Utah native and Dancing With the Stars Pro Witney Carson talks melanoma, overcoming, and relationships
Healthy Utah: Tell us about your experience with melanoma.
I was a big advocate for tanning in the UV beds. In high school I would do that probably three times a week. My dad actually had skin cancer. He had melanoma, and it spread all the way to his lungs. It was really important that all his kids got checked after that. I never checked my body for moles, never was really aware of that. Never really put on sunscreen. I was really careless, and kind of thought I was invincible, you know.
So for my parents, it was really important that all their kids to get checked. One day we went in, and the dermatologist found a strawberry colored mole, really, really small, on my left foot, on the top of it. She thought it looked a little odd, and took a sample, and sure enough, it came back positive for melanoma.
During this process I had gotten the call that I was going to be a professional on dancing with the stars. This is the first time I was being called as a pro. From the time I was diagnosed, it was about a month and half before I would have to go back to LA. We talked to the doctor, and said we really wanted to do this, to make it work. It had been my dream since I was three years old.
I asked him straight up, can I just wait to have this surgery until after I’m done with the season, in the summer. He was afraid that if I waited, I’d have to go through chemo. So that was obviously not the healthiest, best option for me.
We decided together that we’d do the surgery, and just try and make both of them (surgery and the show) work. When I went in they found I was positive for the melanoma being in my lymph nodes all the way up to my hip. So it spread all the way from my foot to my hip.
During the surgery process, they had to take out about an inch in diameter around my mole. They also took out four lymph nodes in my hip at the same time. It was about a month of recovery.
So after that happened, I did Dancing with the Stars, I didn’t tell anybody about this melanoma. I still had the sutures on my foot when I started the first day of rehearsal.
So it was really scary, but I just knew I had to do it. This is what I had been dreaming of. So I sucked it up and went in. I remember the first day, I wasn’t being careful, I just wanted to prove to them that I was worthy to be there. I remember looking down at my foot, and I had this big puddle of blood around my foot. I took off my shoe and my sock and I saw that the sutures had completely split back open. That was a really serious, bad thing that I had to deal with. And I hadn’t met my partner yet, so I had a long season ahead of me.
We had to find a wound care specialist to help me be able to dance on it while still letting it heal. All the nerves were kind of numb and mostly damaged at that point, and the feeling hadn’t come back. It wasn’t that painful, as gruesome as it might have looked. I think if it was on the bottom of my foot that would be worse, but luckily is was on the top of my foot. That whole season I had to have this wound care specialist wrap my foot every single Monday before we went live on the show.
Now the wound is healed, and there is a big fishhook scar on the top of my foot.
I’m completely melanoma free. And now I m just raising awareness about melanoma. I think so many people out they’re think their invincible because they’re young. We just don’t really think about putting sunscreen on very time we walk outside, covering ourselves up and protecting our skin. I think that’s really important for people to be aware of, and to really know that that exists, to know that young people at any age can get melanoma, that it can come at you at any point in your life. It is a serious thing.
Going through that adversity of the cancer, and finally getting through really did make it that much sweeter, and it made me appreciate it that much more, that I have my body to dance. And that I have my feet. You don’t realize how important your feet are as a dancer because that just is what you do. But once you can’t physically move on your foot, you’re really are just grateful for your healthy, physical body.
Healthy Utah: Tell us how you learned to be comfortable in your own skin.
I think every girl, everybody kind of goes through this, where you’re changing into your body. And it’s kind of hard to accept yourself sometimes. I think that’s kind of what I went through with my body. I have muscular legs, so they’re a little bit bigger, and I have curves, and those are things that I was really ashamed of because I wanted to look like someone else in a magazine. I wanted to be that skinny, really perfect model on the Victoria Secret cover, or whatever it was.
I think I had a picture in my mind of what a perfect body looked like. As I was growing up and maturing, I started to realize that I am unique, I am special. My body is healthy, and I think that experience with melanoma really did help me realize how grateful I am for my body that I have been given.
I started to be more comfortable in my skin. I realized that being completely myself is perfect. My body is perfect the way that it is. I gradually, slowly started to accept my curves, my athletic legs, and things about myself that I didn’t like. I came to love them, because that made me who I was.
I think rather than comparing yourself to people, which so many of us do, because that’s just a natural instinct we have unfortunately, just being comfortable in your own skin and knowing that you are enough is really important. It’s important for girls to really know that.
As I came to accept my body and myself it helped my dancing a lot. It just helped my confidence. It helped me tell myself you are good at this, this is your talent, this is your passion, and you love this. Being comfortable in my skin definitely helped me.
Healthy Utah: Why are relationships so important to you?
Relationships with my family and with my husband are super important. I mean that’s my number one priority besides my religion. So having a close relationship with them at all times really is super important to me.
I’ve always had a close-knit family. I come from a family of a lot of people. I’m the oldest of four kids. I’ve got about 100 cousins. I’ve got a huge family. That’s always been important to me growing up, having a relationship with them. Having them support me through this craziness in my career is been super important to me. And I think that’s helped me stay super grounded. To be able to keep my values and standards.
Having Carson in my life has made a huge difference for me. Our first year anniversary was January first. It’s super important for he and I to have good good communication and a good relationship especially moving around so much and having this crazy lifestyle.
For us, communicating your feelings, your problems your issues is really important. Life gets super crazy, and hectic. Especially because he is in school and has work, and I ‘m always gone. Having your time of day that you have together, that’s just you two, whether it just be sitting on the couch and watching a movie, or going out to dinner or whatever it may be, having that quality time to talk and check in with each other is super important.
We like to vacation any chance that we get. We love to spend time with family. We really are just normal people. We love to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. We love to eat ice cream. We like to go out to dinner, to be normal.
Healthy Utah: We heard you like kickboxing. Tell us about that.
I try to do kickboxing three times a month, maybe once a week. I actually work with an MMA fighter in LA, so it’s super fun to do actual real kickboxing. It’s not just like in Pilates where they kind of just punch the air. You’re punching into the pads and kicking. I like the patterns. For me mentally, having patterns to memorize helps my brain remember dance steps. Having that memorization is really important.
Also it’s just a really good workout. You let out all of your anger and all your stress and punch stuff. Who doesn’t want to just punch stuff and have a workout?
Witney’s Go-To Snacks
- Green Smoothie: Spinach, frozen banana, almond milk, almond butter, ice.
- An apple with almond butter. Natural sugar, healthy fats and protein!