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.


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