Health Check: Narragansett teen advocates for sun-safe kids

By Barbara Morse Silva

Rachel D'Ambrosio says her mother noticed a spot on her back when she was 11.

"(The spot) seemed to change because (my mom) could see it whenever I wore a bathing suit," she said.

D'Ambrosio's primary care physician referred her to a dermatologist where she had a skin biopsy.

"A week later it came back as melanoma in situ on the top layer of my skin," she said.

D'Ambrosio had to undergo surgery, but because her cancer was caught early, she didn't need chemotherapy. She does, however, go in every six months for skin checks.

"One of the things that we know today is that about one-third of young women are using tanning beds on a very regular basis," said Deb Girard, executive director of the New England Melanoma Foundation.

The organization, with the help of D'Ambrosio, is promoting a school program called "Your Skin Is In."

"And our goal is to raise awareness for high school kids and particularly kids that are planning a big event like the prom to lean some facts about tanning and to go out there and sign a pledge not to tan for the prom," Girard said.

D'Ambrosio, now 16, has been a powerful advocate for the cause through her visits to area schools.

"I just want them to be aware that it can happen to them. I was 11 when it happened to me so if it can happen to someone that young, it can happen at any time. And I know tanning beds, especially for high school students, are really prevalent and people go for prom and they just want that glow but it's dangerous," she said.

D'Ambrosio said she was never big on tanning and always big on wearing sun protection even before she was diagnosed.

She lives in Narragansett by the beach and the sun was unavoidable. But now she's even more cautious, and she has a list of those precautions on her website.