“Promise me you will get that checked out the next time you see the doctor. That’s weird.”
I can’t remember exactly when David first spotted the “weird” mole on my back. But once he did, he rarely let it go for long. I usually rolled my eyes at him.
“I probably scratched it with the towel when I was drying my back the other day.”
“It’s just a traumatized mole.”
I believed all my exasperated replies. But, just to appease him, I asked about it when I went in for a check up.
Ten days later, I found myself in a dermatologist’s office in a paper gown, hearing the words “skin cancer.”
You know how some moments are heavy? There is a big shift, a tilting of balance, a record scratch, in that one instant? That was one of those moments for me. I was shocked.
My “traumatized mole” is basal cell carcinoma, the most common kind of skin cancer. Fortunately it is the least dangerous, and very rarely spreads to any other part of the body. I’m not sick; once removed, it is gone. But it will likely come back someday, somewhere else on my skin.
You may have read about actor Hugh Jackman having skin cancer. He has had several basal cell carcinoma removed, so it turns out I have more in common with Wolverine than wild hair when I need a trim.
My daily moisturizer had some sunscreen in it, as does my foundation. (Minimal, but some.) I wear high SPF sunscreen when I go camping or to the beach. My kids wear sunscreen and hats. I consider myself very sun aware – although, I wasn’t always.
I’m 44. Or, I’m slather-yourself-with-oil-and-lay-in-the-sun-because-a-tan-looks-so-healthy years old. I spent my teen summers by our pool, at the lake, riding my bike, and soaking up the sun. I did tan, but only after enduring painful, itching burns first. In the evening, I would douse the flaming, red skin with after-sun cream and hope to heavens that I wouldn’t peel.
By the time I started working with children in my mid-twenties, there was more evidence about the harmful effects of the sun. I applied sunscreen regularly and donned sun hats to model sun safety to the children. Little did I know that the damage had already been done – for me, at least.
The ghosts of summers past had put things in motion. So that earth tilting, balance-shifting, record-scratch moment in the dermatologist’s office? That’s my superhero origin story. I have a new super power. (…Another thing I have in common with Wolverine!)
I am Super Sun Safety Woman.
If I could go back in time and tell 16-year-old me to wear some long sleeves and not to lay in the blazing sun for hours, I would – but, no can do. (Even we superheroes have our limitations.) I CAN help my children, though. I can also tell YOU, and YOU can can help the ones you love. We can make it so that our children will not have to face the same thing at 44. Or 84.
Avoid the burn. Use sunscreen. Reapply. Seek shade. Cover up.
The sun is glorious and energizing and warming and IT CAN HURT YOU.
Super Sun Safety Woman is my destiny. For the rest of my days, I will be seeking shade, applying max SPF, and on the lookout for things to shield me and my family from the sun. But if that helps keep my skin healthy in the future and helps teach my kids the importance of sun safety, I’m ready for it. Bring it. *ka-POW*
I don’t have the date for my procedure yet, but I am looking forward to it simply so I can put it behind me. I haven’t told my kids specifics and I probably won’t – at least not right away. Our family, like so many others, has a sad cancer history and I don’t want to freak them out unnecessarily with “the C word.” Coming right out and saying “I have skin cancer” seems a step too far right now. I will tell them that a mole is giving me trouble and I must have it removed – which is the truth.
Like all good super superheroes, I will leave you with one parting thought: if you have a weird mole or a changing mole or a spot that doesn’t heal, GO GET IT CHECKED. I assumed mine was nothing because I am young(ish) and healthy and sun conscious. I was wrong.
Stay sun safe, everyone. (Maybe that will be Super Sun Safety Woman’s motto?)