British Columbia

25-year-old melanoma survivor says she wishes she had been more careful in the sun

May 13 was World Melanoma Day, and experts say Canadians need to be more vigilant about sun protection.  

World Melanoma Day: Experts say Canadians need to be aware of the risks of not using sun protection

In 2017, at the age of 23, Vernon, B.C. resident Ashley Gregerson was diagnosed with an invasive form of melanoma. (Submitted by Ashley Gregerson)

Two years ago, when Vernon, B.C., resident Ashley Gregerson was just 23, she was diagnosed with an invasive form of melanoma.

"I was out with my friend at a cabin for a May long weekend and we were lying out trying to get some rays. She noticed that I had a mole on my back that looked a bit different than the others. It was darker and it was a bit raised," Gregerson told Sarah Penton, host of Radio West.

At first Gregerson didn't think much of the mole.

But a few months later she was diagnosed invasive malignant melanoma. Invasive means the melanoma had gone under her first layer of skin, putting her at risk of it getting closer to her blood supply and lymph nodes, where it would spread. 

Ashley Gregerson's scar from melanoma removal wide local excision surgery. (Submitted by Ashley Gregerson)

May 13 is World Melanoma Day, and experts say Canadians need to be more vigilant about sun protection.  

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, but also highly preventable, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association.

An estimated 1,240 people die from melanoma each year in Canada, according to Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist on the board of the Canadian Dermatology Association. 

Be aware of the risks

Gregerson says after hearing the diagnosis, she felt regret. She thought about all the times she sat out in the sun and could have worn sunscreen or gone into the shade.

"It was difficult to hear that there was such a serious thing that was happening to me. But it was even more difficult to think about the ways that I could have possibly prevented it."

Gregerson has a family history of cancer, fair skin and light eyes, which are all signs that she was at high risk of contracting skin cancer. Those who have red hair, many moles and a history of getting blistering sunburns are at risk as well, according to Dr. Sonya Cook, a dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto.

Still, many Canadians either do not use enough sun protection, or they use an SPF 15 rather than 30, which is far more effective, says Cook. She says an estimated 7,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. 

Canadians are advised to choose a sunscreen that is water resistant with an SPF of at least 30. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day/The Associated Press)

Surviving melanoma

Gregerson had a lymph node surgically removed from under each arm, as that's the most likely place for the cancer to spread. Gregerson also had a wide local excision on her back — this is when extra skin is removed around where the original melanoma was located. It helps ensure the melanoma does not spread.

She now has a 10-inch scar on her back. 

Two years later, doctors say there is no evidence of disease in Gregerson. 

"I'm hoping that by sharing my story, other people can realize that it can happen to a young healthy person, and hopefully take a few preventative actions that really don't impede on your life," she said.   

Listen to the full interview with Ashley Gregerson here:

She was sun tanning with a friend when that friend noticed an abnormal mole.Two years later, Ashley Gregerson has a tale to tell of fighting for her life on this World Melanoma Day. 5:39

With files by Radio West, Daybreak Kamloops and Daybreak South