The “C” word is one you never expect to hear in reference to yourself, especially when you are at the dermatologist for teenage acne that decided to make an appearance in your late 20s.
That is exactly what happened to me, and I was forced to learn four very important lessons.
Cancer is cancer is cancer.
It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer you have, it is all to be taken seriously.
You would think I would have already known this and not taken things so lightly, but it took a few friends to put it in perspective for me. Although it has already been a year since I was diagnosed, I naturally still get asked about the rather large scar on my back.
I would nonchalantly reply, “Oh, it is just from skin cancer.” Then, one day, two of my closest friends gave me a look and asked me to take it seriously.
I was warned it was a word you could not just throw around lightly because it affects so many people in different ways.
People die from skin cancer every day, and it can be just as serious as all other types.
Sun exposure isn't the only factor putting you at risk.
Being a light-haired, freckly individual, I have always had to be aware of the fact that my skin was one bad burn away from an irregular mole.
What I didn’t know is there were other parts of my health and diet that play a role in my skin's sensitivity and vulnerability to cancer, and it wasn’t just my stupid usage of a tanning bed.
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which affects my insulin levels and overall weight maintenance.
It wasn’t until I went to a nutritionist and we went over my medical history that I became aware of how the syndrome could have played a role in my skin cancer diagnosis.
With PCOS, I am already at risk for low cellular oxygenation levels, but it has been found in several studies that having low levels increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
In contrast, eating foods high in antioxidants has been proven to combat all kinds of cancer.
Using a higher SPF doesn’t cut it.
Growing up in Southern California, I have been outdoors my entire life.
Whether we were wakeboarding on the lake, boogie boarding in the ocean or playing in intense summer softball tournaments, we always put sunscreen on with a minimum of SPF 50.
I know some of you might be calling me stupid at this point, but I truly thought the higher the SPF, the longer you could go without reapplying.
Let me confirm that is not the case. Even if you use an SPF 75, you must reapply every two hours, as there is no sunscreen effective for longer than that timeframe.
You must also be aware that just because you are not turning red doesn’t mean you are not damaging your skin.
If you have had just one sunburn in your life where you blistered, your chances of skin cancer have already doubled. That means most of you should be taking off those clothes and examining those bodies.
Even driving puts you at risk for skin cancer.
I knew I was going to be able to blame the 405 freeway for more than just my road rage.
Some of the most susceptible places you can be in danger are the areas where you don’t think of sun exposure.
The main culprit is when driving your car, specifically the side of your face exposed to the sun through the driver's side window. Make sure to wear UVA/UVB protective eyewear while driving, as your eyes can be extremely sensitive to sunlight.
You're exposed to the sun every day.
Even though I have learned so much about my skin and sun exposure since my diagnosis, there is one important lesson I keep forgetting, or may even subconsciously be avoiding: You must wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days.
There have been many times where I could only be outside for 30 minutes, yet that small amount of time will be detrimental.
Luckily, with research, I have found sunscreens that are beneficial for me and go beyond just protecting me from the UVA and UVB rays.
I am also all about having a two-for-one special, so the fact that most moisturizers are now are tinted and have SPF is something this cheap chick loves.
The one I have just started using is the Target brand, MD Complete. It has broad spectrum protection, contains Vitamin C and helps even my skin tone.
As for sunscreen on my body, I am a big fan of Australian Gold with bronzer. Let's be honest: We all want that sun-kissed skin, with added protection. This product has both.
Although July is UV Safety Month, let this be a reminder that the sun does not take a break, and you should be protecting yourself from those harmful UVA/UVB rays 24 hours a day, seven days a week.