Friday, March 31, 2006

Overexposed

My father, the professional photographer, has been exposed to too much light for too long a time, which is something he taught me not to do to film or my skin.

This morning, I took my dad to the dermatologist to have skin cancer removed from his back. They cut the malignant growth off of his skin and stitched him up, while I read a book in the waiting room. Afterwards, we went out for coffee and a sourcream donut (me) and a sausage, egg and cheese croissant (him). While we sat across the table from each other, he explained that he has skin cancer dotted across the landscape of his face.

His face doesn’t appear to be mottled with lesions. He has a few light brown age-spot-looking marks on his forehead and cheekbones. He had a small growth removed above his eyebrow a few years ago. After a recent biopsy, it was discovered that even though there is nothing visible, malignant cells have returned in the same spot.

His doctor gave him chemotherapy cream, which is to be applied all over his face. The process will take eight weeks, during which time he cannot be in the sun—and his handsome face will get red, blotchy and dry. He is also concerned about the chemo cream getting into his hair, since his doc recommended that he rub it into his hairline. I told him to use one of my sister’s hair bands to keep his hair off of his forehead until the cream dries.

The doctor explained that if he doesn’t use the cream he will eventually be required to have the lesions surgically removed from his face.

My dad said that the he told doctor that his mother was Swedish and his dad was Canadian-born Irish. She explained that fair-skinned individuals can get skin cancer just from walking outside to and from their cars without ever having burned. However, my dad’s skin and scalp were scorched during the war in Vietnam. He and other soldiers spent long stints in the balmy, hot jungle sans sunscreen. He said that they were required to shave their heads even though they continually got burnt.

After seeing what my dad is going through with skin cancer lesions spreading all over his pale landscape, I’m giving up my tanning salon membership. It made the damage I’m doing to my skin become vividly real. Having sexy tan lines might be attractive now, but it won’t be appealing when my skin cells turn deadly in a few decades or sooner.

The tanning salon management has patrons sign warning documents prior to using their facility. They list the explicit dangers of exposure to UV radiation. I signed on the line anyway. I wanted to feel warm and toasty and enjoy the bright lights. The tanning capsules feel like summer. However, after reading Dangers of a Tanning Salon Bronze, I have decided that having a glowing suntan is far less important than vibrant long term health. I’d rather not be an extremely wrinkled mormor. (Swedish grandma) I’ll have to learn to appreciate my Scandinavian skin as it was meant to be, snowbunny white.

*I have tried slathering on caramel coatings of self tanner. See Pink’s video Stupid Girls. Let's not kid ourselves; we all look like an Oompa Loompa when we apply skin shellac. Learn to embrace your natural luminous tone. Every shade of skin is beautiful.

There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is the skin’s response to an injury and every time you tan you accumulate damage to the skin, as well as accelerate the aging process and increase your risk for skin cancer. As long as indoor tanning for cosmetic effects is permitted in this country, there needs to be increased educational efforts informing the public of the risks of this type of tanning.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. It is estimated that 87,900 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – in 2002 and approximately 7,400 deaths will be attributed to melanoma this year. At this rate, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

Malignant melanoma causes more than 75% of all deaths from skin cancer. This disease can spread to other organs, most commonly the lungs and liver. Malignant melanoma diagnosed at an early stage usually can be cured, but melanoma diagnosed at a late stage is more likely to spread and cause death.

Melanoma is the most common cancer among people 25 to 29 years old.


3 comments:

russell.allen said...

That sucks. Hope it all turns out for the best. Had a good friend who had skin cancer. He ended up pulling through, but it makes you look at the sun (or not look) in an entirley different way.

Mark A. said...

Catching it before it required surgery is a very good thing indeed. It really sucks using the cream, but it could be a lot worse. I hope all goes well.

And you're right about the tanning. I don't think of myself as "pale." I prefer the adjective "alabaster" or "ivory." I could care less if I have a tan body. I’ll keep it in shape and keep it out of the sun, that way I know it’ll be around for a while.

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