I've been thinking about writing this post for a very long time. Some things just aren't easy to talk about! (Especially when they highlight your own hypocrisy and disregard for your personal well being.) That being said, I believe it's time....
I found this youtube which is a public service announcement created in Canada by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. (warning, this vid makes me cry...and it might make you cry too...)
Here's my story:
I'm very fair skinned. I was born with red hair...that now fluctuates between brown and blonde and something that sometimes looks red. I have blue eyes and I get freckles...and moles. My skin was not designed for a Hawaiian childhood. My Mother would battle with me at the beach to keep sunscreen on. I'd be in the water all day long - she'd get me to come out slather some lotion on and have me sit on the blanket until she thought it was dry enough and then I'd be off like a rocket back into the water.
When I was 13 I had my first brush with skin cancer. I went into the dermatologist for concerns about acne....it was like the Dr. could barely look at my face because he was so concerned with my skin! I ended up having a full body 'inspection' and he decided that two of my moles looked 'suspicious'. I could go on and on and on about how this particular doctor had the most atrocious bed side manner I've ever encounter coupled with a lateral lisp that makes him sound ridiculous. (Imagine an individual with a lateral lisp saying, 'these moles look suspicious....they may be a basal cell carcinoma' - it's pretty hard to take seriously - but you do because he has his head in your lap with a magnifying glass inspecting your legs.) I ended up going home with antibiotics and retin-a for my face and two oozing wounds on my back. The lab results came back as 'pre-cancerous' - It shook me up for awhile.
Then I hit high school....I was surfing and sunning and camping and hiking. I didn't always take sunscreen with me to the beach....and I did crazy things like mix coconut oil with lotion to use as sunscreen. I sailed on the Makali'i and got such a bad sunburn on my lips that they literally split open and left me with scars.
I left Hawaii and headed off to Maine - the good news is that I really didn't get too many sunburns in Maine...the bad news is that I learned how to sail and spent lots of time on boats....where I got lots of sunburns. I delivered a sailboat from Maine to Rhode Island - along the way I fell asleep on deck - it was freezing cold and I was totally bundled up - but I burned my eyelids and my eyes swelled shut for three days.
With all my time spent at the beach...and on the water....no one would have described me as tan...ever.
When I was 25 (or thereabouts) I got this thing on my shoulder that felt like a scab. It was pale pink and it had a slightly raised edge. I'd worry at it. I thought that it wasn't healing because I kept disturbing the scab. Except then I started to notice that it was getting bigger...and the portion that looked the a scab went all the way around the perimeter. I was sailing in the Persian Gulf at this time. I would wear tank tops and shorts on deck because it was so freakin' hot. I had a shipmate who noticed the spot and started to give me crap about it....he had had his own brushes with skin cancer (ironically he was a haole who grew up in Hawaii, too). I'd come back to work and he'd say 'megalotomus, did you get that checked out yet?!' - but I knew it was going to be bad news so I kept putting it off. It took me about a year to finally go have it looked at.
When I finally went into the Doctor I was 26 and I had a 9mm Basal Cell Carcinoma on my left shoulder. It took twelve stitches to close the incision when it was removed. It was a long slow healing process. It was on a part of my body that stretches and works often - plus, I had to go back to work....where I was really stretching it and working it often.
Here's the part that's shameful. I went back to work in the Persian Gulf and continued to wear tank tops and shorts with no sunscreen. I seldom wear a hat...not only do I get sun on my arms....I expose my scar to the sun. My scar now has freckles.
I was hanging out at the pool in Florida with some guys who ship. I had on my bikini and was just doing my thing. One of the guys says, 'baby, come here and let me look at this...' I wander over wondering what he's referring to. He turns me around and lightly runs his finger down my scar. I say, 'oh, this is my skin cancer scar'. He looks at me like, 'this girl is crazy! Why doesn't she have a shirt on!'....but instead just says, 'oh, honey'....and we leave it at that.
I was at the parade the other day sitting in the hot sun with no sunscreen on, no sun hat on, and a tank top exposing my scar. My Auntie tore me a new one....I gave her some cocka-mi-mi story about how who cares, it doesn't matter, I've gotta live my life and I love the sun...blah, blah, blah.
Here's the thing, I DO LOVE THE SUN! I love the feeling when you come home from the beach and you're sunburned and your hair is crunchy from the salt. You have to take a cool shower because a hot one hurts....and then you lay naked on your sheets because your body is emitting so much heat. I LOVE that feeling. I love when you are laying out in the sun and you can literally feel the sun rays entering your body and warming your insides....when you get up and shake out your towel you literally feel like you're a new person.
Here in Hilo we constantly talk about how we're waiting for the 'big one'. It could be a big volcanic eruption, a big earthquake, a big tsunami, a big hurricane...we all know there will be something big and we're just waiting for it. Sometimes I think that I'm just waiting for the big one. I'm just waiting for Melanoma....a Basal Cell wasn't enough to shake me up.
Even though it's a struggle I am trying to change my school of thought. What I haven't totally figured out is why it is such a struggle. I want to wear sunscreen and cover up....I don't want to be a crazy wrinkley 40 year old....I want to live to a ripe old age....and I really don't want to get Melanoma.
My Cousin Rhiannon is going to participate in the Ride To Conquer Cancer (please read HERE). I'm ridiculously proud of her. Of all the people who have just learned that I don't routinely wear sunscreen - I'm the most embarrassed for her to find out - she's going to Ride To Conquer Cancer - and I can't even slather on some sunscreen.