Saturday, January 30, 2010

Island life under a paper umbrella

Ellen and I are planning a vitamin D vacation in March. As soon as winter term is over in cloudy Corvallis, we’ll fly to Kaua’i for a week of adventure on what we’re told is the most beautiful of the Hawaiian islands.

Not to make too much of it, but there is research that suggests that patients with melanoma who have high amounts of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to survive. This news doesn’t tempt me to run out to my neighborhood tanning salon, but it does provide the seemingly contradictory suggestion that just because you have melanoma doesn’t mean you should panic when the sun comes out.

Interestingly, you can’t just pop vitamin D pills to get the benefit. You need exposure to UV radiation—as in sunlight on skin. That’s what synthesizes vitamin D, of which adequate levels are needed for good health. The relationship among sunlight, vitamin D and melanoma is complex, but I’ve arrived at the conclusion that total sun avoidance is extreme and unnecessary. No, I'll go even further: it's just plain wrong.

My oncologist won’t even engage me on the subject. When you’re on the eve of your third melanoma surgery, as I am, parsing subtle scientific findings on the purported benefits of sun exposure is pointless. At this juncture he’s trying mightily to save my life by having cancer removed from my body that we both know can kill. It’s not a theoretical risk.

So, yes, surgery before sun. But then? There will be sun in Kaua’i, and I intend to enjoy it--in moderation, of course. The same can be said for the mai tais served with chunks of fresh pineapple speared by little paper umbrellas.

1 comment:

Paul and Karen said...

Just got caught up on your last couple blog posts. The difficulties in my life are not like the difficulties in your life, but the ideas you're mulling over are the same. I really appreciate your sharing them.
Plus I like your title for this post.