SoCal girl diagnosed with melanoma at 13

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- One American dies from malignant melanoma every hour. One in three Californians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

One local teen recognized the deadly signs of skin cancer and that knowledge saved her life.

Fifteen-year-old Kennedy Dirks always practiced meticulous sun safety.

"Sunscreen all the time. I remember going to school just smelling of sunscreen," said Dirks.

So when her doctor called with the results of her mole biopsy, she was stunned.

"My mom just had this look on her face. And she said the doctor called and said that you have melanoma," said Dirks.

She had melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, at the age of 13. How Dirks arrived at this diagnosis was even more incredible.

Two years ago she was a junior lifeguard. As part of a partnership with the California Surf Lifesaving Association, Dirks heard a presentation by Block the Blaze which is part of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

"We go out and we educate youth at schools and at beaches. And how to be sun safe. How to prevent skin cancer. What to look for when we're checking our body," said Lauren Fraga, program director at Block the Blaze.

"They told us all the facts, everything you need to know to spot a potentially cancerous mole," said Dirks.

How to look for asymmetry, jagged borders, changing shapes and unusual colors such as blue, purple or pink.

Dirks became suspicious of a pink mole on her right arm.

Her doctor said he didn't think it was something that needed to be biopsied right away, but she persisted.

"It was just this gut feeling that I had because of what I learned from Block the Blaze, that it needed to be removed," said Dirks.

Since 2007, Block the Blaze has educated thousands of young people. Kids learn exactly what a changing mole looks like and that makes them feel empowered.

"We do recommend that everyone goes on mole patrol once a month for five minutes and checks their entire body," said Fraga.

Dirks' message? Vigilance and prevention: Wear sunscreen daily, reapply often and cover up with hats and long sleeves. Since her melanoma scare, she's had 35 other spots removed.

Careful monitoring gave her peace of mind. She tells others to follow their instincts.

"If you feel in your gut that it's something to be worried about, then be worried about it," said Dirks.

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