A typical summer day for Sarah Tomek involved lying out in the sun for up to eight hours, with minimal sunscreen and occasional sprays from a water bottle to help soak up the sun’s rays. It took a visit to BGSU’s Health Center and a suspicious mole to change that behavior forever. Last spring, the senior from Strongsville learned she had an early stage of malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
The marketing major says it’s not hard to pinpoint the source—not only did she have a family history of skin cancer, she was addicted to tanning. “It gave me a new sense of self-confidence I had been lacking. I loved how I looked in the mirror,” she said.
Tomek said she would often go tan every other day; then a mole she’d had all her life started changing. “I went to the Health Center. The practitioner saw it, reassured me I would be fine, but because of its appearance suggested it be removed,” she explained. “After a biopsy I got a call from the Health Center to come in from a person who sounded uneasy.
“Once I arrived, the doctor had me lie down so he could feel my lymph nodes, but didn’t give me my results. When I sat up he sat next to me and gave me the news—it was skin cancer. I just broke down.” Blood work and a chest X-ray revealed it hadn’t spread. A plastic surgeon removed the mole and the cancer. Tomek emerged from surgery a changed woman, with a new attitude.
The Delta Sigma Pi member is now an advocate for skin cancer prevention and a part of Colleges Against Cancer. She’s worried about the “it won’t happen to me” attitude she sees among her fellow college students.
Tomek and two classmates developed a survey to find out the level of skin cancer awareness and education at BGSU for Dr. Earl Boatwright’s advanced marketing class. She says the results were disappointing.
“It was hard to hear that students don’t think skin cancer is important, that it won’t happen to them. Incidents in young adults have increased over the years due to the use of tanning beds.”
Tomek’s hoping to work with Colleges Against Cancer and the University to do a better job of educating students. “We need to let students know that this is a reality for young adults—skin cancer can happen to you. Check yourself regularly for any changes and before heading outside consider grabbing that bottle of sunscreen.”