Well, I’m happy to say that I’m alive. Three years and counting since the day I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma: June 2, 2009.
You can read about my diagnosis and reaction here. It wasn’t fun, folks. No one likes to hear the word cancer, particularly when it follows the words “You have.” And I can say from experience that it’s REALLY no picnic to have a kind of cancer that people think is somehow your fault or that isn’t “that serious.” If you say you have breast cancer, people look like at you like you’re deserving of pity and admiration—and rightly so, don’t get me wrong. But melanoma, I’ve discovered over the past few years, is gravely misunderstood. When you tell people you’ve had melanoma, they think you mean you had a bad mole frozen off, like Grandma did. They think you were an idiot who never wore sunscreen—and while this might have been true for some of your childhood, you’ve worn it regularly for many years, just like most women in their late 30’s). They don’t understand that melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancers. That it’s one of the deadliest cancers overall, period. That, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, it’s a disease that is diagnosed in someone in the U.S. every 8 minutes, and that claims a life every hour. Worse of all, it’s growing more rapidly than any other cancer in young adults under 30. Why? Because young people believe they are invincible, and they—despite warnings to the contrary—continue to go against the caution of older and wiser people.
This is when I’d like to rewind the clock a smidge and pay a little more attention to the most sage and simple advice ever administered by my father, throughout my childhood: Don’t do dumb things.
I get it now, Dad.
So listen up, all you teenagers and toddlers and parents who still don’t understand that the sun attacks us like a stealthy ninja: Melanoma is a young person’s disease, and being sunburned ONE time can affect your chances of developing it at some point in your lifetime. It’s not just for the leathery tanning bed mom that’s been in the news (who does NOT have melanoma, which peeves me a bit, I admit). It’s also for the young girl who didn’t reapply sunscreen one afternoon on a lake house weekend. You never know. It doesn’t matter where you burn, either. Mine manifested in a mole on my inner right calf, which isn’t exactly a place I got a lot of sun. Melanoma can appear anywhere, and it spreads so many places—including your brain, lungs, and liver. Silently.
I’m not asking for the pity or the admiration. Really, I just want to be sure as we head into summer that we are ALL taking care of our skin. That means taking the time to learn about which sunscreens are the most effective, whether they cost more or not. That means putting the sunscreen ON, over and over again, throughout the day—particularly if you are in the water or sweating like a stuck pig. And it means checking your skin, your children’s skin, your husband’s skin. Watch for new moles, changing moles, anything that seems off.
Most of all, I want us to look back at our kid-selves. What would you say if you knew that any of the mistakes you made—colossal or seemingly miniscule—would grossly affect the lives of your loved ones down the road? (Oh my, don’t get me started. I have many things to say to Formerly Teenage Sarah. Dad’s advice rarely sank in. Sigh.)
Putting on sunscreen is a simple, painless act (unless you just shaved or you’ve got mosquito bites, in which case you grin and bear it). And helping your children learn the value of applying sunscreen often is SO much easier than teaching them to drive stick.
Here’s a great way to get started: Watch the popular YouTube video “Dear 16 Year OId Me.” Sure, you’ve seen it before; it was all over Facebook a few years ago. WATCH IT AGAIN. Share it. Show your kids. Spread it around. Save some lives.
And when you’re done watching that, take a look at links below. They can help you better understand the sunscreen info overload. Go on, have a quick read, and enjoy your summers safely!
- Some of the differences between sunscreens that offer sun protection vs. anti-aging protection: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515202122.htm
- Why SPF 50+ is pretty much a marketing ploy, and why some sunscreen ingredients can be harmful to you or the environment: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html
- You’ll need a Consumer Reports subscription to read the full article, but it might be worth it. Best brands, why spray sunscreens might be dangerous to inhale, and more: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/sunscreens/buying-guide.htm