Before we know it school will be out and we’ll be playing with the kids at parks, pools, and all sorts of great outdoor attractions around Huntsville.
Since May is Melanoma Awareness Month, this seems like a good time to throw some sun safety facts out there so we’re all prepared for summer fun and can avoid the pain and danger of sunburns.
With two young redheads I am especially conscious of sun exposure, but that awareness also has some deep roots for me.
We are inundated by pictures of gorgeous bronze-skinned models with exotic looks and are made to think that we too need to worship the sun god. The truth is, there is no healthy tan.
In the summer of 2010 I spent countless hours in the sun running, cycling and swimming as I was training for my first triathlon. I always wore sunscreen (thank you Mom for instilling that habit in me!) and I just happened to have my annual dermatology check-up scheduled at the end of July. I’d had plenty of moles removed over the years and didn’t think much about the few my doctor removed at that check-up…until his nurse called a week later saying he needed to see me. Suddenly the doctor who takes months to get in to see wanted me in his office in an hour. Yikes! Good news was surely not in store.
I was diagnosed with Melanoma, the mostly deadly form of skin cancer. Sitting there in the doctor’s office with my 4 year old and baby talking about options for surgery was nothing short of surreal. I was 31 and the C word had just dropped in my lap like a bowling ball.
Fortunately, my cancer had been caught very early, it had not spread, and with one surgery I was given a clean bill of health. I missed that first triathlon I’d been training for. I sat in bed on race day with a leg full of stitches and cried my eyes out. The one thing I’d done just for ME since becoming a mom had been snatched away from me. Then 4 days after getting my stitches out, I completed my first TRI. Crossing that finish line unburdened me from my pity party. I was healed. I would race again. Above all, I would see my boys grow up.
I don’t want to wear the “survivor” badge. That is for those who fought the hard fight. I just got lucky. Instead, I have taken it as my personal mission to spread the word about the dangers of skin cancer and encourage everyone to protect themselves and their children from the sun. The statistics on melanoma are quite staggering, and have worsened in recent years, particularly for juvenile cases. Every eight minutes someone is diagnosed with melanoma, and every hour of every day someone dies from the disease. If that’s not reason enough to slather on some SPF, I don’t know what is!
The best way to prevent skin cancer is by protecting yourself from the sun.
- Seek shade when possible.
- Cover up with light clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. Wear sunglasses to protect you eyes, yes – they too are susceptible to melanoma.
- WEAR SUNSCREEN! Apply a minimum of SPF 30 with UVA/UVB protection every time you are out in the sun. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning beds like the plague.
- Be vigilant about protecting your kids. Just one blistering sunburn at a young age doubles the chance of developing melanoma later in life.
Give yourself a frequent once-over.
Learning to check your own skin and look for changes is important as well and can increase your chances of catching melanoma early. There is a handy little mnemonic for self-checks that you can follow. Since everyone should be doing their monthly breast self exams, take an extra few minutes to look over your skin and keep an eye out for the ABCDE’s of melanoma.
- A is for Asymmetrical Shape. Melanoma typically has an irregular shape. Harmless moles are usually symmetrical.
- B is for border. Normal moles usually have a smooth, even border. Melanoma often has an irregular border that is difficult to define.
- C is for color. An uneven distribution of color, or the presence of more than one color can be a warning sign of melanoma. My mole that had gone rogue was light brown with a speck like a coffee ground.
- D is for diameter. Melanoma is often larger than a pencil eraser.
- E is for evolution. The most important factor to consider is whether something has changed. Knowing what is normal for you can save your life. If you notice a change, get checked out by your dermatologist immediately.
We’ve probably all heard the sunscreen spiel before, but learning to love the skin you were born with is part of the battle. We are inundated by pictures of gorgeous bronze-skinned models with exotic looks and are made to think that we too need to worship the sun god. The truth is, there is no healthy tan. All exposure to ultraviolet rays increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Those of us with fair skin are at an increased risk, but it can strike anyone. Did you know that Bob Marley died of metastatic melanoma? Don’t let it take a health scare for you to take the sun’s dangerous rays seriously. Be safe in the sun. Teach your kids good sun safety habits, and model those habits for them so they will carry them through their own lives.
All of the tips and statistics in this article are from www.melanoma.org. I highly recommend it as a source of further information.