Ashley McAtee Wirkus, the 30-year-old reality TV star known for her role on the Bravo series, “Summer House,” has a message for her fans: get your skin checked, and do so often.
Wirkus, who is also a new mother, a social media influencer, and the co-founder of a popular lifestyle and fashion blog, “Wirkus Twins,” which she runs with her twin sister, Lauren Wirkus, is sharing this message with her over 100,000 followers after undergoing a surgery to remove a skin cancer from her back.
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This is me on Friday resting after having a surgery to remove the skin cancer (Malignant Melanoma) on my back. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Just as I have shared my pregnancy shingles, I feel it’s important to share what I have been going through the past 7 weeks with becoming a mom and now this. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I am SO in love with Dean and beyond grateful to have a healthy baby- BUT this has been the hardest adjustment of my life. I have had days questioning why no one warned me how hard this was going to be, and why no one really talks about the struggles of new mommy-hood? The past weeks have truly been a roller coaster with so many changes, ups & downs. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Labor although incredible was the hardest physical experience I have ever endured, and I am still recovering. Breastfeeding has not been easy and is more than a full- time job, and now I realize why sleep deprivation is clearly a form of torture! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Thank gosh you do have this amazing human to snuggle because being a mom is no joke! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 3 weeks ago I went for my routine annual skin check at my dermatologist and she noted a mole on my back she wanted to biopsy. I thought nothing of it as I am naturally a very ‘moley’ person and go to the dermatologist regularly with the many past biopsies being normal. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ A week later I got the call that unfortunately this mole was malignant melanoma. I had surgery to remove an area of skin on my back on Friday and should have the final results soon. I will share my next visit when I see the doctor in 2 weeks. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I naturally love the outdoors and have always worn sunscreen, hats, sunglasses but it was still not enough. I now will have to be even more cautious when I am in the sun. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I am sharing to urge everyone to get your skin checked. Most annual visits are covered by insurance and now I will be going multiple times a year to stay safe! ????
Wirkus posted an Instagram photo of herself holding her new baby boy, Dean. The caption reads, “This is me on Friday resting after having a surgery to remove the skin cancer (Malignant Melanoma) on my back.”
The surgery came after a routine skin check-up, which resulted in a mole biopsy, then a concerned call from Wirkus’ dermatologist.
“A week [after the biopsy] I got the call that unfortunately this mole was malignant melanoma,” Wirkus wrote. “I had surgery to remove an area of skin on my back on Friday and should have the final results soon.”
Those final results, Wirkus said, will likely come in two weeks when she goes in to see her doctor again. True to form, the very open and public star said she will share the results with her followers.
Wirkus said the skin cancer came as a shock. “I thought nothing of [the biopsy],” she wrote. “As I am naturally a very ‘moley’ person and go to the dermatologist regularly with the many past biopsies being normal.”
Wirkus said that going forward, she will be scheduling visits to get her skin checked more than once a year “to stay safe!” In her post, the star urged her followers to do the same.
Shortly after posting the photo, Wirkus received hundreds of comments, as followers thanked the star for sharing her challenges with new motherhood on top of the skin cancer surgery.
“So proud of you as a mom with everything you’ve been through!,” Wirkus’ twin sister, Lauren, commented. “I wish I could take some of this on for you.”
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That face Lauren made when I told her WE were having a baby… being identical twins means this baby is also part @laurenwirkus! If only she can push him out for me ???? Thank you all for going on this journey with me and being such an amazing support system! Baby should be here any day now 🙂 #wirkustwins
Catching Melanoma Early
Melanoma, a cancer that starts in the skin cells, can quickly turn life-threatening once it spreads to other areas of the body. That’s why getting regular skin checks is crucial; if you catch the cancer early enough, before it spreads widely throughout the body, it is far easier to treat, usually with a simple surgery.
“When melanoma is diagnosed early, the cure rate is very high,” Dr. Nima Gharavi, the director of dermatologic surgery and MOHS micrographic surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “When melanoma is diagnosed late and it’s gone deeper into the skin, the cure rate drops significantly.”
While Ashley Wirkus didn’t share the specific stage of her melanoma in her Instagram post, she alluded to forthcoming “results,” meaning that her doctors have probably sent her skin sample out to a pathologist to determine how deep her skin cancer had penetrated her skin.
Usually, if a melanoma is less than 0.8 mm in depth, your dermatologist can remove it in a simple office-based incision. But if it’s greater than 0.8mm in depth, your doctor might recommend a sentinel node biopsy, during which your doctor will remove a small piece of one of your lymph nodes and send it out to a pathologist to look for skin cancer cells.
Skin Cancer Screening Recommendations
And while most people will see their dermatologist for a skin check once or twice a year, Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, urges people—especially people who are at a high risk for melanoma, such as people with fair skin, people with many moles, and people with a family history of melanoma—to check their own skin monthly. This way, if you notice something abnormal, you can be proactive and go get it checked out, even if it’s not time for your annual skin check-up.
When checking your own skin, Dr. Larocca recommends looking out for the “ABCDEs”, a helpful acronym that stands for:
- Asymmetrical moles: if you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?
- Borders: irregular, jagged, not smooth; can also stand for bleeding
- Colors: multiple distinct colors in the mole
- Diameter: larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser
- Evolution: This may be the most important, anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.
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Did Ashley Wirkus Get Skin Cancer Because of Sun Exposure?
You’ve likely heard it time and again: exposure to the sun’s U.V. rays can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer. The importance of sun protection—sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, for instance—cannot be overstated.
In her Instagram post, Wirkus assured her followers that she has always been good about sun protection, but that because she spends so much time outside (as evidenced in her many outdoor Instagram photos and her days at the beach in “Summer House,”) she will need to protect her skin even more going forward. Wirkus also shared that she had always been a “very ‘moley’ person,” which could mean she has something that Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, told us about, called “dysplastic nevus syndrome”—putting her into a high-risk category of people that need to be even more careful in the sun.
“Patients at risk are patients who are fair-skinned, blond hair, blue eyes, patients who may have a family history of melanoma, or patients who have what we call dysplastic nevus syndrome, who are just covered in thousands of moles,” Dr. Pavlick said.
“I naturally love the outdoors and have always worn sunscreen, hats, sunglasses but it was still not enough,” she wrote. “I now will have to be even more cautious when I am in the sun.”
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What that means for Wirkus, most likely, is that she will use sunscreen even more frequently—and perhaps in higher SPFs. (Sunscreen really does work; a great study came out of Australia several years back that found that people who used sunscreen over a ten-year period reduced their skin cancer risk by 50 percent.)