A Peloton Star and Skin Cancer Survivor with a Desire to Inspire
- Christine D’Ercole is a senior instructor for Peloton and a skin cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and had surgery to remove the cancerous spot from her nose. Now, she’s cancer-free and back on the bike.
- We can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Our experts recommend skin protection all year round.
- No matter how vigilant you are about wearing sunscreen and decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
D’Ercole is a Masters World Champion track cyclist, a five time National Champion track cyclist and a senior instructor at Peloton. She inspires many with her powerful words and encourages riders to work on their “self-talk,” or inner dialogue, to become the best versions of themselves. She understands how to get people motivated and knows the power of words – especially after her cancer diagnosis.Read More
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“WORDS ARE POWERFUL,” she said in an Instagram post that shared her cancer journey with followers. “Words that start with ‘C’, especially. ‘C’ followed by an ‘A’ and ’N’ forms a lovely word, ‘CAN’. This word is full of possibility. However when followed by another ‘C’, ‘E’ and ‘R’. It takes quite a dark turn.”
D’Ercole’s cancer journey began before she even knew it. About four years ago, she found a tiny grayish dry spot on her nose near her left eye. Her dermatologist then froze it off and told her it was precancerous at her follow-up appointment. Then, it reappeared in September 2020, so she went to a new dermatologist. That’s when she was met with her cancer diagnosis.
“When the dermatologist said the biopsy showed a Squamous Cell Carcinoma, I stopped hearing the rest of the words she said,” she wrote in her Instagram. “She drew little purple dots on my nose to show me the outline- about the size of a dime, maybe a nickel. And we won’t know how deep until we get in there. Right on the bridge of my nose. I was scared.
“You often hear me speak about challenges: those we create and those we did not create. As I entered the unknown territory of this situation I did not create, I had to manage my self-talk like never before.”
From there, D’Ercole used a Imiquimod cream to “contain it” while they waited a bit longer for surgery to reduce scarring. She had her surgery twenty two weeks later, and, thankfully, it was a success.
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“I AM OK,” she wrote. “They got it. All of it. I know I am very lucky. And I am very grateful for the lovely team of medical professionals who removed it and performed the reconstruction. Please get yourself checked. Do not let that funny looking spot go. Make an appt. TODAY!”
She was relieved to be rid of the cancerous spot, but the next part of her journey also proved to be challenging – especially as someone so dedicated to constantly being in motion. In a podcast episode of Talk of the T-Town that aired in April, D’Ercole explained what it was like getting back to training after taking time to rest.
“I had the experience of actually being totally sidelined from my training for the past month,” she said. “I was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma. I had to go through its removal and the reconstruction around it on my face, smack in the middle. I literally was not allowed to move for three weeks. Now, I’m just coming back very, very, very carefully… It’s been a big leap of faith to simply accept, this is where I am, and I’m starting from scratch.”
Now, she’s back, better than ever and grateful to continue doing what she loves. In her most recent post, she was all dolled up and ready to promote her “Mama Mia Ride” with as much enthusiasm as ever.
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“I’ll be on the ride dishing out as many hi-5’s as I can!” she wrote in her caption.
Understanding Skin Cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States. And even though most of us aren’t soaking up the sun in a bathing suit at this time of year, it’s important to remember that the risk of developing skin cancer is very much still there in the winter months.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously told SurvivorNet. “People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine. But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
Dr. Engelman, shared the top five things you can do to avoid skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
No matter how vigilant you are about decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
The Importance of Sunscreen
Many people commit to using sunscreen every day, but it’s important to note that choosing the right product can be just as important as consistency.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, recommends you use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours. Your sunscreen should also be broad spectrum, says Dr. Larocca, meaning it covers both UVB and UVA rays.
Dr. Amin tells SurvivorNet that while brand name is not very important, paying attention to the ingredients and feel of the sunscreen can make a difference.
“My recommendation is really focus on the ingredients rather than the brands,” Dr. Amin says. “If you like the way the brand feels on your skin, if you like the purpose of the brand – for instance, sport versus daily use or daytime use versus a short burst of activity use – I think those are more important factors than actual brands.”
The Dangers of Tanning Beds
And if you’re considering visiting a tanning bed during these cold winter months, we’d highly suggest you think again. Just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent, squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
When you hop into a tanning bed, you are exposing yourself to the very same dangerous rays you expose yourself to outside – but they’re only 6-8 inches away. And in a study recently published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers suggest that banning tanning beds among minors would prevent thousands of cases of melanoma in adolescents, along with millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
So, even if the temptation of achieving a nice “glow” seems irresistible, you should note that health experts warn against using tanning beds.
“Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer,” says Dr. Lynn A. Cornelius, chief of the division of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It also induces changes that lead to premature aging of the skin. There is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist specializing in skin cancer at Weill Cornell, echoed Dr. Cornelius’ statements by explaining that tanning beds increase your chances of melanoma “exponentially.”
“We know there is a direct correlation with [melanoma] patients who go to indoor tanning salons,” Dr. Pavlick tells SurvivorNet, who notes that the exposure “is about 6 inches from your body.”
The sun is millions of miles away when you’re on a beach, “so you have to think of the intensity that you’re exposing your skin to when you go to a tanning salon,” she says.