I LOVE the sun. I love its light and warmth. I love sunny days spent outside. I grew up in the Southern California desert and absolutely lived by the pool as a kid and if I wasn’t at the pool I was wandering by the stream/river/ wash that was across the street. As I mentioned in a previous article about my depression, the sun works to ease that and makes me feel normal. Last year though, something happened and the sun became my enemy.
I was diagnosed with skin cancer. Now, I am lucky. My skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma and it is one of the most easily treated and (usually) non-life threatening forms of skin cancer to get (and most common). My dermatologist basically said, “It’s cancer, but it’s the GOOD kind.” Now we all know that NO cancer is the only good cancer, but still if you have to fight it at some point in your life – the non-life threatening kind is the way to go. However, just because it isn’t going to kill me, it has wreaked havoc on my mind and I find myself on sunny days reluctant to leave the house.
It is an irrational fear. I can still go outside, I just have to wear sunscreen and hats. I need to spend some time and think about my sun exposure and take precautions to minimize harmful exposure. In my head though, I am sort of angry that I now have to worry about the sun. I enjoyed being blissfully ignorant my entire life that all that time in the sun would eventually catch up to me.
Now my skin cancer looked very different from every picture I have ever seen. I don’t know why, by MY cancer tends to look like a blackhead with an agenda. If you do an image search for Basal Cell cancer – none of those pictures look like what I have.
Now I have enough self esteem issues when it comes to my nose. I have ALWAYS hated it, and it was the butt of many jokes at my expense while growing up (nicknames included: Bob Hope, Ski Jump, and Rat Face). When I was little, I would lay flat on my face on the floor in the hopes that my nose would take on a new shape, trying to flatten it I guess. So you know to take my already hated facial feature and develop one of the most disfiguring forms of skin cancer, well needless to say I wasn’t too happy about it. I just try to keep reminding myself ALWAYS that it could be worse. Huge scar on my nose? No problem. Life. Life is better. Scars show our battles, and my nose has joined the war. I am okay and that is what really matters.
I had 6 biopsies, and 3 of them came back positive. The one on my nose, another group on my forehead, and one on the bottom of my foot. I have had surgery to remove the one on my nose and foot, and still need to go get the forehead one removed. However, my life will forever be filled with appointments to seek and destroy these cells as they surface.
The sun damage on my skin all over my body is extensive. I am covered in moles and freckles, and I have developed age spots at an unusually young age. The fact that I have skin cancer at all right now is unusual, I am always the youngest person in the doctors office being treated for skin cancer and I have a lot of it (for my age). When I used to look in the mirror, the freckles and moles never phased me before, but now every time I get out of the shower I do an inspection. I try to pay attention if anything is changing or new. It’s a hard job – there is a lot to look at.
Here is what I would like for you guys to get out of this post: You are never too young to get cancer. If something looks funny on your body, or just doesn’t feel right, have it looked at. If you haven’t started yet – wear sunscreen and protect yourself from prolonged exposure to the sun. Slather your children with the highest sunscreen you can find. The majority of my skin damage was from my youth – I never touched sunscreen until I was in my early 20’s.
Cancer – no matter it’s form or survival rate is life changing for those who are diagnosed. I lost my Mom to Colon Cancer almost 14 years ago. She probably would have lived a lot longer had she not ignored the warning signs. By the time my Mom finally went to a doctor, she was stage IV and it had spread everywhere and the doctors said that she had probably had cancer for about 10 years before she went to a doctor. It had spread so much that they initially diagnosed her with ovarian cancer, and it wasn’t until they did surgery that they realized the true scope of the cancer and it’s origination point. They gave her six months to live – but my Mom, like me, doesn’t give up that easily. She lived for two years after her diagnosis, and then even while in hospice care the nurses commented on the fact that my Mom survived longer in hospice than they had ever seen. So the lesson I learned from that was to not ignore stuff when my body is trying to tell me something. I would rather be paranoid than dead.
As for my own fears of the sun, well I have this spring and summer to learn how to deal with it. It will be my first sunny season to have to pay attention to UV ratings, where the shade is, and which sunscreen to use. It takes away some of my joy that the sun is back in business. I feel like I have lost something that I truly loved. Again though – I could have lost much more and I just have to maintain perspective. I can still enjoy the sun, I just need to ensure that while I love it, I need to respect its power and potential for harm.