The Mad Hatter

Some of you are going to stop reading this post 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 for years have denied 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 and it travels with me on vacation.  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, even 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 lower butt cheeks (that peeked out from my little bathing suit) 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.  More than 2,000,000 people are diagnosed each year.
  • 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.  And 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 and today is Melanoma Monday.  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:

Melanoma Monday

The Skin Cancer Foundation

This post, adapted from last year, is dedicated to Patrick, an amazingly supportive blogger who recently had a melanoma scare of his own.  Patrick is celebrating being once again cancer free.  I’m celebrating along with him.

What are you celebrating today?



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58 responses to “The Mad Hatter

  1. Miz


    Ive become crazy about this since moving to TX.

    sunscreen ALLLL OVER all the time and RIT wash in for the clothing.

    Im glad youre cancer free.

    I will celebrate YOU today.

  2. I’m celebrating that you had your skin cancer caught early and that your compassion led you to write this post!

  3. what an interesting post thank you for the great info and i always use sunscreen

  4. My younger sister was diagnosed with cancer (not skin) when she was 18. she is several years cancer free, but continues to “worship” the sun. It worries me. Every time she goes for her annual check up, the dr. reminds her NOT to go tanning. She does anyway. I remain pale as a sheet, but when I’m with her (or my other tanning sister), I sometimes reconsider. Thanks for your post- it’s good to be reminded of the reasons to remain pale, at the beginning of a summer.

  5. That’s something I worry about a lot because like you, I was a sun worshipper, and most of the time I didn’t use sunscreen. I often just used baby oil. 😦

    • Karen

      I wonder if I knew then what I know now I would still have sat in the sun. Seems when we are young we think we are invincible and don’t worry about the future.

  6. Jan

    Than you for sharing your story and reinforcing the need for skin cancer prevention and screening. Those with kids really have no excuse not to protect them and teach them. Step on your soapbox any time!

    • Karen

      Ah, but kids. Sigh. They think they are invincible. And can’t imagine their future at risk. Like with smoking still.

  7. Thanks for this great post! It’s too bad that being tan is something to strive for in this country- we’re destroying us. Great warnings, and I hope that you don’t have another scare!

  8. Bless you for this kond dedication and more importantly for spreading the word of prevention from this dreaded beast.

    Very thankful that you have been victorious in your trio of battles with the beast as I have been in my own trio of victories. We’ve done our time on the frontlines, now lets hope we can can live our lives without a fourth encounter. And let all of us survivors do as you are doing here; championing the cause of support, awareness and prevention in the fight against cancer.

    Oh, and I love the hats!

  9. Kim

    Oh Karen, this is such an important post! I’m going to link to it on my blog and remind people that May is skin cancer awareness month. I’m glad you caught yours early and can take steps now to keep sun exposure to a minimum. My kids make a fuss when I get on them for slathering up but it is becoming more and more prevalent now and earlier and earlier. My dad has had several skin cancers removed and it is nothing to take lightly. Thank you for the information and spreading the awareness.

    • Karen

      Thanks, Kim. I am fighting a losing battle with my own kids and wish I was more diligent in establishing a habit when they were younger. Now they are old enough it is all up to them.

  10. Karen – THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing this post!!! When we were & I was younger, no talk of this & we bathed in the sun with baby oil on! I am so glad you caught this & survived it & keep checking it! What a very important subject! I have another skin lotion review post coming up & I am linking right back to this post!

    • Karen

      I’ll be interested to read that. I have a few I like best and the sunscreen makes a huge difference in compliance IMO.

  11. You and Mr. B have much in common. Your stories sound the same! He has scars on his face and large scars on the back of his head and the base of his throat. He visits his dermatologist quarterly and never goes outdoors without a hat even on cloudy days. I’ve never had any issues, but believe me, the thought of losing him has made me just as diligent!

    Eleven days and counting……………

  12. Thanks for your story here, Karen. It is such an important topic, esp. with summer coming. I also am quite fair and freckly, but have yet to have the derm. exam. Must do it. Because of this post, it’s moved to the top of my list.

  13. I support this 100%! Thank you, Karen!!

  14. Thanks for keeping us aware & informed. I’m sorry that you’ve had that experience. I, too, am part of the baby oil tanning/burning generation. So far, I’ve avoided the worst of the consequences.

