Jincy Hinely will never forget a phone call she received early one morning in May 2003.
Her cell phone rang as she was walking into her first class of the day at Coastal Georgia Community College in Brunswick. A Savannah plastic surgeon’s nurse was calling with the results of a biopsy of a suspicious mole on the right side of Hinely’s stomach.
“She said, ‘You have to come immediately,’” Hinely recalls.
At just 21 years old, Hinely had been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Her mind raced as she drove from Brunswick to Savannah.
“It’s just a weird feeling — I have my whole life ahead of me and I’m diagnosed with melanoma,” Hinely said. “All these questions, all these thoughts are going through my head as I’m driving. ‘What in the world is going on? What have I done to myself?’”
While the notion that she brought cancer on herself might sound harsh, Hinely said she believes that to this day. Doctors told Hinely that her melanoma was caused by her over-exposure to dangerous radiation in tanning beds.
Hinely began using tanning beds in 10th grade as a quick way to get a tan for special events, such as pageants and proms. However, she said it became an “addiction,” and she was lying in tanning beds five days a week.
“I remember high school graduation morning. We graduated at 10 a.m.; I was at the tanning bed at 8 o’clock that morning,” said Hinely, a 2001 graduate of Effingham County High School.
Not even her discovery of that mole on her right side stopped Hinely from using tanning beds. Not even when she saw one of the tell-tale signs of melanoma, a mole that changes color — sometimes red, other times purple or brown.
“The bad thing,” Hinely said, “is I put a little round band-aid over it and still went to the tanning bed, thinking, ‘Oh, the band-aid will protect it.’”
Hinely is thankful a friend persuaded her to have the mole checked out. Following the stunning news from her biopsy, Hinely had surgery to remove the cancerous area.
Hinely admits to feeling depressed at the time, knowing she needed to avoid tanning beds and spend less time in the sun while her friends headed to the beach. She thought, “This isn’t fair. Why me?”
However, she acknowledges now that she is fortunate not to have gone through multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, as so many cancer patients do. She has check-ups every six months, and she said doctors have removed more than 30 suspicious spots from her body in the 10 years since that first cancerous mole was found.
“I got to thinking, what if I would’ve waited — a month longer, three months longer — to get it checked, and it had spread?” she said. “I might not be here.”
Hinely credits her family and friends with helping her through her battle with cancer. A turning point, she said, was her father reminding her that she didn’t need to change anything about her appearance.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “If this had not happened to me, I probably would still be going (to the tanning bed). I needed this wake-up call.”
She now warns others of the dangers of tanning beds. A mother of two boys, ages 5 and 2, Hinely also wants parents to understand the damage the sun can do to children’s skin, even on a cloudy day.
Hinely particularly wants her message of safety and prevention to resonate with her two nieces, a senior and a freshman at ECHS. They, like she once was, are at the age of wanting to look their best for pageants and proms.
“I feel like I owe people my story,” Hinely said. “If something I say can make them change their mind about whether to go to the tanning bed or put on that extra sunscreen or need to go get that mole checked out, it might save their life.”
As she now does each year, Hinely will join others from the community for Effingham County’s Relay For Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. This year’s Relay begins Friday at 7 p.m. and continues until Saturday at 7 a.m., at Effingham County High School.
Hinely will have a full day Friday prior to the Relay, at South Effingham Elementary School’s field day. As is her practice, Hinely will protect herself from the sun during field day with a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
She will then walk with other people who beat cancer for the survivors lap to begin Relay For Life.
“I’m going to be exhausted,” she said, “but I’ll be there.”
Relay For Life
7 p.m.-7 a.m.
Effingham County High School
7 p.m. – Opening ceremony
7:15 p.m. – Survivor and caregiver lap
8 p.m. – Teams lap
8:30 p.m. – Kids walk
10:30 p.m. – Luminaria ceremony
5 a.m. – Closing ceremony
8:45 p.m. – Matthew Proctor
9 p.m. – Auction
9:30 p.m. – Journeymen of Praise
10 p.m. – Jazz band
10:45 p.m. – Hunter Gnann
11:15 p.m. – Joyful Noise
12:20 a.m. – Mr. Relay pageant
1 a.m. – Cornhole tournament
1:30 a.m. – Redneck fashion show
2 a.m. – Pickle eating contest
2:45 a.m. – Name that tune
3:30 a.m. – Picture scavenger hunt
4:15 a.m. – Cheese puff toss contest
4:30 a.m. – Line dancing