I wanted to use this post to share something very close to home, and communicate an important form of wellness that many of us forget to practice, especially in the summer months.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. While skin cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, it’s estimated that one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. And of those, some may develop Melanoma, from which one American dies every hour. Skin cancer is so prevalent, so dangerous, and SO preventable – and I think it’s hugely important for people of all generations, but mostly our younger generations, to understand how they can protect themselves and their skin.
When I was growing up, I knew the risks. I just had that whole “invincible” feeling that all teens and young adults have. Yes, I knew my mom had been diagnosed with Melanoma in her lifetime, and yes, I understood that my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin made me even more susceptible to contracting skin cancer. But….I liked how I looked with a tan. So starting in my junior year of high school, to prep for my job at beachy retail store Hollister Co., for junior proms, and for my summer “base tan,” I began “fake baking” in UV tanning salons near my parent’s house in Queens. I kept that bronze skin through my college years at the University of Miami. Beach trips, pool-side study sessions, and endless time in the sun kept my skin looking sun kissed – and I loved it.
I loved it until last February, when I went for my yearly dermatologist exam. I’d been back in New York almost two and a half years and my skin was back to that Northeastern, soft and fair color I grew up with. My dermatologist stopped over a spot in the middle of my back – one that I obviously couldn’t see myself. A quick biopsy determined that it was, in fact, melanoma. Luckily for me, it was T-level “tis” (melanoma in situ), a form of skin cancer that lives on the surface level of the skin, and is very easily treatable. My doctor was able to remove the entire affected region through a small excision surgery a few weeks later. Once the spot was removed, I was cancer free.
I got off easy. I know that now. For the amount of time I spent in the sun, slathering on oil to get that “Miami tan,” the amount of 10-minute sessions spent lying in a UV bed, the amount of times I skipped applying sunscreen for the first hour or so at the beach to get some color – I did more damage to my skin than I can even fathom. For me, skin cancer was one small scare that truly could have been much worse. And for many, it is much worse. That’s why I’m urging everyone to read about the risk factors associated with skin cancer, and learn the little things that can be done to prevent it. These things are as simple as wearing a light sunblock every day (you can get face and body lotions with SPF in them), covering your skin when in the sun (wear a cute hat, stylish sunglasses and shirts that cover your shoulders), examining your own skin each and every month (look for strange freckles or weirdly-shaped moles), and visiting a dermatologist every year for a full skin check.
To be frank, I still like how I look with a tan. So I’ll spray tan before big events, apply tinted moisturizers to my face and legs, and don’t go anywhere without bronzer in my purse. (Need a recommendation on any of the above? I got em – tweet me!) It’s true – I think I look better with a tan. But at the end of the day, I KNOW I look better with clear, fair skin than covered in scars from skin cancer excisions. Even though it shouldn’t be about appearance, I know that was my downfall – and will likely be others’ as well. So remember, you can always #SprayThePaleAway!
Skin cancer is easy to treat, but it’s even easier to prevent. Do yourself a favor: take care of your skin, and you will be healthier, look younger, and live longer.
For more information on skin cancer, visit www.skincancer.org – or ask me any questions you like!
Click here to download a PDF on skin safety in the sun!
See you guys on the beach.