JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Tracy Roberts teaches third grade atValley View Intermediate School in Jonesboro, where she's tried to teach herstudents healthy habits like protecting themselves from the sun.
"If just one person listens, that's all anybody can hopefor," Roberts said.
Roberts, a mother of three, found an irregularly shaped spoton her leg almost four years ago. She decided to have it checked out only afterher father had a cancerous lesion removed from his back.
The doctors said Roberts' visit may have saved her lifebecause that seemingly harmless spot on her leg was actually melanoma – the mostdangerous type of skin cancer.
"My baby was starting kindergarten [at that time]," shesaid, "and it's just not something we ever expected to do."
A surgeon removed the melanoma, but then Roberts had toundergo chemotherapy just as a new school year was starting. She suspects thecancer 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 sunscreengrowing 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 whoare in their 20s and develop skin cancers," Dr. Hurst said. "I think lookingback on it, they wished they hadn't gone to the sun bed. They wished they hadworn skin protection factor and stuff like that."
According to the American Cancer Society, one American diesof melanoma almost every hour, and current estimates are that one in five willdevelop skin cancer during their lifetime.
That's why Dr. Hurst says people should now choose to beproactive.
That includes wearing sunscreen with an SPF value of 30 orhigher on clear and even cloudy days.
"I provide sunscreen for the students in my classroom and atour school if their parents have given us permission and if they [have faircomplexions]," Roberts said, "because we want to protect not just my ownchildren, but these are my kids too."
People should also consider seeking shade when they'reoutside and wear protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats. Dr. Hurst alsoadvises people to stay away from tanning beds.
"There is a significant statistical increase in peoplegetting skin cancers that are tanning," he said. "That doesn't make the sun bedmanufacturers happy, but that's just a fact."
For Roberts her fight is far from over. She has to bescanned 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 andit'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 studentsat her school. She hopes that her experiences will make them more likely topractice sun safety and less likely to tan.