May is Melanoma Awareness Month. The sun is getting warmer, evenings are lighter and winter worries are far from sight. However if like me you have recently been diagnosed with Melanoma, or know someone close to you who has- be it early, mid or late stage; exposure to the sun can become an increased worry.
The idea behind Melanoma Awareness Month is not to tell everyone to sit indoors, avoid the sun and mope. We all get told to check our boobs and balls for lumps, so what about our skin? Melanoma Awareness Month is to highlight the dangers of burning your skin, how to recognise early signs of Melanoma (Skin Cancer) and generally learn that it simply could happen to anyone. By detecting the signs early it could save yours or someone else's life. There are ways to avoid over exposure and yes, some sun may be good for you but when you are turning the shade of a lobster in the hottest hours of the day, that is not so cool.
I have collected several resources that may help people to become more aware of the signs especially for younger people like me, because even though a suntan may fade the effect it has on your skin lasts a lot longer. A little friendly advice never hurt anyone and one fact remains throughout my experience, had someone showed me this simple information three years ago I could have avoided a lot of pain, worry and upset; certain aspects of my life would be quite different right now.
To keep all information true this next paragraph is taken from Skincancer.org.
Back to me...
The reason for Melanoma Awareness Month is because of the very last line in that Paragraph- Melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. Skin cancer does not just sit on the surface of the skin looking ugly, it can penetrate deep into the tissue and can spread to lymph glands, bones and most organs, including the brain. Once this happens it is often incurable.
Fortunately my operation removed the Melanoma from my lymph glands, preventing any spread to my organs, since then I have been lucky to receive clear scans for nearly six months. However, should it reach the organs or even bones you are likely to receive a much shorter life prognosis and will undergo various surgeries, radiotherapy and even chemotherapy to try to control the fast spreading melanoma. Is the disease starting to sound a bit more serious now?
There is currently no cure for Melanoma and it will always try to come back. I am faced everyday with the reality that one tiny cell could grow back anywhere, all because it had the time to travel below the surface of my skin, all from a single mole that discoloured, bled and disappeared. I thought that because the mole had gone there was no issue, so did my doctor- how wrong that was. The damage had already been done from the moment it began to change colour and this is why I am writing a blog, to prevent it from happening to anyone else. The hardest part about my situation is that I was never a huge sun worshiper, my skin is fair so I always wore an SPF20- which I thought was pretty high. I will admit I had the odd sunbed before a holiday to 'prepare my skin' for the sun, who doesn't when you are young, having a tan feels great so how can something that makes you look and feel so well- ultimately be so bad for you? Did I deserve this? No.
I'm not saying that being in the sun is bad, lock your doors and never go on holiday again, but I do know that my mole turned bad through exposure to the sun; had I known what I know now that mole could have been removed when the first changes began and Melanoma wouldn't have stood a chance, instead It has changed my life.
So here are several guides on how to check for and recognise moles that could be an early sign of melanoma, not every mole means bad news, but it is up to you to watch them and notice change over time. You can click on the images to be taken to the sites for more detailed information.
Notice any changes in moles and report them to your doctor, don't just take any dismissive answer, if deep down you are not 100% sure it is right- get a second opinion or ask to be referred to a dermatologist or skin specialist.
There is also a really useful way to document a changing mole using your phone, download the 'My Mole Checker' app and map your moles, each month the app will ask you to re-photograph the moles you have marked to highlight any change- this is also a very good way to document skin change and show it to your doctor.
There are lots of useful accounts on Twitter and Instagram for information on Melanoma. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom, if it helps raise awareness then it can't hurt to follow one or two of them. Here are some of the ones I follow for some light advice...
Lastly, here are some general tips to help avoid sun damage potentially resulting in a Melanoma diagnosis...if you have sensitive, freckly or fair skin, this especially applies to you and younger children.
- Use a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
- Apply it approximately 15 minutes before sun exposure - then reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating
Sunscreen is just one component of sun safety. Remember, just because you’re wearing sunscreen, doesn’t mean you can spend unlimited time in the sun.
Wear protective clothing, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
Seek shade when appropriate. Remember that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Use extra caution near reflective environments. Water, snow and sand reflect and magnify the damaging rays of the sun, increasing your chance of sunburn.
Do not burn. Severe sunburns, especially during childhood, increase your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancer. Just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later in life.
Avoid intentional tanning and indoor tanning beds. Current research indicates there is no way to get a tan through ultraviolet exposure without increasing the risk for skin cancer. Not convinced? Read the MRF’s statement on why tanning is dangerous.
Get plenty of vitamin D. Replace vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements if recommended by your doctor – don’t seek the sun.
Be aware of your medications. Certain prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs can increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight, which may cuase you to badly burn in environments you might not usually.
If all this talk of Melanoma has made you feel you cant ever step outside again, you can. Head over to my Sunshine Style post for ideas on how to keep covered up on hot days, yet still look good.