Dancing With The Stars pro dancer Whitney Carson opened up about her cancer scare in an emotional Yahoo! Lifestyle essay. The 24-year-old dancer was diagnosed with melanoma and things could have been much worse for Carson if she did not catch it in time.
Carson was 22 when she noticed that her foot was discolored. She went to a doctor, who diagnosed her with melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer now on the rise among young women. Carson understood the importance of having annual dermatology checkups because of her family history with skin cancer.
"Even though my parents had brushes with skin cancer, I never thought it could happen to me. I was 22 at the time of my diagnosis and truly believed I was invincible," Carson wrote. "I didn't realize how serious melanoma was until the doctor told me if I had waited three weeks longer, I would have needed chemotherapy. That's when I grasped the severity of the situation."
Her doctor told her she needed surgery to be completely cancer free. The timing was off though, since she had just been cast as a pro on DWTS. But her doctor said she could not wait.
"It was a dream come true! I asked my doctor if I could wait to have surgery until after the season was done filming, but he said if I waited, I would probably need chemo," Carson wrote. "I decided to proceed with the surgery and hope for the best with the show. I started dancing at the age of 3 and I had always dreamed of being a professional dancer — I couldn't stop now."
Again, Carson managed to catch things in time. Her doctors found that the cancer spread into her lymph nodes, up to her hip. They removed a mole on her foot, and four lymph nodes in her hip. The recovery took a month. It was "brutal to say the least," Carson wrote, adding that she needed to see a foot specialist once a week to re-wrap her foot and remove scar tissue. She needed physical therapy for about six months while still on DWTS.
Carson said she regretted using tanning beds during her teens, since use of indoor tanning beds has been linked to skin cancer. She also wishes she wore a hat and sunscreen more often.
"Your skin is your largest organ, which means you have to protect it that much more," Carson wrote. "It's so important for women and men, young or old, to be cautious when spending time in the sun. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy the outdoors, but be proactive and protect your skin when you're outside. Wear an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and reapply it every hour, wear hats, and cover up as much as you can when exposed to sunlight. People of all ages are susceptible to melanoma. It's the fastest spreading cancer out there. Don't make the mistake I did and think you're invincible — it's important to take precautions."
Thanks to catching her cancer at the right time, Carson has led a successful life on and off the dance floor. She is celebrating her two-year wedding anniversary with Carson McAllister and will be a mentor on Dancing With The Stars Juniors this fall.
"My life is filled with so many things I'm grateful for, and one thing I'll never take for granted again is protecting my skin," Carson wrote. "If there's any way I can get you to protect yours too, well then I'm twice as happy."
DWTS begins on ABC on Sept. 24 and DWTS Juniors starts on Oct. 7.
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