I have always loved my strawberry-blonde hair color, blue eyes and fair skin. Maybe that sounds vain, but I disliked enough about myself growing up so it’s been nice to like those things about me. However, I didn’t like the many freckles and moles that populated all parts of my body. While others, including my pretty sisters, had barely any moles, I have plenty. But, alas, it’s a part of me that I’ve learned to accept and it doesn’t phase me anymore. Except that my many moles, fair skin and reddish hair color put me at a high risk for skin cancer. Add that my grandfather had melanoma, I have the quadruple whammy of being at risk.
So it shouldn’t have surprised me when a melanoma spot was removed from my calf many years ago. It ticked me off, mostly because it came a few short years after my bone cancer diagnosis so I was feeling like I’d ‘done my time’ with cancer (there really should be a one and done rule for cancer! So not fair to have to deal with it again). Thankfully, the melanoma was removed with surgery and no further treatment. Since then, I get a full body check every 3-6 months. I’ve unfortunately had many more moles removed that looked suspicious and often are deemed ‘a-typical.’
I was also annoyed because I’m pretty obsessive with sunscreen and sun exposure. I lather up in sunscreen any time I’m heading out for hiking, biking, gardening, walking around town, whatever. I wear long sleeves and long pants when I can as extra precaution against sunburn.
Skin cancer can be prevented, and treated quickly and easily if caught early. Nothing makes me crazier than hearing people say they just want a base tan so they don’t burn – this is a myth! Any color change in your skin is damage! I can’t fathom why people still use tanning beds after all the studies showing the damage caused by these lights. Did you know that people who have used indoor tanning beds 10 or more times in their lives have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma compared to those who have never used tanning beds? Some countries, including Brazil and Australia, have banned indoor tanning beds altogether!
I am a bone cancer survivor. It was terrifying to face that aggressive cancer and the treatment. Melanoma scares me just as much, maybe more. It is a ‘silent cancer’ that can form without you noticing. I had pain and aches with bone cancer, enough to send me to the doctor. I noticed my mole looked like it was changing just bit. Enough that I pointed it out to my doctor, who at first didn’t think it needed to be removed. Thank God I was persistent so it was caught early (and I no longer go to that doctor)!
In honor of May being Melanoma Awareness Month, consider these facts* about skin cancer:
- There are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.
- One person dies from melanoma every 52 minutes. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people will die of melanoma in 2016.
- Early detection makes melanoma highly curable, but it is the least screened for cancer.
- Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.
- More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
- Your risk for melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns in your life.
Did these facts make you say, “OMG” and make your stomach get a bit queasy. Yes, I’m trying to wake you up to the reality that skin cancer is a serious topic. And you can take steps to help prevent it.
Here are some tips:
- Use sunscreen. Studies show that daily use of sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher helps your skin age 24 percent less than those who don’t use daily sunscreen.
- Wear protective clothing and hats if you’re going to be exposed to sun for a long period (or any time period!).
- Teach children about sun safety.
- Do self-checks of moles and freckles, and check your family members. Most people find their own melanomas.
- Avoid tanning beds.
*Sources: American Academy of Dermatology, American Cancer Society, Melanoma International Foundation, National Cancer Institute, U.S. Health & Human Services.