Love Your Skin & Remember to Take Care of It
By JeanAnn Taylor
I grew up in the Sunshine State. My summers were spent at the local community pool, at my friend’s pool, or at the beach. As I basked in the Florida sunshine, I rubbed baby oil on my skin to enhance the rays turning my naturally fair complexion into the most beautiful shade of bronze I could get—and I became gloriously tan.
My teenage goal each summer was to get tan, put on a white halter top, and dance under the black lights at the Planteen—our small, hometown dancing spot. I remember dancing to my favorite songs: “Brown Sugar,” “Maggie May,” and “Rock Your Baby.” Such fun! I had long brown hair that fell past my waist, and like most of my friends, I parted it in the middle and let it hang down on either side of my face. I was a typical 1970s girl.
I had many terrible sunburns growing up. Each spring, our church youth group boarded a bus for a day at the beach. My tender, white skin was not ready for a long day of such intense sun exposure. By nightfall, my flesh began to turn strawberry red, and during the night I could barely tolerate my nightgown touching me.
A couple of days later, tiny blisters developed and my skin literally peeled off. As this was common for many of my friends, I didn’t recognize it as disturbing or unusual. After this initial insult to my skin, I spent the rest of my summers getting less severe, but always too much sun exposure.
Like I said, having a tan was my goal; and it was practically expected in the 70s—especially in Florida. Fortunately, by the time I was 20 years old, I began to understand the dangers of excessive sun exposure. Unfortunately, it was too late.
As an adult, I had my skin regularly checked for skin cancer. Thankfully, only a few small, “pre-cancerous” spots on my arms were found and were able to be removed with liquid nitrogen. Then in 2005, my whole world flipped upside-down. There was a spot on my head, right where I parted my hair as a teenager. It wasn’t alarming to me, but it just wouldn’t go away.
I finally asked my doctor about it, and the look in his eye immediately frightened me. A biopsy revealed that it was cancer, and surgery would be required to remove it. This time, it was too deep to remove at the surface.
I have to say, the surgery was an absolutely horrible experience. As I lay on the table, completely awake and aware, the surgeon cut away at the cancer, which was just above my forehead. The plan was to cut the cancer out, then test the specimen to make sure it was all contained. Unfortunately, the first attempt proved to be unsuccessful.
I had to go through the cutting again. This time my doctor was more aggressive as he realized the cancer had grown “fingers” that had spread out and attached to my skull. I listened in horror as he scraped a knife across my bone to remove any lingering cancer cells. Hours later when the two surgeries were finally over, he had removed a large area of my scalp—all the way down to my skull.
As you can imagine, recovery was painful, long, and emotional. I had to clean my skull every night until the wound finally healed and became a scar.
The “scalping” as I call it, changed me. I went through a lot of pain—physically and mentally. I will always remember the day I stood in front of my mirror and decided that if I could learn to love myself with this ugly hole in my head, I could do anything. In a very spiritual way, the scalping showed me who I really am because I survived something that could have easily destroyed me.
After healing and regaining a new sense of confidence, I began attending cancer awareness events. One particular breast cancer event, however, brought a negative awareness to me. As I walked into the room, I was asked if I had had cancer. I replied, “Yes,” and was handed a rose.
Then the woman asked, “Did you have breast cancer?” I said, “No, I had skin cancer,” and she actually took the rose from my hand! That experience led me to realize how different cancers are ranked in our society. Apparently, my skin cancer wasn’t as significant as someone else’s breast cancer—at least not in the minds of others.
However, here are the facts:
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
Over 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
More than two people die of skin cancer every hour.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined.
Over eight billion dollars are spent treating skin cancer each year.
May was Skin Cancer Awareness month. You probably didn't hear much about it. There probably weren't marches, fund-raising events, or any other publicity affairs. There weren't cute slogans on t-shirts like, “Save Second Base,” “Do it for the Girls,” or “Pink Power.” I bet most people don’t know what color ribbon symbolizes skin cancer. It’s black.
As summer is just around the corner, remember to take care of your skin and never, ever think, It won’t happen to me. Wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Avoid the sunniest time of the day. I’ve come to love my pale, white skin. I don’t even wear fake tan-in-a-can creams any more. Our skin is our largest organ—worthy of care and respect.