Excuse me while I hop on my soapbox

Some of you are going to stop reading this blog after a few sentences.  I hope you won’t!

I am a skin cancer survivor and have the scars to prove it.  Two on my face and one very large jagged scar on the back of my leg.  Because of this, insurance companies consider me a high risk and deny me coverage.  Because of this, I visit a dermatologist at least once a year for a complete skin exam.  Because of this, my sons are at a 50% higher risk of developing skin cancer themselves.  Because of this, I have become a diligent sunscreen user.  Because of this, I have learned not to be embarrassed to wear my unflattering, wide-brimmed hat to my son’s outdoor sporting events or on afternoon walks.  Because of this, I cringe when I see someone with a beautiful tan or hear of someone going to a tanning bed.

When I was growing up, with my fair skin, I spent time worshiping the sun.  Those were the days of baby oil to increase a tan, for those lucky enough to brown, not turn red like a lobster.  My mother encouraged me to wear sunscreen.  I didn’t listen.  I remember in high school my girlfriends and I would spend a day on the beach and there was no sunscreen applied.  I would come home bright red.  And a few days later it would fade.  And then the next weekend I would do it again.  By the end of the summer my freckles had sort of blended together in what could almost pass for a tan:)  So what if my nose peeled in the process or my thighs were too burned for me to sit comfortably.  I am convinced that those years are what likely led to my three skin cancers decades later.  That damage was done long ago; but now I do my best to prevent any further.  And I am careful to watch for recurrences.

The cancers on my face were both basal cell carcinoma.  This is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for about 80% and occurring in more than a million people each year in the US alone.  I was lucky – my two were caught early and were located in places with enough skin to cover what was cut out by the surgeon.  Now I have a small scar on my cheek and another on my forehead.

The cancer on my leg was melanoma.  I knew I should be worried when the dermatologist himself called me at home at 8:00 at night.  But again, I was lucky that it was caught early, thanks to my annual visits to have my skin mapped.  Had I not been diligent, I might have been one of the unlucky ones who suffer serious complications or even death when the cancer spreads.  Instead, I consider myself completely cured now over five years later.  But I am ever mindful that my chances are great of another skin cancer sometime, somewhere.

Consider this:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
  • 1 American dies of melanoma every 62 minutes.  48,000 melanoma deaths occur worldwide each year.
  • The 5-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is treated early is 99%.  After the cancer has spread, the survival rate falls to 15%.
  • The incidence rate for new cases of melanoma has more than doubled since 1973.
  • About 65% of melanoma cases can be attributed to UV radiation from the sun.
  • One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more that doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life as does having had only five or more sunburns at any age!
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US.  More than 3.5 million cases in two million people are diagnosed annually.
  • Between 40 and 50% of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.

What you can do?  Well, the research is very clear.  Most skin cancer can be prevented by practicing sun protection.  It is never too late to start protecting your skin.  And while fair-skinned people like myself are most at risk, melanoma is color-blind and can affect anyone, any skin color.  (And don’t forget that 90% of visible skin aging is caused by the sun too!)  Melanoma most often develops in a pre-existing mole (as mine did) or looks like a new mole, which is why it is important to know what your moles look like.  And I know some of you don’t want to hear this – but no tan is a healthy tan (except maybe the kind that comes from a bottle).  Check your own skin periodically, even in places where the sun doesn’t shine.  Have your doctor check occasionally.  And be your own advocate.  I had to ask several times, more than one doctor, about the little innocuous spot on my cheek, my first cancer.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  Please consider taking time to learn more.  And taking steps to prevent skin cancer for yourself and your loved ones.  Now I will step off my soapbox.  Thank you for listening:)

To learn more:

SkinCancerNet

Melanoma Monday

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “Excuse me while I hop on my soapbox

  1. Genie

    Wow, that’s a story! Many of us are guilty of tanning when we were immortal kids, and are paying the price now. What our skin could have looked like if we’d worn sunscreen all of our lives! Sun damage is the biggie that we are age-defying….

    So happy that you caught your problem areas early and have lived to jump up on that soapbox. Keep lecturing; you will save lives!

  2. What a horrible experience you must have went through – but you are helping me and others by sharing this. I am fair skinned and also have been burned so many times. It was almost a “right of passage” during the early summer days when I would get burned. Now that I’m older I realize it’s not a good thing! My dad had a melenoma cut out of his lip and I know my chances of having skin cancer are high. Thanks for putting this out there, it’s so important!
    .-= Anonymous Fat Girl´s last blog ..“Get your fat ass back in the gym!” + beef stir fry recipe =-.

    • Karen

      Ouch! That seems a tough place to have skin cancer. I’m glad you already know that his history increases your risk. And I am sure you also know that melanoma is often not even connected to sun exposure!

  3. I have not had any skin cancers yet, but I am also faired and freckled and used to lay out using baby oil back in the day. Now, my son can’t leave the house without sunscreen and I use it on a daily basis. Great reminder for everyone.
    .-= Diet Buddy´s last blog ..Workout today =-.

    • Karen

      Good for you. I wish I could get my sons to wear it. My teen has a burn right now from yesterday’s track meet. I saw lots of girls with tubes of sunscreen in their bags.

  4. Oh, yes! I completely agree with you. Sounds like we have the same fair skin… my mom constantly harps on me about sunscreen since we’ve had it in our family so I tend to cover up more than most..especially with the thinner air in these parts.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..I SO needed that! =-.

    • Karen

      I have to say I should have listened to my mom on this one. You can bet I had on lots of goop on the slopes out your way in March!

