Wear sunscreen folks. I didn’t as a kid or teenager. Because I didn’t, every year or so, my dermatologist finds something new to cut off and biopsy. This is my third basal cell carcinoma in 10 years. I’ve had several precancerous or hmmm-that-looks-funky-let’s-cut or burn or freeze-that-off over the last 15 years.
You want to know what it’s like waiting for a biopsy result after having had breast cancer? It’s horrendous even though I knew the biopsy had less than a 1% chance to be anything but basal cell. When the nurse came on the phone to give me the results, my PTSD roared to life. I froze. I shivered. My heart raced. My stomach fluttered. Tears rolled. Before she even gave me the results, I told her I couldn’t take hearing cancer again because in my head, I’d begun to believe she was going to tell me they were wrong and it was atypical melanoma, not basal cell. As my onco-psychologist calls it, my catastrophic thinking came into play. I couldn’t stop talking. She, bless her, interrupted me to say it was basal cell and nothing more. I laughed in gratitude. Basal cell sucks but doesn’t spread or metastasize. It’s the least of the skin cancer family.
It took me ten minutes to stop shaking and to get my heart rate under control. All of this took place in a public area, too. I was alone in a crowd.
I wear sunscreen (countersun by beautycounter if you’re curious…no, I’m not a rep). I wear long sleeved rashguards when I swim. I wear a hat. I don’t care about looking cute. I care about protecting my skin. The kids use zinc based sunscreen on their faces and ears and scalps and drench themselves in Kiss My Face or Banana Boat’s new, less chemicals sunscreen. I make S wear a rash guard over her cute swimsuits. She hates it, but she wears it because she’s seen my scars. I make AJ wear a rash guard, but unlike his sister, he loves swim shirts.
I used a tanning bed exactly twice as a teenager. I never wore sunscreen as a kid, and I lived in pools during the summer. In the 80s and 90s, no one told me what sunburns could do to me later. I always thought skin cancer was an old person’s disease. I always thought breast cancer was an old lady’s disease. I was 25 when my dermatologist began watching, freezing, burning, and cutting my skin. I was 37 when a radiologist told me I had breast cancer.
Wear sunscreen folks. Check your skin monthly. Have a dermatologist check it yearly. Protect your skin. Do self exams. Get your yearly physicals. Know your body.
I’ve lived three years after a breast cancer diagnosis not because I felt a lump -I DID feel a lump, but I ignored it because I was 37- but because I knew it was wrong for my left nipple to invert when I raised my left arm. I knew that was wrong and together with the lump I felt, I knew I needed to be checked.
I’ve dealt with skin cancer crap for nearly fifteen years now because I knew I shouldn’t have weird, shiny looking places on my skin. I was pregnant with S when the first basal cell carcinoma was burned off my left shoulder. I was pregnant with AJ when the second basal cell carcinoma was cut off my left bicep. I’ve had other areas cut and frozen off -two on my left shin, three on my face, one on my left arm, one on my back- and I have five, yes five, spots my dermatologist and I watch closely for changes -one on my scalp and four on my back. If those change, at all, they’re gone. They’re suspicious and if they change, none of them will be basal cell carcinomas or squamous cell carcinomas -they’ll be melanomas. Thankfully, in the fifteen years we’ve watched the ones on my back and in the ten years we’ve watched the one on my scalp, none have changed.
Wear sunscreen. Wear rashguards. Check your skin. Do self exams. Know your body. My scars are ugly, but they’ve saved my life…so far.