Is My Cancer Diagnosis My Fault?

No one shed a tear for me when I was diagnosed with cancer.

I know this is true because my cancer is not attempting to kill me. It's not quietly advancing through my blood and bones. It isn't wreaking havoc on my endocrine system or latching onto my lymph nodes. No, my skin cancer is neatly tucked where it's always been – living on my shoulder like a parrot who repeats backs to me as I look myself in the mirror: "You did this to yourself. You did this to yourself. You did this to yourself."

My sore and I have been living together for the better part of two years. I call it a sore because that's what it looks like – a shallow, superficial scab that won't heal and has become engrained in my physique just as much as my freckles. My sore arrived around the same time I moved to Manhattan. I ignored it for the most part, dismissing it as an agitation that was caused by friction from my purse strap.

The trouble was that it wouldn't heal. Instead, it would scab over and then a little time later it would bleed again. I made small efforts to slather it with Neosporin and bandage it, but for the most part I ignored what I had done to myself.

Yes, my cancer is my fault.

Years of lying out by the pool and beach had exacerbated what I am certain truly caused my skin cancer – the years I spent baking in a sunless tanning booth. I'm of Welsh and German descent and am naturally very pale. Every year I would strive to reach what I considered to be a healthier and lively skin tone, but each year I would just capture more and more freckles and moles.

"This is from the sun," my dermatologist repeated time and again. Yes, I'm aware. I'm aware of the times I spent tingling and crawling in my own skin from over exposure. I remember the bright red puffiness of my stomach and legs. I remember taking delight in peeling off the sheets of dead skin from the damaged areas.

I may be genetically predisposed, but the truth is I aided and abetted my skin cancer. Every summer I sent cancer an invitation into my life and at 29 years-old, it finally RSVP'd.

But I don't deserve anyone's sympathy.

I'm not dying and I did this to myself. My treatment will consist of this: I will have Mohs surgery where a cosmetic surgeon will strip off my skin layer-by-layer until the examined pieces are cleared of cancerous cells. Then, I will be stitched up and prohibited from running or doing yoga for one month so as not to agitate the sutures. I will be fine.

But when I told my boss my cancer diagnosis and that I would, regrettably, be missing time from work to undergo surgery, she dismissed it by saying, "Oh, you'll be fine." I felt belittled and unjustified.

But, she's right. I will be fine – for now. One day my moles might betray me and turn into melanoma. But, until then I will be fine, as my boss said. I will be fine, as my dermatologist said. I will be fine, as I continue to tell myself. Until one of my moles betrays me – or doesn't – I will continue to dye my hair blonde because there's no threat of it falling out from chemotherapy treatments. Until that happens, I will forget about the inconvenience of suspending my yoga practice for one month. Until that happens, I will grow used to the sizeable scar on my shoulder that will remind me: I did this to myself.

Did certain lifestyle choices increase your the risk of your cancer diagnosis?