Vernon’s Ashley Gregerson, now 25, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at 23. (Contributed)

Young Vernon melanoma survivor speaks out about sun danger

World Melanoma Day is recognized every May to highlight the growing prevalence of malignant melanoma.

Two years ago, when Ashley Gregerson was 23, she was diagnosed with an invasive form of skin cancer.

During the August long weekend, she was laying outside with a friend, and trying to soak up the last bit of summer by getting a sun tan.

“My friend noticed a mole on my back that was a bit different than the others — I have a good amount of moles — but this one was just darker than my other ones and it was raised and looked rectangular. Even though she had pointed it out, I didn’t think about it for a few months,” said Gregerson of Vernon.

As an afterthought, she casually brought it up at a doctors appointment.

“He looked at it and right away, he told me it was really bad.”

The following week, she booked an appointment to have it biopsied. Soon, the results came back: malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread quickly.

“I went to the surgeon and I was told that it was really, really serious, especially for someone my age, and that there was a chance that it could have spread to other places. So they needed to take out a lymph node under each arm, and do a wide 10 inch local excision surgery on my back.”

When melanoma starts to spread, it often travels to a lymph node near the melanoma first. Having a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) can tell whether cancer cells have spread to a nearby lymph node. While Gregerson’s lymph nodes came back negative, her back incision indicated that the cancer had begun spreading. She was then referred to the B.C. Cancer Clinic, where a dermatologist told her she had about 10 years left.

“Thankfully, a few tests were rerun, and it’s now looking like a much better prognosis — about a 97 per cent chance of survival now,” she said.

Now, having reached remission, she is speaking out with her story in the hopes to spread awareness and warn others against the negative effects of sun damage.

“I was really lucky and I think it’s important to share just how serious it can be. The weather is getting hotter, and people love to go out and tan so I just want to share how important it is to know the dangers of that,” said the now 25-year-old.

“There’s no such thing as a healthy glow. A tan is just a protective reaction to an injury so I just think that’s important to try to kind of dispel that myth. It’s also such a dangerous way to get vitamin D when you can get it through food or supplements.”

Since being diagnosed, she said she’s simply adjusted the way she interacts with the sun by making the necessary changes to prevent any further damage.

“I still go outside, I still go to the beach, I still go hiking,” Gregerson said. “I’m just more careful about it now because I know the risks and I think there’s just not enough awareness about the dangers behind it so that’s a main reason I want to share my experience in an effort to get across the importance of being safe in the sun.”

May is skin cancer awareness month. World Melanoma Day is recognized on the second Monday of May around the world to highlight the growing prevalence of malignant melanoma.

Related: A Lake Country mother pushes for Melanoma awareness, after the death of her son

Related: Okanagan doctor warns against tanning as skin cancer rates rise

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