Since she had a melanoma removed more than a decade ago, Michelle Monaghan has been an advocate for skin cancer education, sun protection and speaking up to loved ones. Michelle supports Refinery29 and The Skin Cancer Foundation’s call on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce rules against cancer-causing tanning beds. Please join us by signing this letter to the FDA.
Michelle Monaghan has plenty of experience with the elements, having grown up in Winthrop, Iowa, completing “all of the chores farm kids do.” The actress, who is best known for her starring roles in films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Gone Baby Gone and the Mission: Impossible series, worked the fields in all kinds of weather, and she admits that sun protection was never a priority. “I don’t recall ever using sunscreen as a kid,” she says. “Our intention was to always get a tan over the summer school break. We thought, ‘It’s cold for seven months out of the year, so let’s get some sun-kissed skin while we can.’ Never mind doing it responsibly.”
Combined with a few trips to the tanning salon before prom, Monaghan concedes her sun-soaked childhood wasn’t exactly prime time for protecting her skin. “I definitely take responsibility for not having proper skin health as a young person, and we know that’s when a lot of the sun damage occurs.”
That damage led to some changes in the shape of a mole on Monaghan’s leg. She admits she wasn’t too concerned about it, but her husband, who is Australian, insisted she get it checked out. “There’s a high rate of skin cancer in Australia, so he had been educated about it in school. They learned the importance of applying sunscreen regularly, protecting their skin and the ABCDEs of melanoma,” Monaghan says. “I wasn’t familiar with skin cancer. It wasn’t something I was informed about, so I didn’t take the prospect of getting skin cancer seriously.”
After about three months of her husband’s pushing, Monaghan made an appointment with a dermatologist. The doctor biopsied the suspicious mole, and the results were bad news — melanoma. “I was shocked when I got the news,” Monaghan recalls, “but I still didn’t appreciate how bad it was until the doctor said, ‘This is serious. You need to come back in now, and we need to take this out.’”
Monaghan’s physician performed an excisional surgery, removing the tumor along with a surrounding border of presumably healthy skin — a safety margin to make sure there were no cancerous cells left. She credits her husband for getting her to the dermatologist while the tumor was still at an early stage. Without his urging, Monaghan says, she would never have been inclined to see a doctor and would have let the mole changes go unchecked. “I have an unsightly scar now, but the alternative was far, far worse,” she says. It could have spread and potentially become life-threatening.
“I now see a dermatologist twice a year. I get a mole or two removed (and checked) most years just as a precautionary measure. I’d rather be safe than sorry — I don’t want a repeat performance!”
Forming New Habits
Monaghan has stayed cancer free in the years since her diagnosis. She’s made a commitment to wearing sunscreen daily, and to protecting her skin with clothing. Her experience has made her very conscious of protecting not only her own skin, but that of her family as well — especially her kids. Monaghan wishes she had been educated about sun damage and skin cancer, and that her schools had offered access to sunscreen. She also points out that she had an unhealthy perspective on beauty and tanning. “I wish I hadn’t correlated tan skin with being more comfortable in my own skin,” she says. “I wish I had appreciated the skin I was in.”
She’s determined not to let her children repeat her mistakes. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is that growing up, I didn’t have good habits. As a result, I’m instilling a daily routine of skin health within my own family. In our home, applying sunscreen is as important as brushing your teeth.
“One in five people will get skin cancer in their lifetime,” she says. “And it can be preventable in so many cases, if you take precautionary steps.”
A Friend to Healthy Skin
In addition to being a healthy skin advocate to her children, she talks to her friends about it as well.
When she finds many of her friends resistant to adding yet another step to their skin-care routines, she likes to point out that sunscreen doesn’t have to be a burden. “Sunscreens have come a long way. There are a lot of wonderful products out there that have incorporated other skin-care ingredients,” she says. “I can actually bypass a separate moisturizer in the morning if I use a vitamin C serum and then a tinted moisturizer with SPF.”
This is one of Monaghan’s main takeaways: Get others to be proactive in protecting themselves from the sun’s rays. Monaghan (fondly deemed the “sunscreen queen” by her husband) has made it her mission to do just that.