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For Gold Medalist Summer Sanders, Knowledge is Power

Read Time: 3 minutes

Summer Sanders wearing her Olympic medals

Summer Sanders is best known as an Olympic Champion swimmer, an NBA television host, a Nickelodeon game show host, and an ambassador of international charitable organizations.

Summer started swimming at the age of 4 and attended Stanford University where she won back-to-back NCAA swimmer of the year in ’91 and ’92. Later that year, she went to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and won two golds, a silver, and a bronze. A few years after, Summer turned to her second love, television, and began a now 30-year career both in front of a behind the camera.

Summer is the author of Champions Are Raised, Not Born: How My Parents Made Me a Success. She is married to fellow Olympian, Erik Schlopy. They have two kids, Skye and Spider.

Growing up in Roseville, California, Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders spent every waking hour playing and training outside in the water—usually without sunscreen.

“I associated sunscreen with vacation, not training,“ Summer says.

Then, in 2014, she was diagnosed with melanoma. No one can say for sure what caused Summer's melanoma, but she thinks her frequent exposure to the sun was a contributing factor.

Her story begins at a trip to the dermatologist for a different concern. As an afterthought, she mentioned a new mole that her husband (Olympic skier Erik Schlopy) had been telling her she should get checked out.

The dermatologist told Summer it didn’t look too concerning. Still, Summer decided to have it removed since she was there. Then she forgot about it until she got a call about 10 days later.

Left: Summer competing in the 200 meter butterfly competition at the World Championship in 1991; Right: Summer diving into a swimming pool when she was a child
Left: Sanders competing in the 200 meter butterfly competition at the World Championship in 1991; Right: Sanders diving into a swimming pool when she was a young.

“That phone call was like a scene from a movie,“ Summer remembers. “The woman [told me], ‘We found you have a severely atypical malignant melanoma. We need to see you right away.’“

Summer made an appointment, hung up the phone, and then realized she hadn’t absorbed what she heard. Armed with a pencil and a piece of paper, she called back and wrote everything down.

“And then I got myself to Huntsman Cancer Institute, knowing that I needed people who deal with this all the time. I wasn’t willing to mess around,“ Summer says. She was treated by Doug Grossman, MD, PhD, an expert in the early diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers.

Summer has had three melanomas removed, all caught at stage 1 or even before. Now, she is a strong promoter of being your own health advocate.

“Don’t think you can remember everything,“ she cautions. “Write it down. Most patients didn’t go to medical school. I love Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s never going to teach me about my own health care.“

You cannot be a passenger in your health care—you have to be a crew member
—and occasionally you have to be the driver.

You know yourself better than anyone else, Summer points out, especially when it comes to self-exams for skin cancer. Get to know your skin and understand what your moles look like, she says, so you can spot when something looks strange.

As an athlete, and now a mom, Summer is using her voice to advocate for sun safety education. She puts skin protection in the same category as seat belts and helmets. Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the United States, so education is especially important here.

“The more you know,“ Summer says, “the safer you can be.“

Learn more about melanoma and skin cancer prevention.

Cancer touches all of us.