Safe Sun Stories: Maria Arena Bell

May is Melanoma Awareness month and we’re proud to once again partner with The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) in support Melanoma research. For the entire month of May, we are supporting the MRA through a host of exciting initiatives (including a our #BGSafeSun Challenge), and through our social platforms like TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

Today, Maria Arena Bells shares her personal story of Melanoma. And while still a Cali girl at heart, she explains why practicing Safe Sun is a must.

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Okay, here’s the really frustrating thing about melanoma? It isn’t funny. And frankly I don’t like writing un-funny. As far as I know, the only real melanoma joke was in “Hannah and Her Sisters” where hypochondriac Woody Allen bemoans the appearance of a sudden spot and his helpful friend reminds him it was on his shirt.

So for a bit of a humorless trip down memory lane: I was the family bookworm growing up in a Southern California beach town.  I was very fair, but I thought I looked cuter tan and—let’s face it—it was the seventies.  Long blonde hair, a golden tan and a crocheted bikini were all you needed.  My mom dated Jan from Jan and Dean and was a tandem surfing champ, so it was a lot to live up to.

I baked on rafts in the pool, sizzled with reflectors, blistered in June to get “a base” for summer, and attempted that St Tropez look of the Bain de Soliel model. (Wherever she is, she must look like the Crypt Keeper.) When I went off to college in the Midwest, I realized that people were really into that cool surfer chick affectation, so I played it up and I tanned in my spare time from my summer job as a floater at Neiman Marcus. (The shoe department was the worst, the boxes teetering to the ceiling, the feet… Bergdorf Goodman Associates: I feel you.)

When I was twenty-four my gynecologist noticed a mole on my stomach. I told him I would get it looked at, eventually, but he walked me next door to a dermatologist’s office and it was biopsied. Melanoma. I was super lucky –we got it all with surgery resulting in a bikini-ending scar across my belly and a complete drain of my non-insured life savings.

All was well until 20 years later when I was running a TV show and a museum board and raising my kids and life was particularly hectic. Another melanoma. I remember being wheeled into surgery with a charmless doctor who yelled at me because he couldn’t find the right scar on my mole removal scar ridden back and wasn’t sure where he was doing surgery. I balked and said, “Didn’t you take notes or photographs or anything that could help in this situation?”  He said he had but exclaimed, “It’s YOUR mole!  It’s YOUR problem.”

Thankfully, the cancer was corralled a second time. Over the years there have been three monthly trips to dermatologists, many biopsies, other surgeries with Dr. Charm, and actually, not that much angst. I’m not an angsty person. Maybe it’s because I still am that laid back Cali girl.

I still love the beach, and those Beach Boys infused breezes… just from underneath a floppy hat and flowy caftan (which is really for the best anyway now that I’m fifty and no longer crocheted bikini ready).  I don’t pay much attention to hiding the scar when I dress up. Sometimes the one on my back protrudes above a cute dress and it’s a bit shockingly ugly but let’s face it, as that not-so-diplomatic doc once said, it’s MY mole… MY melanoma and MY story.  But I still wish it were funnier.

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