I admit, I didn’t think it could happen to me either. I always use SPF 30 at least, sometimes SPF 60 and always higher on my face. I don’t bake out in the sun for long periods of time. I tan normally and am active out in the sun, but sensible. I often wear hats. I live in a northern climate, so I’m protected from the sun for many months.
And yet, I had a basal cell carcinoma lesion removed from my face last March. Although I am healing nicely, it will take from six months to a year before I am completely healed and I may need plastic surgery or shots if my scar does not flatten nicely or if it pulls too tightly or leaves marks or discoloration.
A year is a long time for a girl to wait for a scar to heal on her face.
The truth is, we all think it won’t happen to us. We’ve been out in the sun for years and nothing any worse than the random sunburn ever occurred. So we’re safe. Skin cancer is for other people. Weird, pale people who can’t handle the sun. Wrong. Skin cancer is dramatically on the rise in younger people. It is estimated that as many as one in six people born in the 1990s will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
I was lucky. My cancer is the least dangerous form of skin cancer. It does not metastasize (or very rarely) and is slow growing. Despite this, I now have a 50% higher chance of having another lesion. My form of skin cancer is probably due to sunburns in my childhood and youth, exacerbated by trips South in the winter (exposing your skin, even with sunscreen, to intense sun for a week after being out of the sun for months).
There is no changing what was done years ago and no deprogramming my skin cells. But I can prevent another episode like this. And I am.
I love the sun, although I never laid out in it for very long. Now I’m nervous, aware and a little sad. It’s very recent, so I suspect that I will eventually calm down and get used to seeking shade, wearing hats and sunscreen at all times, saying goodbye to my lovely golden summer hue and embracing my lily white paleness.
I think the saddest part for me is probably giving up my trips South.
But then I remember months of a tiny sore that refused to heal on my face, several attempts to get in to see a dermatologist, showing it to my doctor who shrugged it off and prescribed a cream that did not help at all, trying home remedies, staying inside when the spot on my nose flared up, finally seeing a dermatologist and hearing her tell me that I have skin cancer, the agonizing wait for a surgery date. Then spending four hours at the cancer center, two Mohs procedures, surgery on my nose while I was awake, which was surreal experience, twelve apparent and eight hidden stitches on my nose once the bandage was removed. My swollen and discolored face. Cleaning the wound. Looking at the wound. Not being able to wear my glasses. Not being able to go out in public.
I don’t want to go through that again.
The golden tan is not worth it, people. Also, on the upside, because I have to find an upside, sun exposure and tanning beds make your skin age dramatically and damages it on a very deep level. This damage is irreparable. So, if you choose to ignore my warning and keep baking in the sun, at least I’ll look younger and prettier than you… and I’ll also be rocking some pretty fabulous hats!