Witney Carson loves dancing and has made a career of being on her feet. But when she started as a professional dance partner on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2014, she had a secret: just weeks earlier, she’d had surgery on her foot to remove melanoma.
“We were completely shocked and overwhelmed,” Carson said. “I had just gotten the call from ‘Dancing with the Stars to become a professional and for a moment I thought my dream had been crushed.”
Carson’s mother noticed a mole near the toes on the top of the dancer’s left foot. It was red like a strawberry and about a quarter inch wide. Her mother encouraged her to see a dermatologist, especially important since cancer runs in the family.
Back when Whitney was 16, her father had melanoma on his leg, as well as a lung carcinoma. Her mother also had melanoma. Because of her family history, Carson and her family members started getting skin exams twice a year.
She’d hoped her skin cancer was easy to treat. “I felt like I was invincible and so healthy that there was no way I would get it as severe as they did,” she said.
According to The American Cancer Society, while melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers, it causes the large majority of skin cancer deaths.
Doctors told Carson she’d have to have surgery right away. She had an unusual mole that required surgeons to cut out an inch of tissue around the mole. They also biopsied two lymph nodes in her hip to make sure the malignancy hadn’t spread. “It was extremely difficult to come to terms with the fact that my health wasn’t great,” said Carson, who regrets using tanning beds when she was younger. “I couldn’t train for DWTS and that was my biggest fear. I was so angry with my body that I wasn’t 100% and it took a long time for me to get back in shape and ready to dance.”
Carson’s recovery took a month. During DWTS rehearsals, her stitches ripped and her foot bled.
She had to see a foot specialist every week who cleaned her foot, removed scar tissue, and re-wrapped it. After her scar healed, she did physical therapy for about six months.
Still, she persevered and made it back to the dance floor and even won that coveted DWTS mirror ball trophy nine months later with her celebrity dance partner Alfonso Ribeiro.
Carson, who gets regular skin cancer screenings, is grateful to have made a full recovery and do what she loves. She’s a passionate advocate for skin cancer awareness and prevention.
“It was important for me because I was so young and felt so invincible that I knew so many people must have been feeling like I was,” she said. “I needed to raise awareness for those who thought like I did. Who thought they were invincible. Anyone can get skin cancer at any age and it’s very serious to protect your skin.”
Protect your skin
The dance pro, who’s 27, is married to Carson McAllister and is a new mother to a son named Leo. She advises families to protect themselves and their loved ones from skin cancer.
“Make sure you are always applying sunscreen even if you’re in the shade,” she said. “Your skin is your biggest organ it’s living and breathing. Protect it! If you can wear hats and big sunglasses, stay covered.”