Kari Cummins from Lake Arrowhead, California has a lot to be thankful for. She has five great kids, she loves her job as a natural health and wellness coach and she recently stopped two different types of skin cancer from spreading.
But getting to the point where the now 35-year-old was aware enough to care about her skin took some time. Despite being fair-skinned and knowing how much her mother advocated for sunscreen, Cummins rarely wore it when she was with her friends, and if she did, it was low SPF.
“As a teen, I spent many hours in the sun and at the lake near my house with my friends working on our tans,” she told The Mighty. “Unfortunately, I was more concerned about my tan and never thought much about getting skin cancer.”
Fast forward to young adulthood, right after having her first child; all of a sudden, she saw life with a new set of eyes and her family’s health became a priority. She would spend hours researching health-related topics like sleep, diet, natural remedies, nontoxic cleaning products and skin health. That’s when she became concerned about her mother’s skin.
“I noticed my mom had some skin lesions that, after I researched, I knew were cancerous, and I kept urging her to get them taken care of,” Cummins said. “But she didn’t have good insurance and she had to wait until she did. They continued to grow and ooze and it scared me!”
Then, in 2013, a few years after noticing her mother’s skin lesions, she started noticing some red spots on her forehead. They started to become raised and would bleed after showers. When they didn’t heal, she knew they were skin cancer.
Cummins immediately made an appointment with a dermatologist and had them biopsied. The results came back as basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer with more than four million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Luckily, the spots were self-contained, but they still needed be taken out or they would continue to grow and spread throughout her body.
Then, a year later, Cummins noticed an “interesting” bump on the right side of her chin, below the side of her lip. “I was pregnant with our fifth child, so I was thinking it was pregnancy-related because, at first, it appeared to look like an underground pimple,” she said, adding:
But it never surfaced and it wasn’t something I could pop. As I watched and saw that it wasn’t clearing up, and actually seemed to be changing shape and got slightly bumpy, I knew it wasn’t normal and made an appointment to have it biopsied.
This time the results said it was squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common and deadly type of skin cancer. Cummins had to wait for her son to be born in April before having it removed, which she did in July of 2015 through Mohs surgery.
The skin cancer removal surgery was an all-day procedure that focused on cutting out the visible cancerous tissue and a little extra around it. The cells were then sent to a lab to see which of the cells were cancerous. Doctors continued removing the tissue layers until the area was completely clear of cancerous tissue.
“With my chin, it appeared to be rather small on the surface, but the cancer was growing down into the tissue and spreading outwards, which is why I had a quarter-sized hole cut in my face,” she said.
It took 35 stitches and over two weeks for the hole to heal, and now she has a very noticeable scar on her chin.
Although her last surgery was over two years ago, Cummins constantly remains aware of her skin. She currently has three spots on her forehead that have since popped up and will need to be removed.
Cummins is sharing her story because she doesn’t want others to take their skin for granted, like she did when she was younger. “Many of us don’t think of it as a vital organ — similar to our hearts, brains, livers and kidneys — but it plays just as important as a role.”
She knows many people have had even large portions of their skin removed (like Marisha Dotson, who was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma) because of cancer, and that’s why she encourages others to treat their skin with care.
Her final words of wisdom: “I just want others to realize that their health is in their own hands and they have the power to take control of it and do something to change it.”