Tiffany Blackwell once believed that the melanin in her skin provided adequate protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Here’s how this 44-year-old Minneapolis woman discovered that she was wrong.

In 1999, I spotted something unusual on my hip: a bump about the size of a pimple. For months, I disregarded it. It didn’t hurt—and I had no other blemishes like it on my body—so I figured it was harmless. Still, when I went in for a general health checkup in 2001, I pointed it out to the doctor. He took a biopsy and sent it off to pathology. To my surprise, I received a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

I never imagined that I’d have skin cancer. During my childhood in Minnesota—a place known more for its cold weather than for its sunlight—I spent countless hours outdoors during the summers. No one in my family used protection. Though I’m fair-skinned, I didn’t think I needed sunscreen. I believed that my skin’s melanin kept me from being vulnerable. I now know the truth.

In August 2001, after I had the cancer removed, I met with Charles E. Crutchfield, M.D., a renowned dermatologist. He advised me to get annual checkups and begin protecting my skin at all times. I’m very cautious now: I use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF), and I also wear hats. In addition, I sit under an umbrella to avoid direct sunlight. Even during the winter months, I’m careful. The sun can still damage your skin on a cloudy day. I’m also grateful: My skin cancer hasn’t reappeared.

Skin cancer runs in my family: My great uncle lost his life to melanoma. Still, I didn’t make the connection that I was at risk. That’s why I’m sharing my story. I want African-Americans of every shade to learn the lesson that I have: Our skin needs protection, too.

Read more in the July 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine on page 69.