As a member of Generation X, I have many memories of my friends and relatives “laying out” in the sun each summer to get a tan. Nowadays people combine that with tanning beds and spray tans. I’m not sure when that “sun kissed” look became so popular (or started trending), but I always think of that kiss as dangerous … especially because my father, Shelly Gerhard, died of melanoma at the age of 65 in February 2009. (You can read about his treatment journey in the article I write for the Laurel Mountain Post here.)
In my family of fair-skinned and light hair, skin cancer runs deep; but we always knew that it had a strong track record on my father’s side. His father had it, but if my Pap’s heart had not given out in his mid-80’s, the doctors said the melanoma tumors spread throughout his body would have taken him from us soon. My father, his father, and the generations of grandfathers who came before were a mix of Scottish and German farmers who spent every day working outside in the sun. You expect a certain amount of damage from that: roughened, wrinkled skin that showed the age and wisdom of living. But for my family, there seemed to also be a genetic component that made it twice as deadly.
Though my dad had regular visits to the dermatologist (dragged there by my worried mother) — and more biopsies and surgeries than I can count — there was one tumor that got away from everyone and spread to his body. Oddly enough, his melanoma never metastasized to form other types of cancer; pure melanomas just kept forming in his chest, brain, and finally his stomach. He fought the brave battle going to both the Arnold Palmer Pavilion in Latrobe and Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh for treatments, but it was the stomach tumor that brought on the sudden turn toward death. Six months later, he was gone.
My sister and I have practiced extreme caution when it comes to the sun, but even avoiding it as much as possible (on top of vigilant sunscreen and other precautions) have not spared us from our problems with it. We have both had several tumor removals, and each been within a razor’s edge of a full melanoma. Each day we carry with us the notion that our family dies younger from it with each generation, despite the advances in healthcare that came during the 20th century … which often leads us to wonder about the ozone layer and climate change or increased exposures to carcinogens as potential factors. Though our environment is a hot, debatable topic, historical evidence has shown that:
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.
1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
So please consider taking some time this month to take care of yourself and focus on the wellbeing by being kind to your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation has released lots of resources to help, but I would like to share the following information to get you started.
Protect Yourself With a Complete Approach
UV radiation from the sun isn’t just dangerous, it’s also sneaky. Not only can it cause premature aging and skin cancer, it reaches you even when you’re trying to avoid it — penetrating clouds and glass, and bouncing off of snow, water and sand. What’s more, sun damage accumulates over the years, from prolonged outdoor exposure to simple activities like walking the dog, going from your car to the store and bringing in the mail.
That’s why preventing skin cancer by protecting yourself completely requires a comprehensive approach. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you:
Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Don’t get sunburned.
Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad- spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating. Find sunscreen by searching our Recommended Products.
Keep newborns out of the sun. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
Get all the details: Your Daily Sun Protection Guide.