Skin Cancer Awareness

Now that we’re a few days into June, I thought it’d be appropriate to talk about the importance of sunscreen. (I actually meant to do a post about this yesterday, but I kindasorta (okay, totally…) got sucked into the depths of the internet and ended up signing up for a marathon instead. Hey, I’m a sucker when it comes to a good deal, and 69 bucks for a full marathon is bananas!).

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Bahhhhhnanas!

As I’m sure a lot of you are aware, June is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Although some sun exposure is important for your body to produce it’s own Vitamin D, too much sun exposure can have some serious consequences. In fact, skin cancer is now the most common type of cancer around. Lucky for us, though, there are tools out there that can be used every single day to protect from too much sun exposure.

I’ve always known I have to be careful in the sun. My family has a pretty big history of skin-cancer…I’m talking huge here. Every immediate (blood related) relative of mine has had skin cancer –  my mom, real dad, both sets of grandparents, my aunt and even my cousins (one of my cousins was diagnosed with melanoma at age 15 – it was caught early though, and she got treatment and is now fine).

My mom has had about 30 bouts of skin cancer – all basal cell  and squamous cell carcinomas, and a countless number of actinic keratoses. There was a time back when I was 10, though, that my mom had a pretty serious scare. She didn’t tell me the seriousness of the diagnosis at the time because she didn’t want to scare me, but years later I learned that the surgery she had on the side of her forehead (near her right temple) was quite invasive. The surgeons had to dig so deep before they uncovered “cancer-free cells” that they became 2 tissue- layers away from cutting the nerves that control the right side of her face—a snip that would have permanently paralyzed the muscles on that side of her face. Thankfully, the doctors didn’t have to go that far, and the only reminder of that surgery is a scar about the size of a pepperoni on her temple. She’s dubbed it her “pepperoni” scar. And she’s proud of it.

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Rockin’ the pepperoni (except… you can’t even see it!)

My stepdad has also had his fare share of skin cancer diagnoses – both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, and most recently… melanoma. As I posted a few months back, my stepdad was diagnosed with Melanoma this past March. He’s had two surgeries to remove superficial cells on his forehead and scalp, and he and his doctors are still working through treatment options.

So yes, it’s safe to say that I completely understand how important it is for me to be careful with my skin.

Because of my family history, I’ve pretty much grown up knowing that at some point during my life, my time to deal with skin cancer will come. That doesn’t mean I’ve thrown in the towel, though. I wear sunscreen pretty much every single day. Even during the winter. (In fact, the suns rays are strongest during the winter for us folks living in the Northern Hemisphere since the Earth is tilted more towards the sun at this time <—Nerd Alert). Heck, my moisturizer even has sunscreen in it. Despite all of this, though, my body  has accumulated sun damage. But I also know that if I didn’t use sunscreen on a regular basis, my superfly shorts tan would be a whole lot worse! So at least my efforts are counting for something.

I believe the first time I got my skin checked was when I was 17. At this point, the doctor surveyed all of my freckles and moles, and told me that nothing was too much of a concern.

When I was 20, I had a mole on my neck removed during my Easter break from college. I had had that baby since as far back as I can remember — I think it popped up sometime during elementary school. I became used to it and never paid much attention to it. That is… until my sophomore year of college. That’s when I noticed it had gotten a bit darker. So instead of waiting until summer for my yearly checkup that year, I woke up at 6AM to make the 6 hour drive to Cincinnati so I could make it into my dermatologist before she closed for the Easter weekend. My doctor confirmed my suspicions and said that I was right—there was a reason to be concerned, and ended up removing the mole for a biopsy. Luckily, the biopsy came back benign.

Ever since that appointment, though, skin-checks have become a nerve-wracking experience for me.

Fast forward a few years to my new life in Charlotte. I was 23, and I had a few more moles on my neck “change.”(Also, the mole that was removed just a  few years earlier had grown back.) Interestingly enough, none of my moles (besides the one removed earlier) have ever been “raised.” In the world of skin-cancer, though… that doesn’t matter.

According to the ABCD rules… you should be wary of any mole/freckle that is…

-Assymetrical

-Has an irregular Border

-Changes in Color (or is more than one color)

-Has a Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser.

