• Kimberly Collins

Ahhh . . . summer fun in the sun! Who doesn’t love it? Floating around in your pool or on the lake. Frolicking at the beach. Your skin, a golden tan. The warm glow of tanned skin makes everyone feel better. And let's admit it, we look better and healthier with a little tan. Or do we?

Growing up, my family spent summers on Norris Lake. Swimming, skiing, fishing, playing. We’ve always been water babies and love the lake, the ocean, the beach. We never met a tropical island we didn’t like. Almost everyone in my family has their scuba certification, so our vacations moved from the lake to the ocean as we became adults.

During those early days when we weren’t on the lake, you could find all the girls in our neighborhood at our house slicked up with baby oil or some other tanning product, basking in the summer sun. Tanning was our job and we were in hot pursuit of the perfect brown-as-a-biscuit tan.

Me with my beautiful mama.

My mother has beautiful olive skin and can tan simply walking to the car. Me? Well, I have my father’s Irish complexion—dark hair, green eyes, and freckles. I have enough of my mother’s melanin genes to get a darned good tan for an Irish lass, but those freckles will just keep multiplying. My fighting Irish blood is determined to dominate.

Sunscreen? Never heard of it until I was in my early 20s. Even then, I didn’t take it too seriously. It was something used to keep little kids from getting burned and blistered.

Somewhere close to 30, I wasn’t such a fan of the freckles on my face anymore. So, I started slathering sunscreen on my face, neck, and décolletage. My baseball cap became my summer go-to accessory. Even though I avoided the sun on my face as often as possible, for some reason, I thought the rest of my body would be just fine without it.

Don't forget your hat and sunscreen!

As the years wore on, I became more protective of my skin and started using a higher sunblock and didn’t “work” on a tan any longer. If I happened to get some drive-by sun while running or on the lake, fine. If not, so be it.

Then, I was attacked by an autoimmune malfunction, that I have fondly named Petey (see my previous blog post, “The Dragon: My Autoimmune Malfunction”). Petey caused my skin to sizzle in the sun. I felt like a vampire exposed to the sun for the first time in 100 years and my skin was melting. The medicine I took also made me very susceptible to burning. With Petey in full force, I stayed out of the sun completely for about three years. Honestly, my skin never looked or felt better.

I gave up tanning years ago. I use sunscreen every day. But it doesn't matter how much sun I get today—the damage from years ago is where most of the danger lies.

Last year, I went for a haircut and my stylist noticed a mole that bad been on the back of neck for a while. He said it looked abnormal (thank you, Randy). I thought it would turn out to be nothing. I hadn’t really been in the sun in years. Besides, who gets skin cancer on the back of their neck?

The biopsy.

I had my appointment with Lindsay at The Skin Wellness Center in Knoxville. She took one look at that guy and decided he was not someone I should be hanging out with and recommended a biopsy. That day, she also found and froze off 8 pre-cancerous places on my face and arms.

The biopsy came back as a basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell is kinda the skin cancer starter pack. If you're going to have one, this is the one you want. Dr. Meredith Overholt removed the offending cells and placed 17 beautifully crafted stitches (a few inside, a few outside) in the back of my neck.

When I returned to have my stitches removed, Lindsay did a full-body scan and zapped 14 more pre-cancerous thugs into oblivion. One had been on my cheek for a very, very long time. I thought it was just a freckly kinda thing and covered it with concealer. We opted to use fluorouracil cream on this one to avoid scarring. Lindsay warned me that it would get angry. And did it ever. It was angry and ugly. It looked like I had stuck a curling iron to my face. After about two weeks it went away. No scar, no nothing. Just beautiful, clear skin.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Even if you have dark skin and tan easily—you can still get skin cancer. My friend Vic is Sicilian with beautiful olive skin and he’s battling stage 4 melanoma. Preventative measures include sunscreen and limiting your exposure to the sun, especially during mid-day. And for the love of all that’s holy—stay out of tanning beds, people! Get a spray tan. Or just enjoy your beautiful skin as it is.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Basal cell carcinoma usually develops on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. It’s very rare for a basal cell cancer to spread to other parts of the body. But if a basal cell cancer is left untreated, it can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin.

“Squamous cell carcinoma commonly appears on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of the hands. They can also develop in scars or chronic skin sores elsewhere.

“Actinic keratosis (AK), is a pre-cancerous skin condition caused by too much exposure to the sun. AKs are usually small (less than 1/4 inch across), rough or scaly spots that may be pink-red or flesh-colored. Usually they start on the face, ears, backs of the hands, and arms of middle-aged or older people with fair skin, although they can occur on other sun-exposed areas.”

Preventative measures include sunscreen and limiting your exposure to the sun, especially during mid-day.

The trick with any skin cancer is to catch it early. If you see anything that looks unusual—moles, pigmented areas that are suddenly abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture—have it checked by a dermatologist.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says, “Basal cell carcinomas often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. While basal cell carcinomas seldom spread to vital organs, they can cause major disfigurement and occasionally result in nerve or muscle injury. Squamous cell carcinomas typically appear as persistent, thick, rough, scaly patches that may bleed. They often look like warts and sometimes have open sores with a raised border and crusted surface over an elevated pebbly base. The skin around them typically shows signs of sun damage such as wrinkling, pigment changes and loss of elasticity. They can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly if allowed to grow.”

