CHAMPLIN, Minn. (WCCO) – In Minnesota this time of year, we soak up all the sun we can get before winter hits.
And with prom season upon us, many teenagers are hitting the tanning booths.
But a Twin Cities woman warns: think twice about tanning.
Right now, 44-year-old Raquel Guckeen of Champlin must remember her scars are only skin deep, and the beauty now is in her strength.
“I was once a teenage girl who wanted to tan because it made me feel beautiful,” said Guckeen. “It’s not worth it. I used to think, ‘it will never happen to me.’ Well here I am. It did.”
Guckeen wants you to look close at the aftermath of skin cancer. Stare, she says, if it can stop another statistic.
“In high school before prom, I wanted to tan. Before a gymnastics meet I would go tan in a tanning booth. As a physical education teacher (Robbinsdale Middle School), I am outside a lot in the fall and the spring, and I learned my lesson the hard way,” said Guckeen, a married mother of two.
The bronzed decades began to betray her three years ago, when she noticed a spot on her cheek.
“When I would wash my face, it would bleed. It would go away and come back,” said Guckeen.
Her dermatologist spotted the skin cancer immediately.
Guckeen underwent Mohs surgery, which removes skin layer by layer and detects cancerous cells under a microscope.
But the procedure couldn’t reduce the risk, and this year Guckeen worried about a second scar-like spot on her nose.
“When they did the surgery, they had to take off almost the entire top of my nose. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, there was no conversation. There were tears running down my face,” said Guckeen.
Her dermatologist, Dr. Jeffrey Squires of Associated Skin Care Specialists, told Raquel her appearance would best be restored by what’s known as a forehead flap.
“A piece of tissue is cut from her forehead and then turned down and connected to her nose. Later, it’s divided after it has healed,” said Dr. Squires, who specializes in treating skin cancer.
The fingerlike attachment is skin transplanted from Raquel’s forehead by Dr. Peter Hilger, an Edina-based plastic reconstructive surgeon.
“I literally had a hole in the middle of my head. I had staples up into my scalp, tons of stitches. It was very hard when I took the gauze off,” said Guckeen.
Dr. Squires says Raquel is an extreme case that’s becoming more common.
He does approximately 1,500 Mohs skin cancer surgeries a year, but sees few patients who need forehead flaps to regrow skin.
“Twenty some years ago when I started, if we saw someone with skin cancer under age 40, it would be very odd. And now we are seeing 30 year olds, 20 year olds, partly because of recreational sun use, increased use of the tanning booths, and just longevity of patients,” said Dr. Squires.
While speaking to WCCO, Dr. Squires was removing an abnormal mole from a woman in her twenties who has a history of melanoma in her family.
Dr. Squires says an estimated 3.5 million patients, like Guckeen, are diagnosed with a non-melanoma cancer each year in the US, and it kills around 3,000 people.
The American Cancer Society says about 8 out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, which is a slow growing cancer that usually develops on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck.
He says early detection can begin with self-skin exams and use of sunscreen of SPF 35 to 50, especially with fairer complexions in Minnesota.
He tells his patients to stay out of the sun in the peak times of the day, between 10 – 2pm.
Last week, Guckeen underwent a second reconstructive surgery to reshape her new nose after six weeks with a forehead flap. Through it all, she chooses to hold her head high.
“My 13-year-old daughter is like ‘nope, you gotta smile. It shows your inner strength, mom. You gotta do it,’” said Guckeen.
Guckeen is at a high risk for skin cancer recurrence.
She hopes all young women learn to redefine beauty, realizing those carefree days at the beach could come with devastating consequences.
Click here to view a slideshow about Raquel’s battle with skin cancer.