  15. This is great and really important.
    I’m close to your age and had the same youthful sun exposure. I gave it up at some point because I’m just so fair it was too much of a battle to get any color besides red on this skin.
    And I’m lucky that I LOVE the floppy hat!
    You look cute in them too.

  16. Roz

    Hi Karen, thank you so much for this important post. My Dad had a melanoma diagnosed/removed last November – he had some complications and now has a big scar to show for it. But the scar is NOTHING, it was caught early and hadn’t spread. I was also “sun aware” before but his issues really drove the point home, I’m an avid hat/suncreen wearer for hereonin! Have a great day!!!

    • Karen

      Sorry to hear about your dad but glad it was caught early. Be sure to get yourself checked now, on a regular basis, since his melanoma puts you at higher risk. My sons are none too happy about this fact for themselves.

  17. D

    I remember the baby oil days…and my skin is showing signs of it. Ugh. I have become much more diligent about wearing hats & sunscreen & staying in the shade more. I hope it’s not too late. My MIL just went through skin cancer surgery – on her face. THAT is something that will make anyone (I hope) be more diligent.
    GREAT post! Thanks for the reminder.

  18. Very interesting, informative post, Karen. I’m a fair-skinned person who comes from a family of mostly olive-skinned people who would turn very dark each summer without burning. It took me a few good burns to know that I didn’t fall into this category and I’ve stayed out of the sun most of my life. I still frequently check my body, though, because of those early blistering burns. Thank you for passing along such important information.

  19. Amy

    I had a scrare a bit ago and I have been more diligent. Everyone remember sunscreen on YOUR LIPS.

    I need to wear hats but I have a BIG problem. I have a big head. No hats fit me. Only ugly men hats. Plus I need ones that will provide coverage on my lips – not easy. Any brand suggestions?

    I needed a reminder to find a hat.

    • Karen

      Tilly hats! That’s what I am wearing above. They are not cheap, but they come with a great guarantee. There are several styles and they are sized like men’s hats, I guess. You can usually find them in travel stores or outdoorsy stores. I have other, cheaper hats too, but the Tilly is what goes with me on vacation. Be sure to get a brim that is at a minimum 3-4 inches around.

      And good reminder about the lips!

  20. Karen, THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! Thank you for sharing your story! My husbands dad had skin cancer on his nose and i have been telling v to wear sunscreen as he works outside in construction… and he doesnt do it. My son also works with us… i tell him the same. He doesn’t listen either. They just returned from a job in Arkansas and both were burned terrible. My husbands ears are peeling horribly and our sons back – neck and face. burned and peeling horribly. I simply can not understand why they won’t listen to me. I hope I am NOT right when I tell them both that they are in serious danger of skin cancer.

    • Karen

      I hate to be sexist but it is a guy thing. And then when they do wear a hat it is a baseball cap that doesn’t cover the ears or neck!

  21. I’m sorry for what you went through. I know people affected by this cancer, and really, it’s important to be checked. I actually went two weeks ago for a skin cancer screening.

  22. Thank you Thank you THANK YOU!!

    Several years ago I had a coworker who lost his wife to melanoma. It was a horrific illness and death. Shortly thereafter I was assigned to write an article about the connection between tanning beds and melanoma. I interviewed three women who had gotten melanoma from tanning bed used. Thankfully all three had their cancer caught early and removed completely. The good news is that IF caught early, melanoma is “cured.”

    Since then I have made sure to get an annual screening. Keep up the good work Karen!!

    • Karen

      I just cringe at the thought of tanning beds. And so many young girls and women still use them, some even thinking that is “safer” than the sun outdoors.

  23. Thank you for this reminder. I recently chided a girl at Church who came to service with a sunburn b/c she had purposely laid out in the sun to get “tan” (i.e. burned b/c she is fair). I told her she can get color while wearing sunscreen, but she didn’t care. At her age, she is not concerned with getting cancer or looking old prematurely. Neither was I at her age. It’s too bad we can’t reach back and shake our young selves silly to try and help us see the light! I have not had any cancer scares yet, but I purposely burned myself frequently as a teen and have unsightly sunspots on my face now. If I could undo those sunburns, I would, but now all I can do is protect myself from future damage…and hopefully cancer.