  5. My husband has been diagnosed with melanoma twice, that should’ve been a wake up call for him but I don’t think it was. My two year old is the kid at the pool wearing a swim shirt (often long sleeved)/hat/sunglasses and I am vigilent about reapplying sunscreen. My hubby gives me a hard time about being “overprotective” but I know I’m doing whats best for my son.

    Thanks for posting this, everyone needs a good reminder. (even me, who is much better about protecting the kiddo than I am about myself)
    .-= Tricia´s last blog ..Perfect, just perfect… =-.

    • Karen

      Yay for you! I wish I had been vigilant with my boys when they were young. They don’t have my coloring and would tan. So I didn’t worry much. That was before my skin cancers. After, when I knew the high risk for my kids, they were teens and too old for me to force sunscreen or swimshirts on. Sigh. I hope your husband is fine now.

  6. sunnydaze

    Thanks for sharing your story – we’re glad you’re here to tell it. 😀

  7. Yikes! I burned and blistered dozens of times in my life and my Mom has had several facial skin cancers. I’ve had checks, but the dermatologists who have checked me always seem so cursory. This post is a wakeup for me. I shall be more vigilant and try to involve my husband in the checking process. Thank you!
    .-= Peacefulbird´s last blog ..Three Things I CAN Change =-.

    • Karen

      I have changed dermatologists several times, looking for one who is very diligent but not overly aggressive taking off my large freckles just because of the size. There is also such a difference in how they initially biopsy or treat pre-cancerous stuff.

  8. Applauding for you telling your story!
    .-= Sskar´s last blog ..If I Were A Mom =-.

  9. Amen and amen. I was not a sun worshiper as a child, but did have an annual burn when we visited my grandparents near the beach. I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma three years ago. Thank God, it was fairly shallow, but I had a large piece of my upper back removed (7″ x 3″ by 3/4 ” deep). I use spf 20 or better every day, rain or shine and reapply if I’m going to be in the sun. My moisturizer is spf 30 and I even use it even before dawn runs. I’m a believer.
    .-= Tish Oliver´s last blog ..All Is Not Lost =-.

  10. As a fellow young cancer survivor I for one really appreciate you putting this out there. I’ve always been pretty careful with my skin, but will make sure I buy *new* sunscreen in your honor this year.

    thanks for sharing your story & dialing up the awareness
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..The danger of the scale =-.

    • Karen

      That is a good reminder for us all. I check my sunscreen expiration dates annually but I know many people who don’t.

  11. I think it’s a great soapbox to be on. Thank you for all of the great information. Though I don’t ever tan…(born with one), I do still need to apply sunscreen. Thanks again!
    .-= Corletta Brown´s last blog ..I think I got it… =-.

    • Karen

      And you should know that melanoma has a much lower cure rate in people of color… probably because it is caught later.

  12. Wow! I’m sorry you have gone through that. I’m freaking white and have given up lol. My sister was BORN tan- it’s so annoying…

    Thanks for the information 🙂
    .-= beerab´s last blog ..Back on it 🙂 =-.

    • Karen

      My college roommate used to get out and lay in the sun the first slightly warm day each spring, saying ‘tan fat looks better than white fat.’ How funny was that?

  13. I admit to beling a life long sun lover. I do ask my doc to check things and I am suprised at how dismissively quick the looks are, and that she does not look at me all over even though I tell her I was a tanner for the first 30 years of my life and had some major burns as a kid! I am all over my kids about saving their skin and I do wear sun screen now.
    .-= Brightside Susan´s last blog ..FRIDAY FAST ONES =-.

  14. Thanks for sharing your story! I had a spot that grew recently and I went to three different doctors just to make sure that it was okay. Thankfully it was nothing! But I’m always checking.

    • Karen

      Good for you! One of my least favorite things is putting on sunscreen when I workout outdoors. But I do it.

  15. I’m sorry you have to go through this Karen. I never understood the girls need to tan when I was in school.

    Seriously, I would be in awe looking at the row of girls baking at the pool. They even had timers to make sure both sides where even.

    I have pre-existing conditions too. I’m not excited about the new healthcare reform. I anticipate high premiums for pre-existing. I have to do more research.

    Oh…I thought of you when I was typing my post. I knew you’d say that. lol.
    .-= Adrienne´s last blog ..Green Smothies: An Easy Way to Eat Your Veggies =-.

    • Karen

      LOL.

      I have a different perspective on healthcare reform and the insurance industry, having tried off and on for several years to get individual coverage. I am luck I live in a state with a “high risk pool” so do have coverage, but it is very expensive, very limited and there is a huge deductible. I am eager to see how I am impacted.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I really need to make an appt with my dermatologist. I am super careful with my children but when I was a teenager I did get burned several times. We just didn’t think about sunscreen back then!
    .-= Diane Fit to the Finish´s last blog ..Share What You Know! =-.

    • Karen

      There has certainly been a shift in how we think about the sun and even sunscreen. We used to even call it sunTAN lotion! My boys hate the stuff but we have figured out they are a bit more willing to use the sprays and sticks than lotion.

  17. Very good information! Thanks for sharing it and your story!
    .-= Cammy@TippyToeDiet´s last blog ..Digging Deep =-.

  18. Karen, great post and I never considered stopping at the first few sentences.

    Living in Arizona, you can bet we understand the dangers of the sun here. That and always having water with us, even if just running to the store. Seriously.

    But when you grow up (at least from age 13) in a place where the temperatures can be 115 degrees, the last thing you want to do is lay out in the sun, so I’m thankful for that, but just living here is a risk for skin cancer too.

    I’m glad you’re doing well. That is very scary.
    .-= Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla´s last blog ..The Courage (or Stupidity) to Try Again =-.

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