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It’s baaaaaaack

No longer seeing the doctors from my childhood, I had to establish new doctors here in Charlotte. I went in for a skin check with my new dermatologist, and he decided that the set of moles that I had seen change on the side of my neck looked suspicious…so out came the knife and 4 more moles were taken off for a biopsy. Turns out, I was lucky again…and those results came back benign as well.

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Yeah, there used to be even more there…

Fast forward another year to this past summer (summer of 2010), and my skin check was clear. Thank the lord.

This summer, though? I have yet to be seen. And I have a sinking feeling that my skin check for will not go so well. Nothing seems too out of the ordinary, but I have noticed that a few of my moles have gotten darker. And a few more freckles have popped up on my legs.

This past Tuesday night, the Y where I work hosted a free skin-cancer screening with one of the local dermatologists in town. Of course, I utilized this opportunity to have a quick once-over for my skin. I know I’ve been out in the sun quite a bit this past year with all of my marathon training, so I thought it would be a smart idea to get checked. This check won’t be replacing my yearly check-up with my already-established dermatologist by any means, I just thought it’d be nice to have a second set of eyes check over things. And I’m glad I did.

Turns out, this dermatologist said that I need to have two moles biopsied, and possibly a third. One is the big one I’ve had on my thigh since I’ve been, like, 6 years old. I’ve always been aware of this mole, but it’s never really concerned me. Yes, it’s as big as a pencil eraser, but it’s not raised and it’s mostly the same color. Or, at least it used to be.

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Oh hey there, hey, Mr. Mole

I guess I’ve kind of been in denial, but as I look at it more… it actually has changed a bit in color (the center has gotten darker). I’m super interested in hearing what my normal dermatologist thinks about it. I know he was wanting to biopsy it last year, but after a second glance, he deemed it okay. I have a feeling this year will be different. But I’m ready.

Taking action and being proactive about your health is probably one of the most important things you can do. If you don’t already, I challenge you to wear sunscreen every day this month. If you don’t have any, go out and buy some. If you haven’t bought a new bottle of sunscreen in a while, do yourself a favor and go out and buy a new bottle—because yes, believe it or not, sunscreen expires! Just make sure that whatever sunscreen you buy has both UVA and UVB protection. You can check this by flipping the bottle over and checking for the term “broad-spectrum protection.” I usually go for the ones that have the Skin Cancer Foundation seal on them.

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Win!

In case you’re curious, here’s what I use…

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My daily rotation

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The rest of my collection

Yes, I realize that is quite the collection, but I seriously go through sunscreen like nobody’s business.

I use the Aveeno or Neutrogena Ultra Sheer for my face (currently I have 55+ and 100) – this stuff is seriously awesome, thanks to the helioplex. It goes on as a cream, but ends up drying very well, leaving a finish that’s not oily at all. Sometimes I even use it to replace my moisturizer (Oil of Olay, SPF 30).

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Looove this stuff!

For the other parts of my body, I could care less if it leaves an oily finish. So for my arms and legs, I use some form of Banana Boat sport. I currently have two tubes of it, and I just recently bought a “spray.” I also have little tubes of SPF 30 from the Carolinas Medical Center here in Charlotte that I keep in my purse. They come in quite handy.

My hope is that people start to realize just how important sun protection is. No one is immune to the sun’s rays — no matter what race you are. I’ve been seeing people of all different descents coming into the wellness center telling me stories about loved ones being diagnosed with skin cancer.  Sunbathing isn’t what it used to be, especially with the deteriorating ozone layer we have now-a-days. (Psh, it seems like every single day the people on the news are issuing a Code Orange for the horrible quality of air).

So, that’s my PSA for sunscreen. Be like me, and wear sunscreen!

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Do ittttt

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Careful around the eyes… it stings. I would know.

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Rub it in, rub it in

You know you wanna!

Do you currently wear sunscreen on a daily basis? If not, are you going to take the challenge and start? Does skin cancer run in your family? Have you ever had a biopsy, or been diagnosed with skin cancer? Do you regularly get your skin checked by a dermatologist? Did the pictures of my moles gross you out (and will you forgive me if they did, haaaa!)

