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There Is No Healthy Tan

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There Is No Healthy Tan

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.


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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.

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Sunscreen? Check. Hat? Check. Cover up? Check. Adorable boys? DOUBLE CHECK!

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!


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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.

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View Comments (13)
  • Fellow melanoma patient here! Loved this post. I don’t think people realize how aggressive and dangerous melanoma is, I know I didn’t before I was diagnosed.

    Not to be alarmist, but I’d like to add: New Mamas, especially fair-skinned mamas or those with a history of tanning, make sure you check your skin carefully and frequently. There is some kind of link between melanoma and pregnancy. It’s not well understood, but it’s not uncommon at all for women to be diagnosed while pregnant or soon after baby is born. I know it’s an overwhelming time, but don’t put off getting any weird spots checked out!

    • That’s a great tip Lisa! Although the nature of the link is still unclear, there are so many women who are diagnosed with melanoma during or shortly after pregnancy. Best wishes to you for good health!

  • Meg, really great and informative article! I also wanted to point out that although it’s culturally acceptable for African Americans, Mixed races, Latino, and other Minorities to not use or need sunscreen it IS important to still use sunblock SPF 30 or higher when EVER in the sun. Once summer (or very sunny days) hit I change all our regular body lotions to ones with SPF so it’s easy to remember. Also, being from the Caribbean many islanders who do alot of outdoors activities use sunscreen as they get older and wiser. FYI-Little known fact: Bob Marley passed away in his mid 30’s due to Melanoma.

    • Heather, that’s a great reminder for those with darker skin tones. The sad thing too, is that melanoma is often caught later on those with darker skin because it is not as noticeable, so doing self-checks is extra important so you can catch a change early. Places to be extra vigilant if you have darker skin are the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, and under your fingernails.

      • Meg, spot on, especially with the places to look…Bob Marley’s melanoma was located under his toenail.

  • Great article, Meg! You reminded me that I need to call my dermatologist for my annual appointment. Thanks!

  • Great post! Thanks for sharing the ABCDE’s of what to look for when doing a self exam!
    My kids usually complain when I try to apply sunscreen but this article just reminds me that wearing sunscreen is non-negotiable. 😉

  • I refused to let one of my sons get into the pool today when he wouldn’t wear his UV protective swim shirt! He wasn’t happy, but I have to set the precedent for the entire summer now. Thanks for this great article. By the way, his swim shirt is from SwimZip, which is a mom-owned company. The shirt zips open with a safe plastic zipper that has a flap of fabric to guard even further against pinching little skin. Check them out at http://www.swimzip.com.

  • Awesome! So glad you shared this! I’d love to share on my business blog if you don’t mind. I started a kids swimwear line and am coming out with adults as well that has upf. 50+ and a zipper so it’s easy to put on and take off! 🙂

    http://www.swimzip.com !!

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