With summer snapping at our heels, everyone I know is chomping at the bit to get out and walk, run, jog or bike their way out of the winter doldrums – along with shedding a few extra pounds some of us have packed on in hibernation.
All these fun, outdoor fitness activities bring up the subject of serious sun protection for our end-of-winter, pasty-white hides, so, listen up:
How many of us Boomers baked, broiled, broasted and burnt our butts back in the day – the day before any of us, including the medical profession – even suspected the ravages of the sun’s rays. Having a tan was one thing, my idol, Coco Chanel, didn’t get quite right.
This past April, I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma removed from my right shin. It started out as an innocuous, little, flesh-colored matte spot about the size of an eraser. My old Derm Doc said it was nothing . . . notice I said, old, again.
The spot’s been there for a quite a while, but in the past few months it began to change. In the last few weeks before I had it removed, the thing seemed to morph in size, shape, texture and color almost daily. And, yes, it went through every one of the A through E stages you see detailed on those skin cancer pamphlets, postcards, websites and in magazine ads.
Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Evolving – it had it all. And this baby evolved with what seemed like the speed of light.
My Derm Doc rushed me in to do the initial biopsy as soon as he got my panicked call. It came back positive: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC).
Now what, I thought.
Doc sent me to a specialist at Northwestern Skin Cancer Institute where one of their doctors performed the Mohs Surgery on my BCC tumor. If, Heaven forbid, you do get skin cancer, this is the technique you want your doctor to use to remove it.
The procedure left a very sloooowww healing crater in my shin that my Doc and I fondly refer to as my “shark bite from the sun.”
And as it turns out, Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most frequently occurring, slow-growing form of skin cancer there is. Skin cancer falls into two major groups: Nonmelanoma and melanoma. Basal Cell Carcinoma is a type of nonmelanoma. Thank God.
Also, BCC almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
Go to the Skin Cancer Foundation’s link for the most current, comprehensive info on skin cancer out there – including the Mohs Surgical technique:
I guess I wasn’t surprised my spot turned out to be BCC. I had the feeling all along and should’ve insisted my old Derm Doc biopsy it – but every time I asked him to take a snip and send it in, he’d pooh-pooh me. He even burnt it off twice!
In the summer of 2011, I had four biopsies all in the same spot, smack in the middle of my back – which never, ever saw the light of day let alone the sun’s damaging rays. Each sliver was deemed pre-melanoma, so I knew sooner or later it would show up elsewhere. When you have the cancer cootie swirling around your body, it’s there. Lurking. Waiting for the right conditions to spring into action.
Here’s a few facts about skin cancer that I think you should know:
Melanoma is the #1 deadliest skin cancer there is.
Women are 8 times more likely than men to get malignant melanoma and other skin cancers. Probably because there’s no telling them anything . . .
The sun and tanning beds are primary causes of skin cancers.
If your skin is tan, it’s damaged. Period. Just sayin’.
With each exposure to the sun or in a tanning bed, your chances of developing skin cancer increase.
Repeat after me: “There is no such thing as a safe tanning bed.” There’s a big misconception that tanning beds get your skin ready for summer. Sunscreen and protective clothing get your skin ready for summer – nothing else.
Heredity and the lighter your skin is, the more you’re at risk. Let me just say this: I’m screwed. I’ve lived my life as a lobster from the time I was born up until my pre-melanoma biopsies. Now, when I go in the sun, I look like Liz Taylor starring in “Night of the Ninja,” which my Derm Doc absolutely loves to hear. I have all manner of sun reflective, protective hats, visors and apparel at my disposal.
Skin burns accumulated over a lifetime all add up. This is the part that worries me the most. Again, I roasted myself as a kid in our backyard pool, on every single vaca to the tropics I’ve ever taken, and everywhere else in between. So if this sounds like you, take heed.
The good news is: Melanoma is an avoidable cancer! Now you tell us!
Avoid tanning beds, minimize your time in the sun (too late for some of us, so all we can do is better protect ourselves going forward), avoid the sun between 11 am and 2 pm, and always, always, always use sunscreen. Did I say, always?
The recent on-line edition of Vogue Daily has an excellent sunscreen review. “The Ultimate Sunscreen Guide: From Sport Sprays to SPF Creams” by Ally Betker. Check it out. http://tinyurl.com/kz96ea5
One product that everyone raves about, but gives me a rash is LaRoche-Posay’s Anthelios. However, in the end, you have to try out several products and decide for yourself which one is best suited to you.
And I’ll leave you with some wise words, especially for you younger chicks: Take double heed. Now, or else. I know I have to . . . or else. How cute are you gonna look without a nose?