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15 Comments

Filed under cancer, family, melanoma, my story, public health, Skin cancer, sunscreen

15 responses to “Skin Cancer Awareness

  1. Fantastic post- we all love being tan, but the risks are just not worth it.

  2. Jen

    I’m so on board with this. I grew up on the beach and I have an Irish heritage so sadly I know it’s only a matter of time before skin cancer strikes me. My husband has already had cancerous moles removed. And one of our college friends passed away a few years ago from melanoma.

    Skin cancer is so scary. But it’s also so preventable. Embrace your paleness 🙂 I do!

  3. So true. I’m a blonde/redhead and very fair. My dermatologist said I’m his perfect patient because I had many blistering burns as a child.

    Now I almost always wear sunscreen (sometimes I forget) but know it is important. The scar on my shoulder is a good reminder of why.

  4. I embrace my fairness (we’re talking VERY fair-skinned here) and have learned to love it. Sun-worshipper I am NOT. Pass the sunscreen!

    ~

  5. Carly D. @ CarlyBananas

    I’m a big fan of sunscreen. When I went to Israel 2 summers ago I applied so often that when I came back no one believed that I spent two weeks in the middle east. I was just as pale as when I left!

  6. mel

    I guess you could call me part of the crowd you’re trying to revolutionize and I definitely needed the reminder! I tan slowly never burn (very lucky) so I usually don’t apply much sunscreen besides my facial moisturizer (cuz yeah, I like a tan). Mental note to put some on the rest of my bod.

  7. Prevention is much better than cure as people should realise. Protection is so important especially here in Australia where a large proportion of the population are Caucasian and therefore more susceptible to sun exposure.

    I sometime think that non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas) don’t seem to get taken as seriously as melanomas. People need to realise that even though basal cell carcinoma has an extremely low metastatic potential is has the ability to become locally invasive and cause serious local tissue destruction. This is also the case for squamous cell carcinoma plus it has a higher metastatic rate.

    Keep yourself protected everyone.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I forget sometimes that I need an all over body moisturizer with sunscreen! Especially in the summer!

  9. Oh girl, that is a serious amount of skin cancer in your family. I can see why you take so many precautions! My grandfather has had skin cancer, but that’s about it. And he’s still alive and kickin’ at 84. 🙂 I’m pretty paranoid about skin cancer on my face so I use a moisturizer with sunscreen for daily use. If I’m going to be in the sun for more than 30 minutes then I slather on the sun screen. I tan easily and rarely burn, but am not so much a fan of taking chances there. 🙂

  10. Caroline

    Hello! I discovered your blog recently but I am not a blogger myself yet, so hopefully I can leave a comment as a guest. Thank you so much for your PSA about wearing sunscreen! I have very fair porcelain skin and I don’t go to tanning beds, but I still should wear sunscreen daily, even though we don’t get a lot of sun where I live. Thank you also for the reminder for skin checks…when I see my dermatologist in a couple weeks I will ask her to do a check for moles, etc. When you had moles removed, did they leave any scars? Particularly mole removal on your face? I think I might need some removed and I hope I won’t have scars, since a couple of my moles are on my face. Anyways, thanks for writing such a great blog! Keep it up! 🙂

    • Hey Caroline — thank you so much for your comment! Yes, I’d say us fair skinned people need to make sure to slather on the sunscreen because our skin doesn’t have as much natural protection (esp if you’re living up north!). As far as scars go… yes, the 1st mole I had removed left a little scar. But the funny thing is, the scar that replaced the mole was wayyyy less noticeable than the actual mole itself. It was closer to my skintone, not raised… etc. But! That mole actually grew back… so I guess you could say the scar is gone and now in it’s spot is a the very same mole they removed (but it’s just as big this time around, still raised though…makes me nervous!). The moles I had on the side of my neck did *not* leave scars. They were smaller, but removed in the same way (numbing the skin and then the knife). Don’t worry about the scars, though. My mom has one on her temple — her pepperoni, as we call it — and it has just become a part of her now!

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