Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting Squamous

Well the chickens have come home to roost.

I grew up during the fifties and sixties in the Chicago suburbs. I spent most of my childhood outdoors playing baseball, basketball or just hanging out at the beach. For several years I caddied at the local golf course, sometimes putting in two rounds a day. In spite of my mother's warnings I never used skin block. I didn't like the feel of oily lotion on my skin.

To be fair, information about the long term effects of excessive sun exposure was not prevalent in those days. We were much more aware and threatened by nuclear war and polio. I remember
school wide practice drills to prepare us for a possible nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. We would hide under our desks or be herded down to the bomb shelter. I also remember the first time polio vaccines were issued in school. This was a truly virulent and devastating disease that struck people of all ages. In fact, at the time the vaccine was so new that it was still being tested. Many students in my school received a placebo.

The sun was our friend. It brought spring to life. It embraced us. Its warmth was an especially comforting and welcome relief for those of us living in Chicago. More daylight meant more time to play. And, even more importantly, it was fashionable to have a deep tan. I also had a mild case of psoriasis which spread over more of my body as I grew older. I found that the sun, and its UV rays, provided a short term cure for my discomfort.

It wasn't until many years later that I came to understand excessive sun exposure has an insidious affect on the skin. In fact, it may be twenty years before the damage manifests itself.

A couple of years ago I became aware of a small red spot on my chest that would not heal. I went to a dermatologist who performed a biopsy. A couple days later he informed that I had a basal cell carcinoma. I had a mild form of cancer. He removed it the next day. But since, I have had three basal cell carcinomas removed, and, most recently, a squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell cancers are more invasive and the procedure left me with several stitches on my forehead. I will have a small scar in its place.

There may be some question as to whether sun lotion can prevent skin damage. There is also some debate over whether the effects of global warming has made the sun more powerful. But there is no dispute that moderate sun exposure will reduce the chances of skin cancer. This means limiting one's time outdoors, or, at least, covering up.

We baby boomers are hitting 60. And now skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer today. Thankfully it is treatable, especially if detected early. So, no matter your age, get a regular check up.

Take it from me. I'm the guy standing in the shade wearing a hat.

No comments: