A member shares her story. When I was in high school, there was an unspoken challenge to come back from summer vacation with the darkest tan. I never won, but I tried my best. My friends and I used suntan lotion to try to tan even more, not to protect our skin.Fast-forward about 40 years. I developed a tiny split on my bottom lip almost every summer. It caused me minor irritation, but it was just a small sore, nearly painless, and no larger than the head of a pin, so I didn’t worry about it at first.
But one summer, the spot looked different, so I decided to get it checked out. I went to see a dermatologist, who ordered a biopsy. When the results came back, I was shocked to find out that I had squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer and can spread to other organs.
A week later, my dermatologist performed the Mohs procedure on the cancerous spot. The procedure includes removing a sample of tissue a tiny bit at a time. Each sample is studied under a microscope, and additional tissue samples are taken and checked until the outer edges are clear of cancerous cells. It’s the least invasive method available. For me, it took three cuttings. Every time another section was removed, I despaired.
Following the Mohs Procedure, my lip required plastic surgery. Lots of stitches and pain medication later, I was told the results were excellent, but my lip will never be or feel the same. Some areas are sensitive, others are numb, and the scars are visible. We most likely found my cancer before it spread, but I will live in fear for many years to come.
It scares me to think of what might have happened if I hadn’t had that little spot checked out. Now I see my dermatologist on a regular basis so that if other spots turn up, we can take care of them right away. And, I wear my sunscreen.
Three Things I’ve Learned
- Skin cancer can happen to anyone. It can strike people who live in a cold climate like Wisconsin and people who tend to tan easily and aren’t fair-skinned.
- Sunscreen is not a free pass to tan or be in the sun for hours. Everyone should be vigilant in checking for unusual spots. This is especially true for people who actively tanned or grew up when suntan lotion was used only for getting a deeper tan and not for protection.
- When in doubt, check it out. Don’t ignore a spot on your skin that’s new or that has changed. It could be the first sign of a problem. See a doctor right away and seek a second opinion, if you need to.
Protect Your Skin
- Use sunscreen year-round, even on cloudy days.
- Apply sunscreen generously and reapply often.
- Choose water-resistant sunscreen that’s labeled "broad spectrum," meaning it screens out UVA and UVB rays.
- Seek shade. Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are the strongest.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing that covers most of your skin, as well as sunglasses.
- Protect children, too. Keep infants younger than age six months out of direct sun, make sure their skin is covered, and use an umbrella over their strollers. Use sunscreen on infants beginning at age six months.
The information above is not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have concerns about your skin, please schedule a visit with your doctor or dermatologist right away. You'll be happy you did.