I grew up in the ’60s when summers meant kids got sunburns. There was no sunblock or warnings about the sun causing skin cancer. Every year we burned red like lobsters, and then turned brown; adults assumed that meant we would no longer burn. Every fall, our skin would peel and our skin would lighten in the winter. The process began again the following year.
Now we know better, and those who grew up in the ’60s, like me, are experiencing a high skin cancer diagnosis rate.
I noticed a spot on my nose that I thought was a pimple. It sat on the bridge of my nose, so it was noticeable. I watched it; it didn’t go away. The skin would break and bleed, then heal. This went on for five months, until October 2011 when it stopped healing and began to get bigger. My blood ran cold; I had to tell myself it could be a bacteria, fungus or anything but cancer to keep from panicking.
I called the VA clinic and made an appointment. My primary care provider listened to the history of the spot and sent me for an evaluation at the VA hospital in San Antonio, Texas. The dermatologist immediately did a biopsy based on my history of sunburns.
In November, I received the bad news; I had basal cell carcinoma, or skin cancer. I was assured that this was not fatal, but it needed to be treated to prevent disfigurement. People around me told me that “that’s nothing, you’ll be fine.” Their attitude didn’t help.
In December, I had a surgery known as the Mohs procedure. The area is excised, or cut away a little at a time to minimize damage. The removed tissue is inspected under a microscope while the patient waits; if more tissue needs removal it is performed at that time. If not, the area is closed. This surgery is 98 percent effective in getting all of the cancer. My surgery took about an hour.
I was advised that there is a 50 percent chance of recurrence with this type of cancer; I wear the highest sunblock I can find, usually 100 to 110 SPF on my face and neck. I also wear sunglasses and a large sun hat everywhere, all year long.
The following year, I began watching a spot on my forehead that was frozen with liquid nitrogen during a follow-up visit. I now use Retin-A cream three times a week, and still use sunblock and my signature sunhat.
During my experience, I thought about family members who have fought and died from various cancers. I truly thought it was out to get me one way or the other. I learned that having one type of cancer does not mean that a person is especially susceptible for any other type.
If you are facing skin cancer, relaxing is harder to do than it is to say. Realize that it is survivable, and there are things you can do to meet it head on and have the best chance of preventing a recurrence. You could start a fashion trend with friends, like my sunhats have with mine. I’m never without my sunblock, something I’ve also become known for wearing and handing out to friends.