Summer sun: loving it!

Tanning BeachAfter what seems like a winter that never ends, summer is both welcome and necessary to banish the cold weather blues.  The hot sun erases the memory of slush, freezing rain, biting wind and snow, and calls out like a Siren song to light and heat deprived Canadians to soak up as much sun as possible during the too short season. 

Most people are aware of warnings of too much sun, the dangers of sunburn, and the weather reports of daily UVA/UVB levels.  The reality of what can happen if one doesn’t take precautions sometimes needs to be in your face, so to speak.  In 2010, my daughter was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma and bravely shared her experience on her Facebook page.  Her experience is chronicled here:

“the gorgeous tan now is not worth the possible outcome”

I’ve been thinking about posting for a while, but it was always a bit fresh. However, going into the nice weather, I feel like I should pass on my story. In 2010, I finally got a spot checked I had for years … at least 3 or so that I remember. The spot was growing and changing (bad sign!) and needless to say had gone far too long. I was told that I had Basal Cell Carcinoma and would need surgery. It was a specialized procedure in Toronto called Mohs surgery, and ended up being 3 hours. The entire width of my eye was opened, and I was left with a gaping hole about 1″ x 0.5″ and 3cm deep under my eye. He had gone back 3x to ensure he got all of the cancer. My eye skin was then pulled and stitched back up and I was left with 12 stitches. I post this now as we go into summer as a reminder to USE SUNSCREEN (preferably chemical free). You are never too young to get cancer, and the gorgeous tan now is not worth the possible outcome. Check your body every year for changes in your skin–could save your life or at least a dozen stitches.  Check out Canadian Dermatology Association in honour of Melanoma Monday.

Basal cell carcinomaThis is what it looked like in the summer of 2007, pretty inconspicuous right? Just a few little bumps, annoying really. Nothing to worry about … or so I thought.

Basal cell_diagnosisThis is May 2010, with makeup on.  It is under my left eye, slight red mark in pic, about the size of my baby fingernail. By now it was about 3 cm larger in width and was getting rough and more red (was a light pink/skin tone prior).  Nothing concealer can’t cover … right?  This is the stage it was at when I was diagnosed (March 2010).

Basal cell_surgerySorry this is gross.  I just want to show what can happen from a tiny little spot. This is after Mohs surgery, a specialized procedure when you have cancer on your face. This is 12 stitches (June 2010).

For me, the emotional effect was far greater than the size of the stitches/scar. It is not “normal” for a woman to have a scar on her face. Men are more likely to get injured in sports, it’s masculine, it’s OK, they’re “tough”, but not me.

It probably took about 6 months for the skin to loosen and start to move back to its natural position. “Luckily” I have lots of skin under my eyes so it wasn’t overly tight and there was not as much pull. At this time I started to be OK with the way I looked. This is nothing compared to what some women go through with breast cancer or other diseases. I consider myself lucky, though it still hit hard.

Basal cell_post opThis was the end of last summer 2012, so about 2 years after the surgery … with makeup. Still a light visible scar (without concealer) but the surgeon was thankfully amazing at his job. Almost like a free eyelift–but with different emotions.

So, that’s my story. Lessons:  wear your sunscreen, wear a hat, and wear sunglasses. Don’t minimize strange bumps and changes in moles. There are early signs and could be the pre cursor to cancer. 

Also, be careful for your children. The most damage occurs before the age of 17.  When I was a kid we never wore sunscreen–it just wasn’t known and I literally lived in a swimsuit.

A plus one to that would be to read the ingredients of what you put on your face, and in your body.  The sun is not the only culprit. Toxins are in your beauty products and in or on your food.

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The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) reports that the lifetime risk for melanoma for men is now 1 in 74, and 1 in 90 for women.  Skin cancer starts in the cells of the skin.  The skin is the body’s largest organ and protects our body from injury, infection, heat and UV light from the sun.  

From Canadian Cancer Society

The skin has 2 main layers. The top layer at the surface is called the epidermis. Below the epidermis is the inner layer, called the dermis. The dermis contains nerves, blood vessels, sweat glands, oil glands and hair follicles. The epidermis is made up of 3 types of cells:

Squamous cells are thin flat cells on the surface of the skin.

Basal cells are round cells that lie under the squamous cells. They are continually made deep in the epidermis. Newly made basal cells push the older cells toward the surface of the skin, where they become squamous cells.

Melanocytes are also found deep in the epidermis, in between the basal cells. Melanocytes make melanin, which gives colour to your skin. When skin is exposed to the sun, the melanocytes make more melanin and cause the skin to tan or darken. Sometimes melanocytes cluster together and form moles (also called nevi). Moles are common and are usually not cancerous.

Different types of cancer can start in the different types of skin cells.

  • Squamous cell skin cancer starts in the squamous cells.
  • Basal cell skin cancer starts in the basal cells.
  • Melanoma starts in the melanocytes.

Squamous cell cancer and basal cell cancer are the most common types of skin cancer. Both are known as non-melanoma skin cancer and they can usually be treated successfully.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and May 6th was designated Melanoma Monday.

For more information about skin cancer, visit Canadian Cancer Society

 

 

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About Leslie Stallard

Trying a little bit of everything: writing, learning Wordpress & basic coding, cooking, playing with grandkids, travelling, gardening, making soap & body treats, and getting older. Not necessarily in that order.