SPF 2, 6, or 8. That is all we had when I was a teenager. I even went through several aluminum/silver blankets they use to sell next to the suntan oils. This great combo along with your willingness, ensured the darkest tan possible. It surely did deliver! I got some seriously dark beautiful tans. I was baking myself like a piece of chicken outside in the hot sun. In college, my roommates and I would line up our silver blankets, crank the tunes, and check out the boys. Life was good! I loved being out in the sun. I loved how it made me feel and look. Never, did I think that this would come back and haunt me.
Decades have passed since those crazy college days. Life goes on and somehow you become really busy with things. For me, I got married, had kids, I worked a couple of jobs, I did all the mom stuff around the house like running errands, paying bills, taking kids where they needed to be. Life consumed my days. The days seemed to pass quickly. All of sudden the years passed and the face I once looked at in the mirror looked older. Gray hairs had taken the place of my once thick dark auburn hair. Wrinkles appeared around my eyes and my mouth. Dark sun spots had found their home on my arms and face. One day, while I was getting dressed, life literally seemed to stop for me. There was a small dot on my leg I never remember seeing before. It was a different color than the rest of my freckles and moles. My mind wandered and feared this could be the years of tanning had caught up with me. My gut instinct was to make an appointment with the dermatologist just to make sure it wasn’t something it shouldn’t be. I was scared to call and I pondered with high anxiety for a few days before I finally made the call.
I did it. I showed up. I was draped in a hospital gown. I had no idea of what to expect. I just wanted it to be over with. The anxiety I was feeling consumed me and I could feel that my hands and toes were cold. The room was plain with the exception of some posters on the wall showing you different types of skin cancer. I tried not to look at it as I already felt like I was consumed with my worry. When the dermatologist came in, he had these google binocular looking glasses on and turned on a bright light so he could examine my skin. He looked in my scalp, in between my toes, and every other square inch on my body. He examined every freckle and mole on my body explaining in medical terminology what he was seeing on my skin so the nurse could transcribe into the computer. I had no idea what he was saying but I didn’t like hearing him talk. When he was done, he explained there was one in particular he needed to have removed. It was that little dot on my leg! He went on to ask if I would want a plastic surgeon because of the size hole they needed to take out of my leg. Unfortunately, a year later I had another one removed from the top of my right foot. Now, it is imperative I go to an annual dermatology exam.
Every choice has a consequence. Good ones and bad ones. Even if it takes years to manifest. I am now considered a high risk. The lack of sunscreen and the mole removals puts me on a list with the dermatologist to come in once a year for an annual skin check. I have nothing to show by working so hard on those tans except wrinkles, dark spots, and scars from cutting moles and cancer risks. I have made a lot of mistakes and bad choices in my life. This is one thing in my life that I wish I could go back and have a “do-over”. I wonder what my skin would look like had I not tanned so much. I know many think a healthy tan looks great but skin cancer is ugly and it can take your life. Therefore, I resolve that your natural skin tone trumps a tanned version. Trust me on that one. I had asked my dermatologist about the tanning beds I had gone in as a teenager. His face told me the answer, but he continued to reaffirm that tanning beds only increased my risks. There is no such thing as preparing your skin with a base tan with a tanning bed to prevent skin cancer/damage. He encouraged me to wear sunscreen every day. The winter and cloudy days count as well. How much? When? It was explained to me that I should be applying a liberal amount every couple of hours. He suggests at least 30 SPF but 50 SPF is now showing in studies to be more beneficial in protecting one’s skin. Watch for the expiration date on sunscreen and make sure it is a brand that covers UVA/UVB rays. I wish I had known all this way back when I was younger.
Wrinkle cream is expensive. Having moles removed is also expensive. Regret is strong. I can’t undo what I have done to my skin but I can hopefully have an impact on others and advocate wearing sunscreen. Nothing you could ever say to me would convince me that tanning is a good thing. Tanning in any capacity is bad for your skin. I encourage all to wear sunscreen. There are those who have higher risks like blonde hair, red hair, lighter eyes, 50 or more moles or a history of skin cancer in the family. You also have an increased chance if you have had one bad sunburn before you turn 18. My annual checkup was yesterday. The Doctor shared that the amount of teenagers he sees in his office is at an all-time high. Malignant Melanoma is no longer an older population disease. I encourage everyone to be aware of what your skin looks like and pay attention to any changes you see; a new mole or any freckle or mole that changes. Pay attention to that one that looks different than the others. See a dermatologist. Wear your sunscreen using UVA/UVB with at least a 30 SPF protection. Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds. Cover up with clothing and glasses.
For those days that I pondered the thought of even calling the Doctor was for the reason of me not wanting it to be cancer. I wasn’t ready to deal with that. Because I didn’t want it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m grateful I went in. Please don’t ignore your body’s signals. Go with your gut always. It is your body’s way of communicating with you. It has been a life lesson for me and I am glad I went in despite my fear. In the end, you have to do you and take care of yourself. Nobody else is going to do it for you. This one is on you.