Witney Carson was secretly recovering from a cancer diagnosis during her first season of Dancing With the Stars when she was 19 years old. During an interview with PEOPLE, the professional dancer shared that she was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer, when she was about to make her debut on DWTS in 2014. But, as she related to the outlet, she didn't share that diagnosis with the show's production team or her partner, Cody Simpson.
Carson recalled that she had just received the news that she would be joining DWTS when she was diagnosed with melanoma. Weeks before she was set to leave for Los Angeles to be on the show, she underwent two successful surgeries to remove the cancer. Even though she experienced all of this in a short span of time before joining DWTS, she kept the situation under wraps from the production team and her partner.
"All of a sudden I get diagnosed with melanoma and of course, being myself, I'm like 'It's fine. I can still go on the show,'" Carson said. As for why she kept the news quiet, she explained, "I think I was embarrassed only in the fact that I was an athlete and I was supposed to be encompassing everything healthy and fit. I was supposed to be doing all the right things to be an athlete, and so it was embarrassing for me to be like, 'Yes, I had, I was sick. I was literally sick.' The producers didn't know. My partner didn't know. I wanted people to think I was perfectly healthy."
When Carson underwent her surgeries, doctors removed the lymph nodes from her left hip as well as an inch around a mole on her foot. Six weeks after, she was heading to DWTS — against doctor's orders. Her doctor did not clear her "for any active anything," but she continued to dance because being on the show was a "dream" of hers. However, as she quickly learned, she wasn't able to go full throttle without experiencing a bit of pain.
"So I go, I do the whole routine. I'm like, 'My foot feels so sweaty. I'm so sweaty. This is so weird,' and I looked down and my white tennis shoe is just covered in blood, just covered in blood. Ripped my stitches open," she recalled. "I had to get my foot wrapped every week after I did the live show. So if you go back through the videos, you'll see my left foot wrapped in gauze." Looking back on it years later, Carson believes that she developed melanoma, a hereditary disease that both of her parents survived, because she used tanning beds in her teens. "I have not set foot in a tanning bed since I was diagnosed, which was 19," Carson added. "I have not set foot in it.