The five things a Melanoma survivor (the darling mom next door) really wants you to know about sun protection…
I am Emily Francis, a 39 year old wife and mother of four children, who was diagnosed last summer with melanoma in situ. I now visit my dermatologist every three months just hoping to catch new melanomas early so I can be here for my children! I am committed to helping get the word out on skin protection and early cancer detection. The following is the list of the top five most important things I would want you to know to better protect your family from sun damage.
1. It’s not just skin cancer. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it doesn’t just stay on the skin. It invades the layers of the skin and travels throughout your body creating tumors and killing you! It couldn’t be more serious, with poor survival rates for those who have late stage melanoma. It is not an old person’s disease either! It is growing quickly among young people as well. My dermatologist says she sees many young moms in her practice who deal with melanoma. I am actually grateful for my large scar and many other small scars on my body because it means I was a one lucky who caught it early. I now have to be vigilant for the rest of my life and catch each and every irregular mole early and cut it out to save my life.
2. No tan is worth it. Oh how I wish I could tell my sixteen year old self this! When I was a teenager we had no idea how dangerous tanning was. Heck, I used to go to the tanning salon with my mom as a mother-daughter date before prom and dance competitions. Well we have now both been diagnosed with melanoma. If you are using tanning booths, please stop. Read the dangers. The earlier you started using tanning booths, the higher risk you are for developing melanoma. Remember, a tan equals skin damage. It’s that simple. You are increasing wrinkles, sun spots and your risk for cancer! Pale is in.
3. Seek shade. This is a tough one. Most of us enjoy lying in the sun to “get a little color”. It’s time to change our mind set. Never lay out in the sun on purpose. Even with sunscreen, always seek shade. Always. Save the time you spend in the sun for activities that require sun exposure.
4. Sunscreen is probably not enough. In addition to quality sunscreen that you reapply often, look for sun protective clothing such as long sleeve cover ups, swim shirts, and of course a hat and sunglasses. Invest in a sun umbrella and take it with you everywhere—the beach, soccer games, and the pool. You can find cute sun clothing, which is rated with varying levels of sun protection, on-line and in sporting goods stores.
5. Make full body skin checks a regular part of your medical routine. Especially if you have a history of tanning bed use, frequent sun exposure, or sun burns at an early age. These all increase your risk. Find a dermatologist and go see them! If they don’t take your concerns seriously and perform a comprehensive skin exam, find another doctor. Your survival rate increases the earlier you catch melanoma. My melanoma started as a new, small and black mole on my upper arm after we returned from a cruise where I “worked on my tan” for a solid week. Melanoma can originate as a new mole or it can develop from an existing mole. So watch for changes in moles that you already have, and watch for new moles that look different than the other moles you have on your body. Another warning sign is any mole that itches, is bleeding, scabs over, or is growing and changing in any way such as size or color. Check on-line at cancer.org for the ABC’s of skin cancer which include Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color, and Diameter.
Take care of yourself and your kiddos. I know being a little more mindful of sun protection and early detection can make a big difference.