I can’t thank The Skin Wellness Center enough for being so danged good at what they do. For making the entire process as painless and scarless as possible. They will always be my go-to peeps for any skin issue—whether it’s dermatology-related or cosmetic. I love those ladies!

Find yourself a good dermatologist and get a skin cancer screening. Today!

As the wise sage Jennifer Garner said, “Nothing looks better in your 50s than sunscreen in your 20s.”

Love the skin you’re in,


Related links:

American Cancer Society

Skin Cancer Foundation

The Skin Wellness Center

  • Kimberly Collins

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

Last week I traveled to Athens, Ohio for an interview with Jan Hodson. Jan is the host of the Author’s Chair, a radio program hosted by WOUB Public Media, the NPR affiliate at Ohio University. The Author’s Chair, which features authors from Appalachia, was launched in conjunction with the PBS Great American Read.

Jan had just read my novel, Simple Choices, and wanted to discuss not only the book but all-things-writing. We chatted about the opioid epidemic, young women making bad choices, murder, my writing style and influences, and growing up in Appalachia. We covered a lot of territory in 29 minutes. Jan is a fabulous host and delved into some interesting topics. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time together.

I’ll be returning to the Author’s Chair in October to talk about my upcoming novel, Blood Creek.

Last week’s interview is available at the following link: https://woub.org/thegreatamericanread/

Hope you can tune in!


  • Kimberly Collins

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Earlier this month, I spent the weekend in my hometown, Matewan, West Virginia. I was there for a book signing at the Hatfield & McCoy Reunion Festival. It was great to see schoolmates I hadn’t seen in years, to catch up with old friends, and be a part of the festival.

Going home to West Virginia is soothing in many ways. Matewan is where my childhood memories linger. I grew up surrounded by mountains that provided an amazing playground. We were outside every chance we got—climbing trees, hiking up a mountain, sliding down a mountain in fresh fallen leaves, catching crawdads in the creek. There was always an adventure.

The mountains are close and tight and can feel suffocating to some people. The sun doesn’t peek over the top of the mountain until about ten in the morning … by 5:00 pm, it’s sinking beyond the other side. The mighty Tug River snakes along between the mountains creating a distinct line between West Virginia and Kentucky.

Those mountains are part of my soul. They provide a cocoon from the outside world. They demand a slower speed; an alternate perspective on the noise around me. There’s nothing like a walk down a dirt road to clear your mind and bring a little clarity.

When I tell people I’m from West Virginia, I typically get an odd look and “Really?” West Virginia conjures up many negative images for most people—poverty, barefoot hillbillies, dirty coal miners, and more recently the opioid epidemic. While some version of those images is accurate, the other West Virginia that most don’t see is the one I see when I go home. Wild horses, beautiful rolling mountains, wildflowers, a river, a rich history, kind people, and some of the best moonshine in the country.

Yes, there’s poverty, but West Virginia is also home to some of the hardest working people I know. There isn’t a lot of industry in the state; therefore, not a lot of jobs, especially in southern West Virginia. With the coal industry winding down, and decades of little to no encouragement for other industries to step up once the coal was gone, there are few jobs.

Mingo County is the heart of the billion-dollar coalfield. Where coal is king. At least coal used to be king. Now? Some say it’s ready for an encore. Others preach that coal is dead and will never be the despot it once was. All I know is that over the decades, coal has waxed and waned from king to pauper and back again.

And why so much disdain for those “dirty coal miners?” Generations of coal miners have kept this country powered since the early 1900s. Without them, you’d be sitting in the dark. Without them, our industrial revolution would never have happened. Without them, the comforts and conveniences of our modern-day lifestyle would not exist.

Yeah, I get it, burning coal is bad for the environment. But you know what else is bad? Raping a land and its people of their minerals and running off with the profit and leaving those people with nothing. No sustainability. No other industry. No training. Nothing.

The opioid crisis was brought about by the pharmaceutical companies and their distributors in other states. They kept pushing the drugs into the area to make a profit. Those are the people who should be looked down upon and judged. Their greed has created a nation-wide epidemic that will take generations to heal.

As for those barefoot hillbillies, I’m a barefoot Appalachian as often as I can be.

There’s so much history in my little hometown—the Hatfield and McCoy feud and the legendary mine wars that sparked right in the middle of downtown in 1920. It’s also now ATV heaven with riders coming from all over the country with their four-wheelers to tear up the Hatfield & McCoy Trails. It could be a tourist goldmine, but it will take the elected officials and the local citizens coming together for the good of the community.

Some say you can’t turn generations of coal miners into tourism entrepreneurs overnight and maybe not ever. I disagree. When I was home for the book signing, I saw people working hard to make the festival great. Others stopped by my tent and discussed what could be done, things they would like to see happen in our little town. There was also a fair amount of frustration at what appear to be obstacles, such as funding, collaboration, and creative planning, in the town, the county, and the state. These things are necessary for new ventures to happen and for tourism to flourish.

My hope is that we—the current residents and those of us who visit—can all come together for the greater good of the community. That we can see southern West Virginia flourish once again, this time by sharing the beauty and history of our mountain state.

I want everyone to see the West Virginia I see—it’s truly almost heaven.

#WestVirginia #Matewan #WildHorses #Coal #AlmostHeaven #WildAndWonderful #hometowngirl #mountainmama #tourism #WestVirginiaTourism #MingoCounty #opioidepidemic

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