Even in COVID world, you can get skin cancer

SPRING is HERE! Lets grab our towels, a cold beverage, and head to the beach... six feet apart!

We all have those stories of our first beach outing of the season, usually all ending with a sunburn and a smile, but this year I am asking people to take their time during this quarantine to think about their skin health before they step outside.

My relationship with my skin health started in my early 20’s. We all think our skin will be beautiful and healthy well into our 40’s, or heck with good genetics maybe our 50’s, but my story started and changed my life much sooner, and I’m hoping my experience will bring inspiration to other young people to start protecting and caring for their skin now.

I was always a sun worshiper, I grew up on a lake town, so our summer days were filled with plenty of sunburn stories. Our favorite yearly ritual was to achieve the “base burn” so that we could reach that golden tan of summer. Flash forward to me at 21, not a care in the world, still loving my summer days, but now perpetually in Santa Barbara as the weather here is almost always great. One day, I noticed what looked like a scar on my right cheek, which was odd, I had never had significant acne there or any injuries… Out of concern I scheduled my first dermatology appointment of my life, thinking it’s just a scar, they can probably give me a cream to fix it, but inside I felt a churning of my stomach and I couldn’t help thinking that something was wrong.

Sure enough, at my appointment the doctor told me my skin looked good, but she wanted to biopsy the scar spot on my cheek. Suddenly, I was 21 with a band aid on my face for weeks in the middle of summer, instead of a girl with that glowing tan. Less than a week later I was told I was lucky, it was a basal cell carcinoma (cancer), and because I had caught it so soon the treatment would be simple. I will never forget that phone call, or the anxiety, just as I will never forget about that band aid I wore again on my face for months after the removal. The deeper and larger scar that is now permanently on my cheek will never let me forget my lesson here. I was lucky! There are many more people out there who have had worse prognosis, but it was my warning to pay attention!

People often ask me why I have chosen to work in a field that deals closely with skin. Well, I love the idea that maybe I can be the person that stops others from an unfortunate diagnosis. We are all at a strange point in our lives living in quarantine, but we have a unique chance to reflect on our habits. With the changing of the seasons, I hope that more people use this time to act and practice good skin health habits.

How can you do that? The first and biggest step would be to avoid being in the sun at peak hours of the day (typically 10am-4pm). If this is unavoidable, be sure to cover up. My go to’s are a wide brimmed hat, an umbrella and loose long sleeve shirts/pants. Being totally honest though, I am not always as covered as I would like to be. I still enjoy a day of beach volleyball or a dip in the ocean, and if that is the case, that is okay too. This is where our sunblock is crucial. I prefer a zinc and titanium dioxide based sunblock, as I have frequently experienced skin irritation with myself and others using chemical based sunscreens. Be sure to apply your sunblock daily and reapply often, even if you are under an umbrella as you can still burn from light reflecting off surfaces. Finally, if you do care for your skin it will reward you in many ways, not only by preventing skin cancers, but by providing you with more confidence as you age. Never forget, the best and most important treatments for your skin start at home.

Have a happy and healthy summer!

Haley Mabery, RN

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