At just 21 years old, fitness instructor Danielle Frankl got a crash course in skin cancer. She geared up for the battle of her life and came out victorious. Here, her story, her recovery, and her efforts to raise awareness for the disease.
When Danielle Frankl returned from a college semester abroad in Italy, her aunt noticed something different about her. No, it wasn’t her fresh-from-Europe radiance. Instead, something was not exactly new but was changing and unusual on the then-21-year-old’s face: It was a mole that didn’t look the same as when she had left for her trip a few months earlier. On her aunt’s insistence, Dani made an appointment with a dermatologist to get the mole checked. After a biopsy, the diagnosis came back as stage II melanoma.
While highly upsetting, it wasn’t entirely surprising to Dani, who grew up in Corona, California. “I used to let my fair skin get sunburned in the hopes of getting a golden tan,” says the now 25-year-old fitness trainer. A light skin tone, multiple sunburns as a child and a family history of melanoma put Dani at a higher risk for developing skin cancer.
Dani shows the extensive reconstruction after her surgery. She says she could feel the nerves regenerate about a year later, and she has since regained full feeling on that side of her face. | Photo credit: Mattison Fetters
She underwent surgery to remove the tumor and a sentinel lymph node biopsy to check if cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes. Fortunately, it hadn’t. “The incision ran from my eyebrow to the top corner of my forehead and down to my earlobe,” she describes. The surgery left her with numbness in the area that lasted about a year, and a lengthy scar. The experience left Dani feeling grateful to be cancer-free, with a newfound appreciation for her skin and the passion to raise awareness for skin cancer.
In the fall of 2021, Dani landed a job at Recoup Personal Training, a family-owned fitness studio in Costa Mesa, California. The owners told Dani that giving back to the community is a big part of their mission, and they would gladly support any causes she felt strongly about. That got her wheels turning, and in March 2022, Dani put together a community planking challenge, a core move that involves holding your body parallel to the floor in a position similar to a push-up, to benefit The Skin Cancer Foundation. “I found the Foundation’s website and liked how much of the donations go toward prevention and research.” Dani reached out to The Skin Cancer Foundation, who provided her with tools to make her event a success, including educational resources and sunscreen samples from a corporate partner.
The event was called PPP, for “potluck, plank and party.” “We wanted to make it fun, so we put a water cup on the participants’ backs. If the cup fell, their timer went off and they were out.” The winner was a 67-year-old woman who held a plank for a whopping six minutes and 32 seconds. Recoup Personal Training set up a sponsorship page for participants where friends, family and community members could donate. There were also raffle prizes. The event raised about $6,000 for The Skin Cancer Foundation.
Dani’s father, right, had the important task of keeping his daughter motivated, correcting her plank form and stopping the timer when she needed a break. | Photo credit: Mattison Fetters
At press time, Dani and Recoup Personal Training were gearing up for their second annual potluck party. This time, participants will be rowing in the gym (using machines borrowed from a local CrossFit) not planking. For Dani, it’s less about the specific exercise and more about getting her community together for a cause. “Many of us probably know someone who has had skin cancer,” she says. “So it’s an amazing opportunity to get together and raise awareness and money toward something so profound and important.”
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