Jenna Colgrove writes about fashion and lifestyle topics on her blog, Visions of Vogue, and has more than 130,000 followers on her Instagram account. She developed skin cancer in 2019, and has since become a vocal advocate for people taking charge of their skin health.
Colgrove, 35, always had a birthmark on the inside of her left ankle. A couple years ago, she noticed it changing in some ways that made her suspicious.
“It was just like the anecdotes you always hear about. There was pain, it started to change and look irregular in shape — it’s not a nice circle anymore — and there was some discoloration with it,” she said.
While at a routine appointment, Colgrove’s dermatologist agreed that the mark looked unusual, and suggested she get a biopsy. Even before she arrived at that biopsy, Colgrove had a feeling something was wrong.
“I could feel there was a growth, like it was something different than I had felt for the first 20 years of my life,” she said. “I think when you’re in that state of ‘I could potentially have cancer,’ you really want to start doing the mental planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”
A week later, her suspicions were confirmed. She got a call from the doctor, who said she had skin cancer. Specifically, she had a melanoma, the most dangerous of the three types of skin cancer.
“It was sheer panic,” Colgrove said.
Fortunately, and in large part because Colgrove was being diligent about her skin health by making a routine visit to her dermatologist, the melanoma was detected in its early stages. Her doctor wanted her to get it removed before it could worsen and spread.
With appointments set within a couple weeks of her diagnosis, Colgrove would enlist the services of a surgical oncologist to remove the cancer and a plastic surgeon to take skin from another part of her leg to cover up the wound on her ankle.
“Being that it was on my ankle, there isn’t a lot of excess skin for them to wrap and kind of close a wound, because they needed to cut out like a centimeter on each side of the initial incision,” she said.
The procedures were successful and Colgrove has been declared cancer-free, however, she isn’t completely out of the woods.
“Any growth can turn into [cancer] now that my body’s demonstrated that it can manufacture these cancer cells,” she said. “Once your body’s demonstrated that, you’ll always have this heightened awareness, and your dermatologist should have that heightened awareness as well.”
Protecting your skin
While Colgrove was lucky that her melanoma was removed quickly and without complication, she stresses the importance of taking charge of your skin health to minimize risk of developing cancer in the first place.
The best defense against skin cancer is to wear sunscreen, and not just when the sun is out or when you’re outside.
“Sun can reflect through your windows, so it’s especially important if you live in a place with a lot of natural light,” Colgrove said. “Preferably wear mineral sunscreen, but any sunscreen is the best, and then reapply as regularly as you can.”
Colgrove also says it’s critical to get an annual full-body skin exam to make sure that if an abnormality does develop, it can be caught and treated quickly.
“I think if someone doesn’t have a family history of skin cancer, it can be hard to convince them to go,” she said. “But everyone should be getting their skin checked annually. And it’s a really easy visit; there’s no medicine you have to take, there’s no shot, like it’s easier than going to the dentist. If you can just take yourself in for that initial appointment, that’s the best thing you can do for your health.”