Sun Smart on a Rainy Day

My new mantra: I love my pasty skin.

A few weeks ago, I dragged my family to a local park for a free, skin cancer screening program sponsored by Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. We had visited a dermatologist last year for a full-body exam, but there were one or two spots that required follow-up. Considering how high my co-pays are, I was happy to have the opportunity to get some peace of mind for free. Even if that peace of mind involved the words “age spots.”

It was an overcast, rainy day. While we stood on line, Colette Coyne of the CCMAC (Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign) talked to us about skin cancer. Her daughter, Colette Marie Brigid Coyne, had died from melanoma in 1998 at the age of thirty, and she and her husband set out to increase awareness, especially among young people, about the dangers and causes of skin cancer.

She made a good point about reaching out to children. Years ago no one wore seat belts, but now kids get in a car and remind adults to fasten theirs. If you educate kids, the behavior modification carries on to future generations, as well as influencing some of the “new trick”-challenged old dogs among us. And it’s probably best to get to them before they become teenagers and are influenced by the standards of beauty promoted by magazines, television, and the movies. A desire to look tan often results in baking in the sun or in a tanning bed. Not a good idea.

Colette engaged my son in conversation and presented him with a shirt made from sun-protective fabric (a regular tee shirt offers little protection, and even less if it’s wet), a hat, sunglasses, and a bracelet that changes color in the presence of ultraviolet rays. She directed him to walk out in the rain while wearing the bracelet. He did and it turned purple, despite heavy cloud cover—a powerful lesson that you need to protect yourself even when you can’t see the sun.

We’ve all read or heard about the dangers of ultraviolet radiation. In 2004, I had my photo taken with a UV camera and was horrified to see how much sun damage I had even though I’d never been a sun worshipper. Despite being inundated with facts and news reports about skin cancer, I sometimes think it goes in one ear and out the other. “It can’t happen to me.” In the last few years, however, several people in my extended family, all under the age of 40, have been diagnosed with melanoma. I, therefore, urge all of you to click here now to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and your family. There’s no need to become hysterical or paranoid. With a bit of common sense, some inexpensive items, and a few minutes spent in preparation each day, we can all enjoy healthy lives.

Many thanks to Colette Coyne and her family for sharing their story with us and helping to make a difference. Contact her for information on bringing the Be Sun Smart® program to a school near you.

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45 Comments

  1. Lyn Murphy said,

    August 31, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Great post. Yes, we really need to re-educate ourselves with regards to the danger of sun exposure. I remember when I was young it was the done thing to lay out in the sun to try to get a golden tan. Thankfully I haven’t ended up with skin cancer. But it always alarms me to see people wandering around in the blazing sunlight with so much bare skin showing.
    I love it that Australian schools have now made hats part of the school uniform and even some toddlers are sporting sunglasses.

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I’ve met several Australians over the years who seemed to take the sun a lot more seriously than we do here in the U.S. I swear, if I had it all to do over again, I’d be one of those Victorian women with the big dress and parasol and the really white skin. ;-)

  2. Jess Witkins said,

    September 1, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I am actually allergic to the sun. Have been since elementary school. I get sun poisoning if I don’t use sunscreen and break out in hives. Therefore, I am incredibly absolutely pale beyond any shade of clear. In fact, at times, my legs look rather bluish. They hardly ever see the sun. Though I am the brunt of many jokes about my pasty complexion, in the end I’d rather not have chunks of my skin cut out of me. Don’t want to look at my white legs walking around, too bad, I put up with it, you can too! I’m going to go roll myself in SPF 80 now.

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

      You’re not kidding when you say “chunks of skin cut out.” I was shocked at just how much gets cut out for a tiny spot that is diagnosed as melanoma. Yikes!

      Save some of that SPF 80 for me. ;-)

  3. September 1, 2011 at 12:30 am

    This is a much needed reminder for me. Many members of my mom’s family lost their lives to melanoma, which I’ve always been so quick to attribute to their lives in Arizona . . . even following my own move from Oregon to Los Angeles.

    I need to be a little bit more realistic about my own risk factors, and striving to minimize them. Thank you.

  4. September 1, 2011 at 2:33 am

    People might knock the Pacific Northwest for our persistent cloudiness nine months out of the year, but hey – at least that probably helps a little bit with our risk of contracting melanoma. Thanks for the public service reminder!

