When I was 25 years old, I had no idea that a single spot was going to change my life. I was a single mom to an amazing six year old boy. I had a steady career as a radiology tech and a hobby teaching spin class and doing short-distance triathlons. I was content, and considered myself a really healthy person. I ate right, exercised, took my vitamins, oh, and don’t forget that daily dose of vitamin D for that “healthy glow." I also just started dating my now husband. Life was hectic but life was good!
One day my sister and I were out for a jog in the Florida sun when she noticed a new spot on the back of my right thigh. A few weeks went by as I brushed off my family’s suggestions to get it checked out. I was partially in denial and partially very afraid of what the results might be. I didn’t have the time or money to take off work, I didn’t have great insurance coverage to pay for a biopsy, and I was “too busy." This was my thinking at the time. I was very uneducated about skin cancer. When I thought of skin cancer, I thought of a 70 year old man who had to get little freckles taken off and then he would go about his day with a bandaid. I was totally guilty of saying “it’s JUST SKIN CANCER," until I was told I had stage 2 Melanoma.
I ended up listening to my family and made my appointment. They biopsied the spot on the back of my right thigh, along with a few other questionable areas. I won’t forget the phone call a few days later when they asked me to come in immediately. When I got back to the exam room a lot of people came in. I was confused as to why, because like I said before, it’s “JUST SKIN CANCER." They then proceeded to tell me that I had melanoma and needed surgery immediately and a lymph node biopsy to make sure it hasn’t spread to my organs. “SPREAD TO MY ORGANS?!” Skin cancer doesn’t spread to your organs, you just scrape it off and go about your day. A nurse hugged me like I was already not going to make it and said “you’re so young… I’m so sorry." I texted my now husband “I’m at the dermatologist and I have melanoma." His response was "Oh my god, thats not good." He is a physician so I was obviously starting to realize the severity of the situation. Turns out its not "just skin cancer."
I was booked for surgery later that week and that was by far the hardest week of my life. The waiting game to find out if cancer has spread is a pretty indescribable feeling that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Questions raced though my head as I tried to plan for the worst and hope for the best. My biggest fear was leaving my son. I COULD NOT leave my son, he needs his mom. I don’t know how this week would have gone if I didn’t have the amazing family and friends that I have. They were so supportive and there for me during this time.
Why did I think I needed to be tan? Why didn’t I just cover up in the sun? Why didn’t I educate myself just a little bit on the subject? Why do tanning beds even exist?
When the surgery was over I woke up to the amazing news that the melanoma did not spread to my lymph nodes! I was given a second chance. A chance to be smarter about sun protection, a chance to continue to be a mother, a chance to teach others, a chance to marry the love of my life. Some women my age are not so lucky. Melanoma is the number one cancer killer for women 25-29 years old and yet no one knows anything about it.
After I went through an unexpectedly long recovery from surgical complications, I still wanted to fulfill my high hopes of becoming an Ironman. When I started training again I learned really quickly that doing 100% indoor training wasn’t very possible, so I began shopping for some full coverage clothing for sun protection. I came up very short and had to get really creative with my training clothes. I would wear a tank top with a shrug for shoulder and arm coverage and for bottoms, I would put on a pair of capri cycling pants and pull up my socks for full leg coverage. That's four pieces of clothing to do one job. Why were there no Tri kits with shoulder coverage? Was there some sort of rule I was unaware of?
I decided to dig a little deeper into research on why this wasn’t available to me. I was looking for a product that didn’t exist.
Tri Sirena was literally born on my first 100-mile ride. I found my calling that day as I stopped to reapply my sunscreen every 80 mins. People need this! Women need this! Everyone needs this! They need to be educated on skin cancer, they need to be protected from it, and I can help do that. I can help all endurance athletes protect the largest organ of the human body, their skin. With fabric technology these days I can also make sure training in the heat with full coverage won’t make anyone hotter. Since that day two years ago I have been dedicated to sun protection and innovative design. It truly is an amazing feeling to find your calling and come out of a heart-breaking situation on the side of passion and positivity.
Written by Stefani Schuetz
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