Melanoma is cancer of the body’s pigment cells; the melanocytes. It’s dangerous- one person in the US dies every hour every day from melanoma. Wherever you have pigment, skin and eyes are the most common sites, you can develop melanoma. Five peeling sunburns in your lifetime doubles your chances of melanoma. If you are a dad, you know to protect your kids from the sun. But you need to protect yourself with sunscreen and a hat and shades so you can stay alive and intact for your kids. I was the poster child in my youth and twenties for what not to do. Learn from my mistakes.
Melanoma is a bugger to treat. There are no radiation or chemotherapies widely available; it’s surgery only. Only a few immunotherapies are available and most are still in clinical trials.
A few years back, I had stage II melanoma. I wrote a book about it.
Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, was published in spring of 2016 by McGann publishing. In the words of Howard Bragman, Chairman, Fifteen Minutes Public Relations:
With a carefully crafted mix of memoir and science, David Stanley takes us on the inside of melanoma; inside the operating and exam rooms, inside his classroom upon his return to teaching, and most importantly, inside his head as he wrestles with the deadliest of skin cancers.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll post excerpts. Here, from the third chapter.
From Chapter Three…
That I should have skin cancer did not surprise me. Born in 1958, sunscreen was only used the first few days of the summer to lay down a ‘base tan.’ The base tan was a mythical beast that gave us “protection” against sun damage throughout the summer. In his cartoon Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau spoofed the 1970s tan craze with his character Zonker, a professional stoner/tanner who won the George Hamilton Pro-Am Celebrity Cocoa Butter Open. During the mid-1970s, we often used coconut oils as tanning accelerants. Tans looked good. Tans felt good. A fact ignored by college students of that era, tans also created permanent skin damage and alterations to our skin’s DNA.
I did not always tan well. I was always a “burn first, tan later” guy. My family roots are from Ukraine and Lithuania. We are a fair-skinned, northern hemispheric people. Those of us with roots at the Earth’s 50th parallel did not have much evolutionary need for high levels of melanin as did my Greek friends from the 35th parallel.
My athletic habits did not help. I was a soccer player through high school and college, out in the sun all day long, often shirtless, all summer long. My summer jobs as a youth soccer coach and lawn mower exposed me to even more sun. Unknown to me at the time, sun damage is cumulative. My youth would catch up with me.
Heck, I tanned. I loved to lay in the sun at the Michigan State outdoor pool when I was in college. There were girls there. Girls who loved to lay out. Very attractive girls in very small swimsuits basking in the sun on a college campus. What college guy would not want to be there?
I even competed in the Charles ‘Lash’ Larrowe Cocoa-butter Classic whilst at Michigan State. Larrowe was an MSU economics professor who enjoyed hanging out at the pool whilst ogling the bikini-clad MSU coeds. What’s a hottie-loving prof to do in the summer? Start a tanning contest.
It gets worse. For most of my twenties, I was an itinerant semi-pro bicycle racer. I was on a bike from 3-6 hours every day, nine months a year. Early season training was done in Florida and Austin, Texas. Latitude 30º South.
Sunscreen? We don’t need no stinkin’ sunscreen.
Now You Know:
There are more new cases of skin cancers caused by tanning booths than there are new cases of lung cancer caused by smoking.