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:52 am

      You’re welcome, Mark. I don’t know if I could deal with cloudiness nine months of the year. That might be mood-altering for me. But I’m sure if I tried geoduck, that would all change. ;-)

  5. September 1, 2011 at 3:00 am

    This will be an increasingly important health issue as our pollution has continued to degrade the ability for our upper atmosphere to block sun radiation. Another things our gals Sarah and Michelle deny. I go to the derm twice a year to get a dozen or so burned off. It is interesting that the first place they look is your left forearm. Because that’s what’s hanging out the car window as you drive around all day exposed to the sun.

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

      It also seems to be common on your feet and ankles. I think we probably don’t do as good a job applying sunscreen on those parts.

  6. Richard said,

    September 1, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Anyone who has been around for more than 30 years can tell that the sun on your skin these days is just a little bit more vicious than it used to be. I’m one of those people who forgets about sun screen when I’m out and about, and I need a reminder that it’s not just for the beach. :-(

    Still, having a picture of me on the blog here will help. Thanks for that. ;-)

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:57 am

      I totally agree with you–the sun does feel a lot harsher than it did years ago. And all you guys with shaved heads have to use sunscreen or wear hats.

      Thanks for stopping by, pasty Englishman. ;-)

      • Richard said,

        September 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

        Pasty Englishmen will be all that’s left once the sun has incinerated everyone else. :-)

    • September 18, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Yes there is a dramatic measurable difference. 55 years ago there were several dozen days in that 35F to 45F range in a typical Miami winter. Now rarely a dozen.

  7. Cynthia said,

    September 1, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Good advice. I actually grew up slathered in suncream in the 60s and 70s as my father was an avid sailor and I went with him as much as I could. Now living in Northern Portugal, from March through October my “moisturiser” is an spf 50 suncream, and even during the winter if its a sunny day I will use it – or get a bit burnt if I don’t. Hat, long sleeves, long jeans… I have an unavoidable farmer’s tan (face, throat, forearms) but the rest of me is rather amusingly lily white. If ever I wanted to wear a bathing suit I would feel silly, but better silly than sick or worse.

    • September 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

      I look much the same. My face, forearms, and the vee of my chest have some color, and freckly sun-damage. The rest of me is blinding white.

  8. Girlboxing said,

    September 1, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Margaret,

    Thanks for this. It’s one thing sort of knowing it, it’s another to realize how deadly skin cancer can be, even for young people. That’s why your post is so important for everyone to read!

    Best!

  9. SuziCate said,

    September 1, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Great post. Good to educate our kids. They also learn by example. When I was young, I remember watching my mom and other women bake in the sun with a mix of baby oil and iodine slathered all over! Glad I learned (later, but better late than never) that was not the way to live my summers!

    • September 1, 2011 at 9:02 am

      I remember the baby oil days. I do remember my parents and grandmother slathering me with Coppertone, but I’m not sure how protective that even was back in the early 70s.

  10. September 1, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Timely. I see the dermatologist tomorrow. I have the number 1 skin type for skin cancer and I live at altitude: a deadly combination. But I have hats that make me fee (if not look) like Jackie O.

  11. Lenore Diane said,

    September 1, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Excellent reminder for some – and a wonderful public service announcement for others. As a mom to two – blonde/blue eyed boys – we are obsessive about sunscreen. I am always amazed how many people think I am being overly cautious when I apply the sunscreen. I’ve had people say to me, “A tan is good. It protects the skin.”
    What? Really? I need to direct them to your article.

    • September 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

      As they say, “tanned skin is damaged skin.” Sure it looks good now, but in a few years when your mate mistakes you for his cowboy boot, not so attractive then.

  12. Jessica said,

    September 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Good on you! I’ve had four moles removed because of sun damage/irregular cells. It’s nothing to mess with, that’s for sure!

  13. September 2, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Margaret: Thanks for creating the buzz re sun protection. Speaking with your son and family – a perfect example of how each of us can spread the word regarding protecting our skin. You have taken the message a step further. Unfortunately Skin Cancer/Melanoma is an under publicized and under funded disease.
    Let’s hope others follow your example!
    Colette
    http://www.ccmac.org

  14. bronxboy55 said,

    September 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    It seems that in one generation, we’ve gone from worrying about almost nothing to worrying about almost everything. It’s hard, sometimes to sort it out and separate the legitimate information from the alarmist nonsense. Posts like this help a lot. Thank you, Margaret.

