If I may have your attention for a moment for this sobering…serious…and rather important blog. Please. I’ll only take up a moment of your time. And I will start by butchering the first part of a famous advice dispensed by Mary Schmich, published in 1997 in the Chicago Tribune. It goes something like this:
Ladies and Gentlemen…Readers of my blog…
Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now…
Wait for it…
I have skin cancer.
I was diagnosed with the most common form of skin cancer – Basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing form of skin cancer. Skin cancer falls into two categories – nonmelanoma and melanoma. This particular form is a type of nonmelanoma skin cancer. It is also the most common form of cancer in the United States.
Basal cell carcinoma starts in the top layer of the skin, normally in an area that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet light. Mine…appeared on my right temple. And to be honest…I have had it for a long, long time.
For years now, I have had this pink bump on my right temple, which I can’t even remember when it first appeared, but I have honestly had it for ages. It looked like a zit. And that’s what I thought it was. Every now and again, I’d scratch it and it would open up…then heal. So it never really went away. And, for some reason, I never found this to be odd. Not once did I question it. Why should I? I’m 32 years old. I’m good about wearing hats and putting on sunscreen.
But…that’s the thing. I wasn’t always good about it. Growing up, I had quite a few bad sunburns…all of which were of my own error…like swimming for six hours in the heat of the day without sunscreen. Forgetting to reapply sunscreen after toweling off at the pool, lake, or ocean. Those happened so long ago. As I got older, I got better about it…because sunburns hurt.
But this form of cancer is very common in people with light-colored or freckled skin (I have both); people with blue, green or gray eyes (I have green), people with blond or red hair (I’m a blond); and people who had many severe sunburns early in life (raises hand). Among others…but I fit the bill with all of those.
So…what made me decide to get this spot checked out?
An article. A simple article about skin cancer in a recent issue of Family Circle, a magazine that randomly started showing up in my mailbox. I almost threw it away, but decided to page through it, in case it had some good recipes inside or something. I stopped at a few articles, and the one on skin cancer caught my attention. It described the different types of skin cancer and the ways you can tell if you are at risk or might need to get checked out. The description of the Basal cell carcinoma sounded just like the spot that was on my right temple. I decided to be proactive about it and ask about it when I went in to see my doctor that following week to get a physical checkup and an okay to start training for my first marathon. After getting a clean bill of health and the okay to proceed with training, I asked about the spot. My doctor said it looked like a cyst, but to be safe she’d get me set up with a local dermatologist and have him look at it.
On June 11th, I went into the dermatologists office for my appointment. He took one look at it and said it looked like it was a small Basal cell carcinoma, but he’d do a biopsy on it just to be certain. They numbed me and performed the biopsy right there. Bandaged me up. Sent me on my way saying they would have the results in 10 days.
They called me back that Friday and confirmed that the biopsy results came back as a positive for Basal cell carcinoma. I was assured that this was very treatable and that I would be coming in in two weeks to have a procedure performed that would remove the cancerous cells. Then, in three months, I’ll come back and they will make sure nothing is has returned.
I think I went into a bit of shock that morning with the news. It was early, so very few people were at my office. I held it together, surprisingly. I didn’t say a word of it to anyone, except my roommate. And for the rest of the day, I tried not to focus on it, worry about it, or think too much about it. I got through the day, surprisingly well.
But the weight of it hit me on Saturday morning at my race in Frankfort, Kentucky. I cried twice before the race even began. Then I cried again at the finish line. I used the race as a chance to clear my head…to leave my demons behind and focus on the next step…defeating it. I wasn’t going to let cancer run this body. Only I run this body. It was an emotionally draining time in Frankfort, but I managed to keep it together after those three breakdowns.
So…when I say…wear sunscreen…please take my advice.
I religiously wear sunscreen. If I am going out for a run, not only am I slapping on sunscreen, but I’m donning a hat with a brim. I’m wearing sunglasses with UV protection. I’ve done this from the very start. But…here I sit…telling my friends, my family, my fellow readers that I…a girl who hides from the sun, who runs early to avoid it, who hasn’t had a bad sunburn since high school…that I have skin cancer. It hurts. It stings. It confuses me because I hide from the sunlight. I try to take every step to prevent this. And then…it hits me anyway.
But…the most treatable form. And that…is the blessing…the silver lining in all of this.
On June 26th, I return to my dermatologist office to get treated for this cancer. If all goes well, they’ll get it cleaned out and me on the road to recovery in no time. I’m hoping for that. It’s not an easy place for me right now. I’m scared…which I hate…because no one likes to hear the word “cancer” when it comes to their body. This diagnosis comes with demons that I am now trying to shake off, leave behind, and never have darken my doorstep again. I am lucky to have people who are supporting me with good thoughts, prayers, and a whole lot of understanding.
My dearest family, friends, and readers…please…wear sunscreen. Don’t just stop at sunscreen. If you are going to be out in the sun, prevention has to go further than that. Even if you don’t intend to be outside for a long time, put that sunscreen on. Even if it is overcast…put that sunscreen on. Make sure you apply a good amount to all exposed areas, including your ears. Do NOT miss your temples near your hairline. Make sure your sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB light. Make sure it is waterproof…all you runners, swimmers, walkers and hot-weather haters. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside and make sure you reapply. Do this even in the winter time. The dangers of UVA and UVB lights do not disappear when cold weather creeps in. Wear hats to keep the top of your head and your face protected from sunlight. Cover up. Most running clothes do come with some sun protection, but in those hot summer months, sometimes putting on an extra layer of clothing doesn’t sound good. I run in my sports bra…so I make sure I slather on sunscreen.
What it comes down to is…you can be so careful about sun exposure…and still wind up in a situation from me. I’m asking you to take this experience…this advice…and make sure that this doesn’t happen to you as well. If you are out in the sun a lot…if you have spots on your skin that are of some concern…go to a dermatologist. Do not put it off for years like I did. I didn’t know…but I’m hoping my story will help you become more aware…maybe take actions of your own to prevent this from happening to you.
What you do with any of this advice is up to you. Keep it in the back of your mind. Start to apply it to your own life. You can do whatever you wish…but as the speech says at the very end…
“…trust me on the sunscreen.”