When I was in sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Galva, Illinois, the town built a swimming pool at a new park that was within sight of the school. My friends and I could not believe our luck. In the entire history of the town, nothing as big had ever happened (well, for sixth graders anyway). When the grand opening was scheduled for the day school was let out for the summer, we laid our plans to be the first in line. That’s just what we did. We checked in on the first day and did not leave until the day it closed at the end of the summer. We had so much fun!
That was a long time ago in the days before modern sunscreen was appreciated. Instead of sunscreen the local Rexall Pharmacy sold tanning oils intended to make you tan faster, and there is no way a sixth-grade boy would be caught dead wearing tanning oil. Tanning oil was for girls. It was also before the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) standard existed so there was no way to know how much protection any particular product would give you. It did not matter anyway because neither my parents nor anyone else I knew were aware of the long-term dangers of too much sun exposure. We only knew of the short-term pain of sunburn, and as a sixth grade boy, I could handle that.
In fact, I remember getting large second-degree burn blisters on the top of my forehead and probably elsewhere that summer.
Today I can’t imagine allowing myself or my loved ones to be in the sun unprotected long enough to get burned that bad, because we now know that sun damage can lead to skin cancer many years later. Ever since I learned that fact, and in light of the burns I had during that summer, I have been watching for any evidence of skin cancer. After having such serious burns, I kind of felt like it was inevitable someday.
Well, the inventible has become reality. Two weeks ago my dermatologist cut out a suspicious mole on my right earlobe. At the time he did not think it would turn out to be cancer but the tests came back Melanoma, a potentially deadly type of skin cancer. Fortunately it was found very early and was only on the surface layer of skin. Melanoma gets more dangerous the deeper it gets in your skin. The next thing you have to worry about is it getting into your lymph system where it is most deadly.
Last year I theorized that I would eventually get some form of cancer (see “The Good News About Cancer Treatments”) based on the odds. I was kind of hoping it would not happen until I was a lot older, but I guess if I was to be diagnosed with some form of cancer this early in my life, a small patch of skin cancer is probably better than most. With the small skin patch now removed the only “treatment” will be quarterly full-body inspection by the dermatologist so we can catch any reoccurrence quickly.
Luckily I have participated in the annual Pelotonia event to raise funds for cancer research for four years now. The Pelotonia organization has raised more than $42 Million over those first four years and I am responsible for 0.028 percent of that total!
The theory I presented in my “Good News…” essay last year was that people benefit from the cancer research that has occurred up to the date they are diagnosed with cancer. Once you are diagnosed, you receive treatments that were developed up to that point in time. Either that treatment cures you or you don’t live to benefit from future discoveries. Now that I have been diagnosed, I will now test that theory. We’ll see how long I last. 😉
I am riding in the Pelotonia fundraising bike ride again this year. Watch for my fundraising email, but if you’d like to get a jump on helping discover more and better treatments for all kinds of cancer before you are diagnosed, please view my Pelotonia page and donate generously. You will notice that I have already made my first donation to my own ride. I am looking forward to many more years!