Sadly, being diagnosed with one type of cancer does not make you immune to other cancers. Radiation treatment can lead to an increased chance of thyroid and skin cancers. Certain genetic mutations mean that some women are prone to getting both breast and ovarian cancers (see: Angelina Jolie). Because my dad was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012, I am at an increased risk of skin cancer, too.
It didn't help that I lived in Hawaii from 1982-85 (although it is still my happy place, sunshine be damned), sandwiched by stints in southeastern Alabama (more sunshine). Later, in high school, I lived in Florida and spent almost every weekend at the beach or the pool. And then a bunch of us in college used to get set for spring break with weekly visits to a cheap tanning bed up the street from our university. For a base tan, we told ourselves.
Then we sat on a catamaran in Jamaica and got fried anyway because base tans don't protect against burns, it turns out. I mean, look at this godawful "tan" line of mine, circa 1998 in Jamaica. (I should have at least kept wearing the same swimsuit every day. Oh, the advice I would like to share with my younger self...)
Here's the thing: I don't remember ever wearing sunscreen until my twenties, although I must have. Right...? Mom?
These days, I'm religious about it, especially living in Arizona. And I am always hopeful that the damage hasn't already been done. Because wouldn't that be the pits? To survive stage four breast cancer only to be taken down by a wayward mole?
So when a spot on my nose started looking weird a couple of weeks ago, I made an appointment with a dermatologist. This spot was pink and looking pinker, and I strongly suspected basal cell carcinoma. Because that's where my mind goes after what I've been through. And even though basal cell carcinoma is a highly treatable form of skin cancer, it's still cancer. On my face.
Except it wasn't. It isn't. The spot on my nose is a sun spot (so damage, yes) combined with a broken capillary underneath that is making it appear pink. Nothing a little concealer can't hide, or -- if I'm feeling really vain -- have fixed by laser treatment down the road. I had a full body scan, too, and everything looks okay.
I was a nervous wreck undressing for that doctor, though. Because I couldn't help thinking about how horrible it was to hear, "You've got cancer," the first time. I was scared out of my wits about living through those three words again.
So here's my little public service announcement: wear sunscreen. Every day. Put it on your kids, too. Don't go to tanning beds, ever. Maybe cover up a bit if you're going to be on a catamaran in Jamaica and drinking too much rum punch. And -- as always -- even if you seem crazy to everyone around you, if something seems weird on your body, please please please get it checked out. Please.
You can now go back to your regularly-scheduled programming.