This post is sponsored by Pretty Shady
Did you know 2 in 3 of your friends will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives? I may count as one of those but who will the other be? With some easy precautions you can reduce the likelihood of it happening to you and your friends.
I’m always telling you about the importance of using sunscreen but today I’m sharing with you why I’m so passionate about sun protection. I was diagnosed with skin cancer at just 22 years old, and I hope that my story of skin cancer can help you prevent having one of your own.
Living in Australia means it’s hard to avoid the sun, so it’s up to us to protect ourselves. When I was a child in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s my mother did her best to keep me protected because, as she tells me, her generation had no awareness about the dangers. Despite this, I still suffered a few decent sunburns as a child and it came from a place of still not realising just how damaging it could be if we got a little lazy with the sun protection.
As I got older I became more aware of the effect sun damage could have on my appearance, so I took it upon myself to avoid the sun. I thought avoiding sun-baking was all I needed to do. I was very wrong.
I always asked my doctors, dermatologists and beauticians about the skin-coloured lumps that had formed around my eyes but they were dismissed each and every time as clogged pores or milia. They started out the size of a pinprick when I was a child but kept growing very slowly, so slow that I barely even noticed they increased in size until I looked back at old photos.
Trusting the dozens of doctors I had seen throughout my life I never became concerned about these tiny lumps, except for the fact that I thought they were ugly. Some doctors had told me that if I was so concerned about how they would affect my appearance I could have them removed but that I would need to go under a general anaesthetic for surgery. Due to their location on my eye line, no doctor would dare touch them if I were awake.
I was very lucky when my vanity got the better of me in 2008 and I had a rhinoplasty (nose job). It was my golden opportunity to have those icky lumps removed at the same time. In the pre-operative briefing with my plastic surgeon, Dr Hunt, I told him of my desires to have them removed and he informed me they would be easy to cut out because it’s likely they aren’t very deep. Dr Hunt also informed me that it’s a requirement he send them off to pathology for testing but it’s unlikely they will come back as anything [dangerous].
The surgery went off without a hitch and 4 skin lesions were removed – 1 below my right eye waterline, 1 above my right eyelid, 1 below my left eyelid and a sun spot on my neck. When I returned to my surgeon for the post-operative check over and to remove my stitches I was also informed of my pathology results.
The good news was that 3 of my lumps were of no concern, including the sunspot on my neck. However, that irritating “benign” lump under my right eye waterline was diagnosed as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. My jaw hit the floor.
The biggest shocks about my diagnosis came when I had to learn what Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) was. I had never heard of it before and I didn’t fit a single one of the high-risk markers I later discovered. Despite there being an estimated 2.8 million cases of BCC diagnosed in the US each year, and it being the most frequently occurring form of all cancers, I still didn’t understand how it could happen to me.
Anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop BCC, so if you have ever lived in or visited Australia that instantly qualifies you. But who are the higher risk individuals?
- People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes
- Older people, because this cancer is caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure.
- Workers in occupations that require long hours outdoors and people who spend their leisure time in the sun.
- In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, open sores that resist healing, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications of burns, scars, infections, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.
As we can see, I fit NONE of those points but still, my occasional, limited exposure to the sun without thorough sun protection was enough to cause the damage.
A greater shock hit me when Dr Hunt informed me of just how close lucky I was. Despite it being a rare occurrence, Basal Cell Carcinoma can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow. In my case, I had left mine to grow for over 10 years and I was informed that at the time of removal the tumour was just millimetres away from reaching by eye. Leaving it just a few more months would have resulted in the tumour starting to disfigure my face.
I got lucky. Very, very lucky. I was blessed to have a great surgeon who took the precaution to remove extra tissue just in case but it was pure luck that I didn’t leave my surgery until another day (or year!).
My risk of reoccurrence is extremely high but the protective measures I have in place now should be no different to the ones you have. Whether you’ve had skin cancer or not, you need to protect yourself as if skin cancer is just one summer tan or mild sunburn away. It’s so very simple to stay protected; just 5 easy steps to save your own life, or the life of someone you love.
- Stay in the shade during the highest UV times (10am-3pm in summer).
- Cover up – summer clothing can offer protection whilst still looking great and keeping you cool.
- Apply SPF 30+ broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen and reapply every two hours. Girls – don’t rely on one application with your SPF makeup in the morning.
- Wear a broad brimmed hat that protects the face, neck and ears. Bucket hats, fedoras and floppy hats are great options.
- Wear a great pair of shades with UV protection as your eyes are at risk too.
Using a combination of these methods is the best way to avoid a situation like mine. I want you to join me this summer for the Pretty Shady campaign so you and I can save ourselves from sun damage.
We can be the generation that stops skin cancer!
Have you or someone you love experienced skin cancer? How do you protect yourself from the sun? Let me know by commenting below!