Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Have Skin Cancer

When I was little, we played outside all day. Like many kids, we only had to be home when the street lights came on as the sun set. There was no such thing as sunblock and no one wore hats, so sunburns were a likely, if unwelcome, consequence of playing foursquare, hopscotch, and jump rope under the hot summer rays. I remember one summer when my arms burned so badly that my mom took me to the doctor. My second and third degree burns were coated in ointment and wrapped in plastic wrap. Can you imagine? The heat was trapped inside the plastic, and my skin continued to cook. That was the way burns were treated back then.

When I was a teenager I wanted to look cool like the other girls, so I spent my fair share of time baking in the sun in pursuit of the illusive tan. How silly was that for someone with blue eyes, pale skin, and Irish heritage? Burn, peel, repeat... I never got tan, so you would think I would have learned my lesson.

While I'd had a couple of suspicious moles removed in the mid-80s, it wasn't until 1992 that I received a diagnosis of skin cancer. CANCER - a word that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who hears it uttered by their physician. I was 37 years old, and the first in my family to get skin cancer. The basal cell on my forehead was surgically removed in August of that year, with a second one (also located on my forehead) removed three months later. That was just the beginning, and through the years I have had six basal cell and two squamous cell carcinomas removed. All but one of those were located somewhere on my face.

Basal cell carcinomas are the most frequently occurring form of all skin cancers. More than one in three new cancers is a skin cancer, most frequently basal cell. About two million new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. The second most common form of skin cancer is squamous cell, with about 700,000 cases reported each year. Then there is melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Around 74,000 new cases are reported each year, along with 10,000 melanoma deaths.

three of the twenty burn spots
Every six months I see the dermatologist, and without exception there are always pre-cancerous spots that he treats with liquid nitrogen. This week there were a total of twenty locations that he burned. While it is not a pleasant experience, it beats the heck out of going to the surgeon to have them excised. Unfortunately, two spots on my forehead have not responded well to this treatment. It did not come as a surprise to me that the dermatologist referred me to a plastic surgeon for removal. I have seen enough of these to know that these are skin cancer. The only surprise is that I have managed to go ten years without having any growths removed.

The earliest the plastic surgeon can see me is the beginning of March, so I am scheduled for the surgery on March 7th. I wanted to get through Jim's big birthday weekend before having it done. I know that I have been phenomenally blessed that so far my skin cancers have only been basal cell or squamous cell. I am pleased that the same surgeon who removed the last three is still practicing. He does such a nice job, and people do not notice my scars unless I point them out. Here are the two bumps he will be removing.

skin cancer on center forehead

skin cancer on right forehead

So while it won't be fun, I hope and pray that these are the more minor forms of skin cancer. And that this is the only type of cancer that I ever have to deal with in my life.

To the parents and other child care providers out there, don't skip the sunblock on your wee ones. I know it takes time to put on and that they really just want to get outside to play or jump in the pool, but it is worth it if in the long run you can prevent them from having to go through what I and many other Americans suffer through with our sun-damaged skin. Don't let your babies grow up to be like me!


Mrs. Wryly said...

Recalling a childhood of much sun exposure, no sunblock and the desire to be tanned, I second your warning. Made me wince to think of the ointment/plastic bag treatment. I am sorry to hear that you are going through this. One of the hats that makes you who you are.

Kim Wolterman said...

Or lack of hat, as the case might be.