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Love the Skin You're In

It's Skin Cancer Awareness month, and time to give your bod a once-over.

This month, you need to check your body's biggest organ — your skin. 

Take it from me, someone who never thought I really needed to think about that stuff, because those worries are for fancier folk.

So you can imagine my shock this week when I found out that a nagging, tiny, smaller than most injuries I incur accidentally in a day, unhealing, red spot on my eyebrow was, in fact, a precancerous, pre-squamous cell lesion.

This thing is so small that I'm including a picture. And this is after having it blasted and it turned into a "giant" red boil. Still quite small. If I can have one, please know that this really could happen to anyone.

Prevention is key

I'm one of those people who has been told all my life that I should "watch it" in the sun. Fair skin, blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair; I always had to put on thick, "skin tone" stinky sunscreen paste that smelled like stage makeup, called A-Fil Creme. I turn red anyway; it's not easy to see sunburn right away.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, "Everyone, regardless of skin color, should make staying safe in the sun a priority and incorporate sun protection measures into their daily life.”

Now, the baseline for SPF is now at 30 for actual sun protection. There are new guidelines for all sunscreens, which include having UV-A and UV-B Broad Spectrum protection and an SPF of minimum 30. From the aad.org:

  • Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or more to all exposed skin. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product or spray, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

My new dermatologist is a huge fan of sun-protective clothing like t-shirts that are sold at discount stores now. But his current favorite sunscreen is Vanicream, which is Paraben free and odorless (but when we're done with the free samples, I cringe that it will be much more than the negative-SPF Banana Boat-style 10/$1.00 bottles at Walgreen's).

Here's some facts: Skin cancer, which ranges from basal cell to squamous cell and finally to the very dangerous melanoma, is the most common form of cancer amongst women ages 25-29; and yes, tanning beds are just as dangerous. One American dies of melanoma every hour. And the rates of Melanoma are rising most among teen and young women ages 15-29. 

Shorewood has shared its losses in the community due to this disease. Cathy Gravelle, a Shorewood parent, suffered from melanoma and passed away in 2010. A group called "Team Cathy" has run in her honor in the May "Ann's Hope Foundation Block Melanoma." Team Cathy will again run this year on May 20 and the group is also sponsoring the "Team Cathy" children's fun run as well in Gravelle's honor. Click here on Team Cathy to help them reach this year's goal.

Detection

So respect that voice that says "That's weird," and get yourself checked after giving yourself the once over. Make a list. They call it the ABC's at the AAD, the American Academy of Dermitologists, and better yet, you need to print out this chart and keep a copy, so you can check any growth against your own record. It's so easy, and could save your life (plus, what a nice dinner conversation). 

Make prevention, and detection, a regular thing.

With all these realities, I guess I just underestimated the severity of things that could be on my own skin that aren't friendly.

My own "that's weird" spot turned out to be positive at this week's dermatology appointment that I'd made, changed, cancelled, and almost a year later finally attended. Within three seconds, Dr. Rosenberg had his hand on the frozen Nitrogen, ready to blast my eyebrow off. Of course, it was the only day in history of my 43 years that I also had a close-up scheduled for TV, but better the giant red boil than the squirmy pre-squamous, I always say.

Local resident and self-proclaimed experienced patient of skin cancer treatments, Joanne Lipo Zovic, says that skin cancer prevention and detection is a fact of life for her and her fair-skinned family.

"Check your birthday suit on your birthday," she said.

Lipo Zovic cited an interesting statistic that countries that drive on the right have a higher tendency to get skin cancer in the left arm and left side of the face, and countries that drive on the left get it in the right arm and right side of the face. Even with the windows all rolled up.

So it isn't just the beach bunnies and tanning bed addicts that need to protect themselves. It's us. The understated, the non-glam (well, I speak for myself), the worker bees, and the ones who get everyone else's needs met, who need to make sure we get ourselves covered — take shelter, slather on the SPF, and get checked.

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