Sunny Side Up
I used to be a lifeguard. I never wore sunscreen. Instead I lathered up with concoctions made of baby oil and iodine. My skin would burn and peel. I’d refry and reapply. When it wasn’t sunny, I’d visit a tanning salon. At 19, I purchased a tanning bed, my own personal cooker to get that dark beautiful skin I desired – with no tan lines.
I tanned this way for 14 years, and then moved to Florida and started a family. I wanted to be a good Mom so I religiously lathered sunscreen on my two daughters. I didn’t want them to end up all freckly like their mother. My dermatologist said my freckles were not beauty marks, but sun damage!
At 41, I noticed a freckle on my chest about the size of a tiny sesame seed. It looked like all the others but it itched, and when I scratched it, a tiny scab would fall off. Now mind you, this was such a small area that I wasn’t worried. I ignored it for about 9 months before I finally made an appointment.
My dermatologist is fabulous. She gave me a thorough check up. And when I say thorough, let me be clear- there is no place that the sun can reach that she didn’t. I learned the hair on my head can actually hide lesions and melanomas. No place is really safe- especially if you used a tanning bed like I did.
The exam was an eye opener. She took a biopsy from my chest, my arm and another off my lip. Don’t know what a biopsy is? Be thankful. The incision itself doesn’t hurt- it’s the shots in and around the area to numb it that bites. Imagine getting long needles shoved into your lip, and not for the purpose of making them look like Angelina Jolie. That’s why biopsies are done- to send back a sample of your skin to have it examined for cancer cells. There are three main kinds of skin cancer – the worst being melanoma. The second type is squamous cell carcinoma; this type attacks the skin’s middle layer of epidermis. The third and most common form is basal cell carcinoma which accounts for more than 75% of all skin cancers diagnosed.
I left the office that day looking like a piece of Swiss cheese. I prayed for good results. I didn’t want to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma which attacks other parts of the body and organs. When left untreated, it can be fatal.
I waited a week for my results. Those seven days were filled with a lot of “what if’s”. What if I waited too long? What if I don’t live to see my kids grow up and marry? It made those days spent basking in the sun look pretty trivial in comparison.
When the results came in, I was incredibly relieved to find out it was basal cell carcinoma. I know; most people wouldn’t want to hear that they had any type of cancer, but when you’re concerned it could be melanoma, the other options sound pretty darn good. I was prescribed a topical treatment for my chest and arm. (She was able to surgically remove the cells from my lip so that didn’t require further treatment.)
Imiquimod is a topical skin cream also known as Aldara. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s used to stimulate your body’s immune system and basically bring up all the “bad cells” to the surface. I used it. If you look at my picture you’ll see how my skin responded. I put the recommended pea sized drop of the cream on the tiny biopsied area and this occurred. The warning label says it may look worse before it gets better. Boy, I’ll say! Redness, crusty skin, oozing, scaling, itching and bleeding were reactionary symptoms I endured. But according to test studies in their Abstract, I’m in the 2 percentile of patients who have this happen. My skin looked and felt like I had third degree burns! My dermatologist and I decided to stop this treatment and I am due to have another biopsy next month. Wish me luck that I’m free and clear.
My irresponsibility and neglect of my skin has given me the biggest scare of my life. I would hate to think I might miss my little girl’s 7th birthday this year because I wanted to have a tan when I was 17. God gave me a second chance. I’m going to cherish it, and protect it diligently with sunscreen and common sense from now on. I hope you’ll do the same.
Types of Skin Cancer: http://video.about.com/dermatology/Skin-Cancer.htm
Aldara for the treatment of Skin Cancers: from About.com Skin Cancers- http://skincancer.about.com/od/treatmentoptions/a/imiquimod.htm