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Melanoma: A Personal Story – Skin Safety in the Summer

Tan is beautiful, right?  That was the cultural push when I was growing up.  I spent my childhood in Arizona, soaking up the rays by the pool, spraying lemon juice in my hair.  I went to Southern California beaches every summer and eventually moved there in my 20’s. I didn’t think very much about sunscreen unless I knew I was going to be outside for a long stretch.  Then I became a mom.  As with all areas of motherhood, so many things didn’t come to my attention until it was about the little life I was suddenly responsible for. Protecting every part of my child became a major focus in my world.

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness month. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and melanoma kills over 1o,000 people a year.  They are almost always curable if recognized and treated early.

Up into my 30s, I had some exposure to skin-related cancers.  My grandfather and father had been diagnosed with numerous basal cell carcinomas, and so has my husband.  I’d had moles punch-biopsied, and thankfully all came back benign.  None of these felt like a very big deal, but I did try to up my sunscreen usage and continued to lather my babies and pass the bottle to my husband.

Then one day eleven years ago, I got the news that one of my best friends was pretty sure she had melanoma. Up to this point, I’m not even sure I knew what melanoma even was.  She had noticed a small, very dark, flat “mole” on the side of her face that looked suspicious. She confirmed it was new by looking back at photos. She made an appointment with a dermatologist, and she did a biopsy.  The day she was scheduled for her results appointment, I flew into town to go with her.  She did indeed have melanoma at 29 years old, and they made a plan to cut it out as soon as possible. Obviously, the idea of having part of your face cut out is overwhelming.  She had fears of looking noticeably disfigured.  She had a wonderful dermatologist who left her face looking beautiful (and even the benefit of a bit of lift)!  They got it all, and now she has to spend the rest of her life wondering if it will come back but being so thankful for the “all clear” outcome.

I asked her what advice she had to share with others after her experience:

“Well, in my case I was a sunscreen-wearing, didn’t lay out, frequent hat-wearer who STILL ended up with the deadliest form of skin cancer. So if that happens to you, don’t beat yourself up. Things in life sometimes just happen. However, because of my habits, I was absolved of any regret that could have been associated with this situation. Had I not been a lifetime skin protector, there would be that lingering question of whether or not my actions caused this diagnosis. So be conscientious. Protect your body’s largest organ and first line of defense: your skin! On the other hand, don’t fear the sun. It’s good for us, too, in moderation (that is such familiar advice for so many things!). You have to live life! Balance and common sense go a long way and then, if you find yourself under a doctor’s knife, you go from there.” 

Protect your body’s largest organ and first line of defense: your skin!

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to pay attention to our bodies; notice if something new comes up.  Think about the largest organ of your body in a new way.  It really is so exposed.  We can’t avoid what could cause skin cancer – the sun; in fact, we need the sunshine, but we can try to prevent it.  The Skin Cancer Foundation website gives the following Prevention Guidelines:
 
  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.

  • Do not burn.

  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.

  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.

  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.

  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

If anything good comes from this information, it’s that you have permission to go SHOPPING!  Buy a cute hat, some stylish sunglasses, and the best sunscreen research recommends (all those chemicals are worth considering).  Mamas, love your body – this is just another way to take care of it!

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2 Responses to Melanoma: A Personal Story – Skin Safety in the Summer

  1. Crystal Sandoval May 8, 2018 at 2:08 am #

    Always well written, Mem. Thanks for being my person for so many crazy things.

  2. Mary
    Mary May 12, 2018 at 8:22 am #

    You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure ❤️

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