27 November 2007

Steal my sunshine

This is a PSA. And it's not the first I've put out here.

Make an appointment with a dermatologist. Take a friend or someone you love.

Why? Because I've just gotten more biopsy results back: I am four for four. In a little less than a year, I've had four moles removed, all of which showed precancerous changes consistent with the development of melanoma. That means that I don't have cancer, but left to their own devices, those little buggers would have become melanoma.

This is important for a very specific reason: I've never been a sun-worshipper and never laid out in the sun for hours seeking the perfect tan. I've never been near a tanning bed. According to my doctor, that's likely why I don't actually have melanoma yet.

Still, I have gotten my share of sun exposure. I had at least one serious sunburn as a child, just from playing outdoors in the desert sun. I lead an active life, and have spent time hiking, biking, swimming, playing tennis and skiing. I ran track in school and ran for exercise. I garden. But I've used sunscreen since it became available, and I wear hats and sunglasses, and don't go outdoors during peak exposure hours.

I am a realist and I am a product of my northern European heritage: I have fair skin that burns and green eyes, and my natural hair color is dark reddish brown.

Four moles, three strikes on physical characteristics. I am out.

But I'm also lucky. I'm lucky because so far I don't have cancer. I am not so lucky because I have yet another little biopsy to look forward to. Not so lucky because after this, they go over my entire body centimeter by centimeter and for the rest of my life, we pay attention to each spot and watch to see if it changes. I've officially graduated from wearing sunscreen to wearing sun-protective clothing that more or less resembles a Tyvek suit when I'm outdoors.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma only accounts for about 4% of all skin cancers, but it accounts for 79% of all skin cancer deaths.

And let's not forget the other two forms of skin cancer: basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. More easily treatable and less deadly, but do you really want to mess with that?

Those of us with fair skin and light eyes are at the greatest risk of developing skin cancer, but that doesn't excuse those of you with darker skin and darker eyes from getting yourselves checked. Your risk may be lessened, but that doesn't mean you are immune.

Get yourself checked. It's slightly chilly sitting in that paper gown, but otherwise painless. Forget the tan, forget the tanning beds. Sunscreen. Hats. Sunglasses. Stay out of the sun during peak exposure hours--that would be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

I don't want skin cancer.

Neither do you.

Go listen to some music: "Steal My Sunshine" from the album You Can't Stop the Bum Rush by Len.

No comments: