Saturday, November 19, 2011

More stuff I wish I didn't know: That beautiful warm sun is not my friend

Don't get me wrong; I love the sun. A shining sun sustains my mood. A sun that stays behind the clouds saps my energy. In the winter, when it hangs so low in the sky that it can't warm anything, I suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder, the initials of which are no coincidence. But that's a topic for another post.

Sun on my skin warns me and, I'm told, produces vitamin D.

It also produces skin cancer.

I've been lucky so far. Over the past 15 years, I've had six or eight basal-cell carcinomas (very slow-growing, do not spread to other areas), one squamous-cell carcinoma (faster, deeper, can spread to internal organs) and dozens of pre-cancerous bits that my sharp-eyed dermatologist has deftly removed. In most cases, treatment has been little more than an annoyance.

A month ago - just a few days after I fell - I went for my twice-yearly checkup. I pointed to a tiny new red spot just below my nose, which I thought resulted from my fall. It was next to some scar tissue from an earlier fall, which occasionally peels, I said. Hold it, he said.

Scar tissue doesn't peel. What I had was a little triangle, less than a centimeter in any direction, likely a basal cell carcinoma. It was in a dangerous spot (near the nose), I'd had it for years, and the new spot was an expansion of that. Without even waiting for a biopsy, he prescribed flourouracil, a chemotherapy cream that creates a nasty but efficient chemical peel of the cancerous tissue. It also irritates the heck out of regular tissue. I applied it daily for four weeks across half my upper lip, producing a painful, bright-red swath until a couple of days ago, when my treatment was up and I could begin to heal.

I was already feeling a bit old and vulnerable after falling, and this didn't help.

On the other hand, it may have saved me from something more serious. And it reminded me to wear sunscreen. Lots of it, even though I hate the feel and it blocks my pores.

And now I'm reminding you. Wear sunscreen, avoid getting burned, learn what to watch for. They tell you the ABCs of melanoma - assymetrical, brown or black, changing. It's good to know those, because melanoma kills. But especially if you have a light complexion, blue or green eyes, and a history of sunburns, you should know that non-melanoma skin cancers may be white or pink, are often pearly but can take many forms, sometimes show up where there was an injury or an insect bite. Wikipedia and other sites have good info, sometimes with fairly grisly photos. Don't let yourself show up there.

It's been snowing all day and the sun is nowhere in sight. When it returns, I will receive it with joy - and sunscreen. Yes, even in winter.


19 comments:

Terra said...

Thanks for reminding me about this issue, and for the information. I am a fan of wearing hats outdoors which provides some protection.

DJan said...

Melanoma runs in my family and I didn't know it can be clear colored! Yikes! Maybe I'd better strip down right now and take a look. Thanks for the warning.

Jeanie said...

Oh yes, I know what you are talking about. I have had several basal-cells and a squamous-cell removed. You have prompted me to make an appointment to have two very tiny crusty spots, one on my nose and one on my hand, looked at.
I hope you get some wonderful sun to protect yourself from soon.

Retired English Teacher said...

We can't have too many reminders. My niece (Actually, she is my cousin's daughter, but I call her my niece.) has battled a very nasty melanoma for the last several years. It has been such a terrible battle.

I get my yearly checkup, and I always wear my sunscreen on my face. I'm not so good about putting it on the rest of my body.

Thanks for the reminder.

Jeanie said...

Oh, Shane, I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. I know this is very treatable and it sounds like you were given a grand (if sore) opportunity to take care of things. There are so many success stories, but it doesn't alleviate the concern when something like this occurs. I know you'll be fine.

I try to be good with the sunscreen, but something like this is a very specific, personal reminder to use the sunscreen and be careful about it always. Thanks. And hang in there.

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

Very scary, and what a painful treatment.
Thank you for this reminder. The sun feels so good on my face, so warm in my soul. I forget to protect myself from it!

Hope you are recovering and can find some light this winter!

Ms Sparrow said...

Thanks for the good advice, I never think about sunscreen in the winter.
I remember a comic (maybe Phillis Diller?) once saying that as we age we start to have things growing on us. She never mentioned what an interesting variety they are! It's not so funny when you find out those things can kill you. Glad you caught it in time!

Linda Myers said...

Re your SAD - this year I'm taking 4000 units of vitamin D3 a day. The Pacific Northwest is a gloomy, dark place in winter. So far, no SAD. So good!

Daughter Number Three said...

Eeek! @@#% cancer should learn to keep its cells to itself.

Emma said...

Glad to hear that your derm caught this one in time, too! My mom had a non-melanoma cancer (can't remember which, but white) a couple years ago, so I am more diligent now. I definitely did some damage in my youth, though. Hopefully today's kids will learn from our mistakes!

400 Wakeups said...

The thing about skin cancer is that no one really takes it very seriously because I think people think it can't kill you. Which is so wrong. I have a lot of people around me who have been reminded of the need for sunscreen, limited time outside, and big hats fairly recently. I'm blonde, blue-eyed and have had TONS of severe sunburns from Hilton Head summers. I have a dermatologist on speed dial, the world's most ridiculous and huge floppy hat, and SPF 50. I just hope it's not too late. This is an important PSA. I know it will make a difference to many people.

Grandmother said...

Right there with you- red hair, blue eyes, freckles and fair skin. Lots of basal cell growths up to now and a brother with melanoma so I wear sun screen every day of the year. thanks for the alert!
p.s. Take a look at "Michelle" and see if you think it's spam.

Rubye Jack said...

In California, people wore hats. Here in Oklahoma where the sun is so much more intense, only men wear hats and that's only because they're baseball caps. I wear my big sun hat regardless and accept the occasional stare.

Linda Medrano said...

I am so sorry you went through this. But I'm very glad you have a vigilant doctor. We all need to be very aware of the sun and the damage it can do.

Nezzy said...

Your talkin' to a fair skinned gal who spent her summers lifeguarding and bakin' in the sun.

Remember when it was vogue to mix baby oil and iodine and roast? Yep, that's me!

I've learned my lesson well...sunscreen all the way these days but we can never be reminded too much.

God bless ya sweetie and have a beautiful Thanksgiving!

Pop over if ya get a chance...I'm hostin' a giveaway. Woohoo!!! :o)

troutbirder said...

Mmmm. I think I need to pay more attention...

Red said...

You've explained the situation well If people don't get it from what you've said the never will.
I hope you make a full recovery.

The Loerzels said...

Amen on the sunscreen! I hope you're okay and have found a beautiful sun hat to brighten (well....actually dim) your days, but that sounded too S.A.D. to actually say...

Thom Brown said...

I've had my bout with skin cancer (on my nose). It's not fun, and your advisory is very important.

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