Mother teaches sun safety after beating skin cancer - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Mother teaches sun safety after beating skin cancer

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JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Tracy Roberts teaches third grade at Valley View Intermediate School in Jonesboro, where she's tried to teach her students healthy habits like protecting themselves from the sun.

"If just one person listens, that's all anybody can hope for," Roberts said.

Roberts, a mother of three, found an irregularly shaped spot on her leg almost four years ago. She decided to have it checked out only after her father had a cancerous lesion removed from his back.

The doctors said Roberts' visit may have saved her life because that seemingly harmless spot on her leg was actually melanoma – the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

"My baby was starting kindergarten [at that time]," she said, "and it's just not something we ever expected to do."

A surgeon removed the melanoma, but then Roberts had to undergo chemotherapy just as a new school year was starting. She suspects the cancer developed after years of sun exposure.

"I grew up by the pool," she said. "I laid out all the time. I was on the swim team when I was younger, probably didn't use much sunscreen growing up, and then as a teen, I used the tanning bed often."

Roberts luckily survived her battle with cancer, but Dr. William Hurst, a St. Bernards family physician, says many do not.

"It breaks your heart when you see young ladies and guys who are in their 20s and develop skin cancers," Dr. Hurst said. "I think looking back on it, they wished they hadn't gone to the sun bed. They wished they had worn skin protection factor and stuff like that."

According to the American Cancer Society, one American dies of melanoma almost every hour, and current estimates are that one in five will develop skin cancer during their lifetime.  

That's why Dr. Hurst says people should now choose to be proactive.

That includes wearing sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 or higher on clear and even cloudy days.

"I provide sunscreen for the students in my classroom and at our school if their parents have given us permission and if they [have fair complexions]," Roberts said, "because we want to protect not just my own children, but these are my kids too."

People should also consider seeking shade when they're outside and wear protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats. Dr. Hurst also advises people to stay away from tanning beds.

"There is a significant statistical increase in people getting skin cancers that are tanning," he said. "That doesn't make the sun bed manufacturers happy, but that's just a fact."

For Roberts her fight is far from over. She has to be scanned every three to four months to make sure she's still clear of cancer.

"It makes me feel better when I go and I have that scan and it's clear," she said. "Then, I can say okay, I've made it another year."

Roberts has also taken the time to speak to older students at her school. She hopes that her experiences will make them more likely to practice sun safety and less likely to tan.

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