Mom battling melanoma at 31 believes the tanning bed is to blame - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Mom battling melanoma at 31 believes the tanning bed is to blame

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Downriver mom Sarah Brandes is battling melanoma. Downriver mom Sarah Brandes is battling melanoma.

Spunky, full of life and a mother of two, 31-year-old Sarah Brandes is now fighting the deadliest skin cancer -- melanoma.  It started with a small mole.

"My mole was a little bit bigger than a pencil eraser," she said.  "Underneath what they took out was the size of a softball."

Despite several surgeries and harsh medication, the cancer just keeps coming back.

"They removed a big mass from my calf just kind of to try to buy me time a little bit and trying to stop the spread... so I could get on some more medicine," Brandes said.

The medicine is experimental.  Often in younger patients, the cancer is more aggressive, which dermatologist Steve Grekin said doctors aren't used to.

"When I started practicing 20 years ago, we would see three, four, five melanomas in a year.  Unfortunately today, 20 years later, we see three, four or five every week," Grekin explained.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for 25- to 29-year-olds.

"Melanoma used to be a disease that affected individuals 50, 60, 70 years of age.  Now we're seeing them 20, 30, 40 years of age, and it's been directly tied to ultraviolet exposure -- tanning beds and lots of unprotected sun," Grekin said.

"To have that golden bronze tan is just not worth dying over," Brandes said.

Having a dermatologist examine your moles with a handheld microscope is one of the best ways to diagnose melanoma.

When looking at your own body, look for asymmetry -- one half of the mole doesn't match the other -- border irregularity, varied color and a large diameter.
Finding it early is key to survival, even though that is not easy.

"I'm not going to give up," Brandes said.  "They tell me that like, oh, this isn't working.  Okay, well, I'll do what I can to find something else to keep going."

Brandes believes it was the tanning bed that caused her melanoma, and, in fact, using a tanning bed can raise your risk of melanoma by 75 percent.  A blistering sunburn can double your risk.  Doctors say don't go to the tanning bed and use sunscreen.

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