    • September 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      It’s so true. Life is too short to waste in a state of panic, but a bit of common sense goes a long way. Thanks for popping in, Charles.

  15. huffygirl said,

    September 3, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for sharing such an important message Margaret. I cringe when I see people going to tanners- our regular every day sun exposure is doing enough damage, without paying for more.

    • September 3, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks, Huffy. In my neck of the woods, it seems like the George Hamilton look is becoming quite popular. I don’t know whether they’re using tanning beds, self-tanners, or spray tans, but it’s quite obvious it’s not natural.

      I hear some states are regulating minors’ use of tanning salons. It’s weird that the government has to get involved in that. You’d think parents would have more of a clue these days.

      • huffygirl said,

        September 4, 2011 at 7:01 am

        When my son was a teen, sometimes he’d spend the day with a friend, and the friend’s mom took them all to the tanner. I was horrified that she was indoctrinating her teen to tanners, and that she took my son without permission. Fortunately the tanning bug did not catch on with my kids.

        Now I work in a clinic for people without insurance and am constantly surprised when I see that some of my patients are regular tanner users. They can’t afford their prescriptions but they can afford the tanner? Argh!

  16. lulu said,

    September 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Like many other non fair skinned people, I probably haven’t been as careful as I should be about skin protection though I am fully aware of the possible consequences. The same is not true where my kids/grandchildren are concerned. I’m always reminding them to use sunscreen, wear the sun shirt, etc. Wonder why I’m more protective of them than myself.

    • September 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Interesting, Linda. I used to ask myself the same question post-pregnancy. While I was pregnant, I was so good about eating the right things, but when it was just about me, I didn’t take as much care.

  17. September 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Thanks for raising such an important issue. I was diagnosed with melanoma when I was 29. I have very fair skin and got some bad sunburns as a kid. I’m lucky, though, and have been clear for years, due to great care and ongoing screening.

    I am militant about sunscreen on my kids. I know some people think I go overboard but I don’t care. It doesn’t take much to do horrible damage.

    • September 5, 2011 at 11:11 pm

      Wow, Kim, I didn’t know that. I’m so glad that you’ve been clear. Thanks for chiming in. I don’t think there’s any such thing as overboard once you’ve had that experience.

  18. Melinda said,

    September 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Great idea to get screened. In my early 30s I had a suspicious mole my doctors said just changed because of pregnancy. Luckily I went for a second opinion. It was premelanoma and would have been cancerous within a few months. Luckily I went with gut instinct. Better to err on the safe side.

    • September 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      That’s scary, Melinda. I’m a big believer in going with your gut. It’s amazing how many of these cases occur in people under 35.

  19. Kemi said,

    September 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing. Last year, we went to Orlando and my husband (who is black like me) got sun burned! Before then, I naively thought black people couldn’t really get burned. My. What an eye opener! Now we’ve got sun cream and all around the house. My kids have it in their school bags too. K

    • September 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Live and learn. :-) Interestingly, I saw a statistic that said while African Americans (it was a U.S. statistic) are less likely to get melanoma than Caucasians, they are more likely to die from it because it is not diagnosed at an early stage. So, you keep slathering yourself with that sunscreen, Kemi.

  20. Stacia said,

    September 13, 2011 at 3:20 am

    A friend of mine died from melanoma in 2009. I started getting checked because of him, and at the first appointment, the doctor ordered something removed and biopsied. Even though I knew this had happened to my friend, I was shocked to have it happen to me. But because of him, because of the tough battle he fought, I am fine.

  21. duckofindeed said,

    November 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I don’t go outside often, but when I do, I really need to do more to protect myself from the sun. I hate sun tan lotion, but if it makes me less likely to get skin cancer, it’s worth it. It’s just…so messy.

    • November 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      I know. It’s messy and takes time to put on correctly. I like the spray lotions for the summer time when you have to protect your entire body. They’re a bit easier.

      I use moisturizer with SPF every day, no matter the season, on my face and neck.


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