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!).
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.
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…
-Has an irregular Border
-Changes in Color (or is more than one color)
-Has a Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser.
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.
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.
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.
In case you’re curious, here’s what I use…
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).
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!
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!)