  24. I always wear a hat too! I always look for cute ones at the mall to wear in the summer.

  25. Thanks for the reminder, Karen. I’m very fair skinned also and got bad burn once as a teenager visiting an aunt in California, so am pretty vigilant about getting regular skin cancer checks. I’m glad yours were caught early and that you are now cancer-free.

  26. What an awesome and oh so important post Karen. Thank you for taking the time to share all of this good information.

    As a fellow fair skinned lady I can relate. I have never had any skin cancer but both of my parents have had some removed.

    I can get burned after just 15 minutes in the sun without sun screen on!

    I saw that Costco is having sun protection clothing in some of their stores right now. Hats and such I guess. I might have to check out getting me a hat to wear on my outdoor walks. Thanks for the idea!

    • Karen

      I’ll have to check out Costco. I have several shirts that are SPF 50 that I use when I travel and am outdoors and a few bottoms too. But I don’t wear that stuff “everyday.”

  27. This is honestly very scary Karen, but your information is incredibly valuable. Thanks so much for sharing.

  28. Great post! It is so important to look after ourselves! I have to admit that I do like to spend time in the sun – never unprotected but probably too much!

  29. Great post, and so happy your outcome has been so wonderful! 🙂

  30. I’m visiting from SITS and I’m so glad I found you! I’ve had 2 diagnoses of basal cell carcinoma in the last 2 years. Came as a big surprise! Of course, my dad had numerous skin cancers and my brother had melanoma. I just noticed a little shiny spot on my collarbone and another one on my shoulder that would not heal, so I went to see a dermatologist. He did a biopsy and it was confirmed…both were caught very early…thank goodness! I never go outside without sunscreen…a lesson learned the hard way! Glad you’re doing well! I’m now a follower!

  31. My husband has had a few melanoma removed from his head and face … we are much more cautious now – especially with our kids! Thanks for helping to spread the word

  32. My husband has had a few melanoma removed from his head and face … we are much more cautious now – especially with our kids! Thanks for helping to spread the word!

  33. I agree that this is so important. I’m perfectly happy to remain completely pale. My makeup is SPF 15. If I’m in the sun any time at all I wear suncreen. I don’t even wear bathing suits because my skin would be too exposed – especially the tops of the shoulders. I burn super, super easily.

  34. I can really appreciate this post, being a very fair-skinned person. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate and even love my “whitest white girl you know” appearance. 🙂 Tanning isn’t worth it!

  35. Karen,great post and an excellent reminder! I slather SPF 70 on my face and body, having the natural color of Casper the Friendly Ghost. What is amazing is how many people still continue to tan, in the sun or in tanning beds. I just saw this story from Yahoo News on how the dangers of tanning are not hitting home – Unbelievable!

  36. Big thanks for the reminder! I’ve been more diligent about sunscreen, and I wish I would have been before we all knew better. I was always one who tanned easily, but you’re absolutely right, there is still risk.

    I celebrate with you today!

  37. D

    Hi Karen,
    Just to let you know that I linked this blog post on my blog today – thank you for the info & reminders!

  38. I know I had many of those horrific sunburns as a kid that they say lay the foundation for skin cancer, even so it was not until I saw the damage to my complexion as an adult that I got serious about sunscreen. I have always been diligent with my kids, though. I wish that my HMO allowed me to have a thorough check – but so far my GP has not thought any of my areas of concern are problems. Hope she is right.

  39. Wow Karen thanks for sharing your story! I am one that fried myself with baby oil growing up. My grandparents use to tell me not to do that cause of cancer, but I never listened. I still don’t use protection, shame on me I know. The baby oil days are long gone and so are the laying out days. I get sun when I exercise that is usually it.

  40. I had a basal cell carcinoma on my scalp, a bit above my forehead, that my hairdresser noticed. I think my thin blond hair and hat-less habit are to blame. Yes, I “layed out” with baby oil and fried myself until my skin peeled day after day, summer after summer. ~shudder~

    When my kids were younger I got mad because the day care and summer camps treated sunscreen like medication and wouldn’t apply it. I did my best to buy a heavy duty brand and put it on them at the last minute, but I know it wouldn’t protect them all day.

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