” Pace said.
Vanity is not worth putting yourself at risk for skin cancer.
“I would much rather be pale, white, covered in freckles than to have all of the scars that I have,” Pace told “Today.”
Having tanned skin is not a goal to be obtained, and the ones who matter most in life will find you beautiful regardless of your skin tone.
“You’re beautiful to those who matter most without a tan,” she said.
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