'I got back up 87 times': Woman recovers from 86 skin cancer surgeries, sends message of hope

A Tennessee woman, who is also a college basketball coach, championed over 86 skin cancer removal procedures, saying that although she was knocked down 86 times, “I got back up 87 times.” 

Lisa Pace, 43, of Knoxville, has battled skin cancer for around 20 years. She said she has not had a skin cancer removed in several months, adding that “these are my cancer-free months.” 

“I do personal skin checks every morning. I am very diligent about getting to my dermatologist if I notice something new,” Pace said. 

But her two-decade road to recovery involved first discovering that her skin cancers had melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. With the encouragement of her mother, she finally went to a dermatologist, according to a post she wrote on the American Academy of Dermatology.

“They found two places of concern, so biopsies were done,” Pace wrote. “A couple of weeks later I found out they were they melanoma.” 

At the time, she thought skin cancer was “something they would just scrape off me.” 

“My mom had used sunscreen on me as a child, but during my late teens and early twenties, I used the indoor tanning salons,” she said. “I was addicted to them.”

She wrote in the AAD blog post that skin cancer did not previously scare her. 

“I was uneducated about it,” she wrote. “Plus, tanning was cool! All my friends were doing it.”

But it wasn't until the surgery on her face that her life changed. 

“One morning I found this white spot on my left cheek. I watched it for a couple weeks and noticed it was getting bigger. So I went back to the dermatologist. This changed my life,” she wrote in a blog post on Coolibar, a UV protective clothing company. “They took a huge chunk out of my face. I was devastated. I couldn’t look at myself.”

But she spoke with her doctors and after much discussion, “I found out that all those times going to the tanning bed had caused me to have skin cancer.”

“This was the first time anyone had discussed this with me. Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. I had done this to myself. I questioned every time I had ever wanted to go tan. Why did I do this?” she wrote. “I didn’t lack self-confidence, I just wanted to have a bronze look and to 'fit in.' I knew better than to “follow the crowd.'”

She said she was “so angry” at herself. But her competitive, athletic and positive mindset reminded her that she had a “choice every day.”

“We choose to win the day or wallow in self-pity. We outwork our competition. And skin cancer was my competition,” she wrote. 

Pace said every surgery was different.

“In some cases I would only have one cut to remove the cancer, in other cases my doctor would have to go in 2 or 3 times to remove all the cancer. It all depends on the margins,” she said. “I have had MOHS surgery with a majority of my skin cancers.” 

Now, she wants to send a message of hope and urge others to protect their skin. 

“I am very fortunate that all my skin cancers have been caught early. The decisions I made to tan as a teenager and in my early twenties, caught up to me,” Pace said. “It doesn’t have to happen to anyone else. Protect your skin and stay out of the tanning bed.”

She said she began tanning a few times in high school, but more frequent in college starting her freshman year. She would go one to two times a week, “then every day for a few weeks if something big was coming up. Like picture day, or spring break.” 

“I felt I needed a 'base tan,'” she said. “Which now I know there is no such thing and that thought process leads to skin cancer.”  

Pace has since changed her thought process and has a new motto: “You are beautiful to those that matter most without a tan.” 

When asked if she had anything else to share about her cancer survival journey, she had a positive message. 

“I just want people to love and embrace who they are. We are all unique and beautiful,” Pace said. 'Getting skin cancer from the tanning bed and the sun can be avoided. Wear protective clothing and sunscreen.”

Pace currently leads a productive life, as she is also a licensed massage therapist. 

This story was reported in Los Angeles.