Monday, April 30, 2012

Pale is the new tan

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, in case you need to be told. Most people reading The Ogler don’t. If you’re a regular visitor, you probably know more about melanoma than you ever thought possible. I’m glad to be of service.
There are a multitude of fundraisers and media campaigns in the offing. Most are aimed at making the public aware of the risks of excessive exposure to UV radiation and to hector people into having their skin checked if they notice anything suspicious (do you know the ABCDE Rule?). It’s an idealistic campaign, given that this is but one disease among many that clamor for our attention. I remain hopeful, however, that at least a few people who are oblivious to their risky behavior will take notice, get out of the sun and save themselves some major heartache.

Public awareness of melanoma is definitely on the rise, partly because of its growing incidence--especially among young women. In terms of new cases, melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. If you’re looking for a trendy disease, this may be it. One popular cancer blog has titled itself, "Black is the new pink," as if we were in some sort of demented contest for attention with breast cancer (and its ubiquitous pink ribbons).
Too bad there wasn’t a Melanoma Awareness Month in 2005, which I figure is about when the mole on my leg took off and became the launching pad for the metastatic proliferation of my cancer. I had at least a couple of severe sunburns when I was young and then spent far too much time in the sun as an adult without sunscreen and often without even a hat. Somewhere along the line, one renegade melanocyte picked up a mutation and began to madly multiply.

Sad to say, I don’t remember the word “melanoma” ever being spoken to me until a dermatologist used the M-word in 2006 when he examined what by then was a deformed and ulcerated mole near my left knee. Had I paid serious attention to this mole a year earlier I might have had it removed before it could do me serious harm.
Melanoma is not totally preventable, but careful self-examination and a yearly skin check by a dermatologist should be a part of everyone’s healthcare regimen. If you’re a boomer as I am, it’s cumulative sun exposure over your whole life that is your single biggest risk factor. Just because you’ve wised up about the sun in recent years doesn’t mean you haven’t done genetic damage that could lead to melanoma later. And don’t expect your GP to bail you out; mine didn’t. I had my annual physical just days before I decided that I needed my wayward mole attended to and came back to him with the question, “Um, do you think there might be a problem here?”
So consider yourself warned: Left unattended, a bad mole can seriously screw up your life. When in doubt, check it out.
I’ll be posting this message on Facebook as my meager contribution to Melanoma Awareness Month. Anyone reckless enough to spend long hours in the sun this summer without protection--or, God forbid, frequent a tanning "salon"--might as well take up smoking and texting while driving. Just remember: Your tan won’t impress anyone at the morgue.

I won’t bother to argue the odds of something bad happening from an activity that feels as good as soaking in the radiant warmth of the sun. They may be low, but they aren’t negligible. The fact that what turns your skin brown can later turn it black should be knowledge enough that it’s not worth the risk. Should you see that public service slogan in coming days that “Pale is the new tan,” believe it.

1 comment:

Pascale Lelong said...

Thank you, Peter, for your thoughtful blog. I have been following it since January when I was diagnosed with melanoma. I am currently recuperating from lymphadenectomy of the left groin and contemplating immunotherapy or a clinical trial. I have been encouraged by your exercise regimen and I'm trying hard to get back into shape. I also set aside my compression pantyhose since I found that it hampered my mobility and sense of well-being. 3 surgeries in 2 months have been hard on me. I have olive skin and never worried much about wearing lots of sunscreen when outdoors. I have spent a lot of time hiking in the Washington Cascades and kayaking in Puget Sound. I would get the occasional sunburn early in the season but I was complacent because of my good skin tone. My melanoma popped up out of nowhere and looked entirely benign to my doctor, yet it had already spread to one of my lymph nodes.I am warning everyone I know to be vigilant about any changes on their skin and not to rely exclusively on the ABCDE criteria since my lesion didn't have any of these characteristics. Neither was I supposed to be at high risk for this cancer and yet, here I am.
thank you again for your posts and I wish you all the best in your fight against this nasty disease.