Summer is coming and dreams of being at the pool, beach and summer BBQ’s are almost a reality. We are all secret sun worshipers, we pray to the sun gods that they shine upon us so we can soak up every bit of the 12 weeks we, in Chicago, call summer.
Summer as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s consisted of leaving the house on your bike and coming home when the street lights came on. There was sun tan lotion, not sun screen. “S”, “P” and “F” were letters in the alphabet. If you were fair-skinned like me and going to the beach or a pool your mom told you to wear a t-shirt so you didn’t get too burned.
And then came along the discovery of tanning beds. Even I ventured into this rabbit hole in the 80’s. An instant way to get some color in 10-15 minutes. Sounded like a dream come true in the winter months to help keep that ‘healthy glow’ year-round.
Now we are conscious of the damage UVA and UVB rays can do and slather our kiddos up in 70+ SPF and make sure every nook and cranny is covered. Are you doing the same for yourself?
Most freckles, moles, and brown spots are usually harmless, I should know… I was told as a child I have the map of Ireland “tattooed” on by body because I am covered in freckles.
But, there is always a chance that one of those little buggers is not harmless. I had a freckle on my forehead (no different than the tens of thousands I have all over my body). It was darker than usual and I thought it was an age spot. I went to my dermatologists for an annual skin check, as I do every year. But this time, what started as an innocent-looking freckle turned into melanoma.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one person dies from melanoma every 57 minutes. And if you’ve had more than five sunburns in your life, your chance of developing melanoma more than doubles.
The words “you have melanoma” are three of the scariest fucking words you can ever hear. I immediately went to G.T.S. (Google That Shit). Searching symptoms online is a slippery slope. On one end of the spectrum, it is good news. On the other, it is the worst-case scenario. If you are like me, you have self -diagnosed many times with words you can’t even pronounce.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers but also one of the most treatable, if caught. Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma grows deep. This is why early detection is key.
I was referred to a doctor at Loyola University Medical Center. We are so damn fortunate to have a great hospital in our backyard. I had the tumor removed and a lymph node biopsy. Like any surgery, I wasn’t anticipating such an extensive procedure. I had an open wound on my forehead for seven days so the doctors could determine if the cancer was still growing. Plus, the lymph node biopsy left the whole left side of my face numb. I will never regain feeling in my earlobe because of the nerves they had to sever to get to the lymph nodes (a small price to pay). I’m optimistic that the feeling in my face will slowly come back.
The longest week of our lives began. Waiting for the test results was brutal. Needless to say, lots of sleepless nights wondering, “what if?” I had to stop G.T.S. as it wasn’t leading to anything good.
I am one of the lucky ones. My lymph nodes came back clean. I had a second surgery for reconstruction and, so far, so good. I won’t fully know for 6-8 months how I will heal. My treatment is to follow up with an oncologist and see a dermatologist for skin checks every three months for the next two years. I’ll take this any day over the alternative.
Regardless if you are one of those that never burn, or like me that even 20 minutes in the sun gives you a red lobster glow, it is important that you do the 3 S’s.
Self-Examination: Here is a chart from the Skin Cancer Foundation on the ABCDE’s of checking your badass self. If you see anything that looks funny, cry wolf!
See the Dermatologist: If you have any exposure to sun, it is smart to go to the dermatologist once a year for a skin check. It takes 20 minutes and is well worth your time. I will warn you, they check EVERYWHERE. Sometimes melanoma pops up in areas that may not have been exposed to sun.
Sun Protection: As a connoisseur of sun screen, here is what I found works best for me:
Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion, 50 SPF
This sunscreen provides full coverage and smells great. It has UVA and UVB protection and is water-resistant for 80 minutes. I am anal about reapplication. Even if I’m not in the water, I reapply every 90 minutes.
Kiehls Super Fluid UV Defense SPF 50+
This is a bit pricy, but worth it. I use this on my face. A little goes a long way. It is lightweight and goes on smooth. It is also great for sensitive skin. Don’t forget the tops of your ears when applying sunscreen.
To use or not to use spray sunscreen.
Although spray sunscreens are easy to apply, in my opinion, it should only be used when no other options are available. You don’t get the full coverage as you do when applying by hand and the jury is still out on the effects of inhaling the spray. If spray is your only option, you should spray into your hands and then apply.
As we look forward to summer and the days getting longer, don’t forget about the 3 S’s!
• Do a self-examination – if you see ANYTHING that looks funky, call your dermatologist
• Get a skin check from a dermatologist once a year
• Wear sunscreen and protect yourself
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