Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Healthy Skin

We're back from our mini vacation and I can't wait to share all of our adventures with you. However, some of our photos won't be back for a week (darn underwater cameras and off-site photo processing!), so it might be a little while before I can share the details. But, in the meantime...

This morning while reading some of my favorite blogs, I came across a post written by Erin at Sweetness Itself  about why she broke up with tanning beds. I'm so glad that she shared her story to help raise awareness of the dangers of tanning and the risks that are associated with it.

I started to write a comment to her blog post, and realized I was starting to ramble. So I decided to write a post about my skin and how important it is to take care of it.

I was blessed (or cursed, which ever way you choose to look at it) with pale skin. My dad is fair skinned and has strawberry blond hair, so it comes from his side of the gene pool. I don't remember getting sun burns when I was little, but I know that the older I got, the more aware i was of how much the sun hurt.

I played softball for about 8 years, and I remember how often my mom would bug me and my teammates to wear sunscreen. Did you get behind your knees? Your shoulder? The back of your neck? Yes mom.... She would come up behind us and attack our ears and cheeks with sunscreen. I wish I was kidding. It was pretty embarrassing. I knew then that she meant well, but I hated the fact that my friends and teammates got sucked into the sunscreen craziness.

Without fail, every summer I would somehow managed to get sunburned. Usually it was because I would forget to reapply sunscreen after a few hours. When I would go to the beach with my family, we'd only stay 2-3 hours, so we never really reapplied. I didn't know that you were suppose to. It wasn't until I started going to the beach with friends and staying much longer that I realized that one coat of sunscreen was never enough.

Fast forward a couple years and my twelve year old self was sitting in a dermatologist's office with my older sister as she was having a mole removed from her back. You see, my sister didn't heed the warnings about tanning beds. Although I don't know how often she went, it was often enough for her skin to start changing. And it changed enough that the doctor thought it was necessary to remove a suspicious mole. Luckily the biopsy results came back only as "precancerous" but it was still enough to scare me. I knew from that point forward, if I didn't want to have a mole removed like my sister did, I had to start protecting my skin.

Even with the heightened awareness, by the time I was eighteen, I too had to have a mole removed from my back. I had gone to see a dermatologist so that I could get established. I knew I had a few moles on my back that I couldn't see well, and therefore couldn't monitor well enough to notice if there were any changes to them. During that initial appointment, the doctor said there was a mole in the upper center of my back that he wanted to biopsy "just to be safe." Like my sister, it was nothing serious, but still came back as "precancerous."  I haven't had any other moles removed since then, but that doesn't mean that I can stop worrying about my skin.

In Erin's post, she shared a video, and I wanted to share it too:

Melanoma is no joke. I worked for 3 years at a doctor's office that specialized in cancer treatment. My mom has been with that same office for over 15 years now; and my sister for at least 7. We've met and talked to many patients in the different stages of cancer. Although skin cancer wasn't the most prevalent diagnosis that I came across while working in medical records. But, when I did notice it, it was because I was stopped in my tracks when I realized that we were treating a patient who was the same age (or even younger!) than I was. 

One of those times that I stopped, I didn't stop because of the birth date. I stopped because I saw the name of my high school and my graduation year in the dictation. I then scrolled up to the name and realized that I knew the girl. She had been in the popular crowd. She was always tan and beautiful, and at times I remember being jealous of her. But realizing that all of those days spent in the sun landed her in our doctor's office with melanoma, I was no longer jealous. I felt sorry for her. And it was in that moment that I realized I needed to be thankful for the body, hair, skin, eyes, etc. that I was blessed with. That I needed to stop envying other people for the bodies they had been blessed with. That pale can be just as beautiful, and was so much better in the long run.

Some of the things that I do now to protect my skin include: investing in a beach umbrella to take with us on beach trips; setting an alarm on my cell phone to remind me to reapply sunscreen after 90-120 minutes; wearing a hat to protect my face; applying sunscreen at least to my shoulders and face even if I don't think I'll be out in the sun that long (better safe than sorry!). Sure, I still get the occasional burn (like I did this past weekend) from forgetting even my own advice. But if I remember to do these things 99% of the time, I've done the best I can do.

So please, listen to the warnings. Be careful of how long you expose your skin to the sun. Wear sunscreen. Wear a hat. Do whatever you need to do to keep your skin healthy. Believe me, it is better to be pale than to be tan with a scar that was left behind from melanoma.

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