Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sunblock Gone Bad

Every now and then, I have to lighten things up.  I ran into a piece on the Huffington Post that showcases Sunblock Failures.  While most or just odd, I thought I'd share a few that actually gives a little sunscreen advice.  Enjoy:

1.  If you wear sandals, don't forget to apply sunscreen to your feet!

2.  When applying sunscreen to your back, realize you can't reach your entire back by yourself!

3.  Wear a hat.  But, um...also wear sunscreen!

Photos:  Copyright © 2011 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Witnessing Ignorance During A Good Haircut

My family and I went to our family haircut this past Saturday morning.  Yes, despite having all different hair styles, we tend to get our locks cut during the same hour-long appointment every six weeks.  It works out, it’s convenient, and it’s a money saver.  But I had a little issue with my recent appointment.  Oh, there’s nothing wrong with our hair cuts.  The lady that cuts all our hair does an incredible job and we’re very happy with how we look when we leave.  Even my mother-in-law goes to this gal.  No, my current personal dilemma is related to the fact that the business is a hair styling…and tanning salon.
For the most part, I’ve somewhat ignored the coffin-like beds in the back rooms.  They’re there, but they seem rarely used.  We’ve been going to this establishment for a number of years and I never recall anyone using the beds, until this past Saturday.
An older lady that looked like she was in her sixties was the patron of the tanning service.  She was dressed in a sleeveless blouse and shorts…appropriate for the mid-90 degree heat of central North Carolina.  I could see that her skin was deeply freckled and she was quite tan.  Very tan in fact.  I wondered why she even wanted to use the bed…she was THAT tan.  Her appointment was short…less than 15 minutes.  As she left, she asked if she could come back on Monday.  It turns out that they were going to be closed this Monday, so she immediately made an appointment for Tuesday.
After she left, one of the hair stylists asked the other why the lady was so anxious to return for another tanning session.  It was stated that she was going to the beach for the Independence Day weekend and wanted to get a base tan.  She’d been visiting the tanning bed every day for the past week.
I kept my mouth shut.  While I don’t agree with the use of tanning beds, they ARE legal and it’s the responsibility of each person to decide whether they should use them or not.  (I’ll not get into the tanning for minors debate right now).  This lady obviously decided she “needed” that tan…it’s her choice.  It’s a stupid choice.
I wasn’t mad at the business.  They have every right to have such a business, and I can only assume they run it well within the law.  They seem like really good people, and I won’t judge them based on my personal disgust at the tanning industry.
I was mad at the woman.  Not at the personal choice to make her freckled (and I saw a couple moles) skin look more leathery…but at the example she’s making of herself.  I’m sure she has a child and possibly a grandchild (or maybe she wasn’t as old as she looked)…someone that looks up to her.  She’s setting an example that tanning is okay.  I would bet she’s had a couple pre-cancerous or basal cell carcinoma spots removed in her lifetime…and thus has solidified her opinion that skin cancer can simply be cut out.  It infuriated me to witness her disregard for what she was doing to herself, but more so to the image she was possibly portraying as acceptable to others.
I’m not a picket sign-welding activist type by any means.  My written speech is more effective and clearer than my spoken word.  I almost wish I would have said something to this lady, but I didn’t.  I have to wonder if I can keep my mouth shut during a future appointment should someone else seem to make poor decisions.  I don’t want to jeopardize my family’s acceptance into this hair salon, and I respect our stylist too much as a friend to want to do anything to affect her business, especially in this economy.  This is my dilemma.
Most likely I’ll continue to be quiet, but I’ve realized lately that the word NEEDS to get out more than I share here.  I love sharing my thoughts, and sharing information via my Facebook page.  I don’t plan on stopping for a long time.  At the same time, I wonder if I’m preaching to the choir.
I have some thoughts of how to change that…of how I can get the word out and help to educate those who need to be educated.  I won’t share just yet, but I’ll announce it soon.  (I learned after announcing I would have t-shirts available soon that there are unforeseen issues lurking about.  On which, by the way, I’m still working).  In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your stories on getting out the word…of increasing the community’s awareness of skin cancer and melanoma.
Keep spreading the word while you keep spreading the sunscreen!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chemicals in Sunscreen

I had a conversation with a good friend today who shared a story about her daughters' visit to the beach with their grandparents.  She said that they all had a good time and the grandmother had a glowing report on the girls' behavior in general.  But then she said one interesting thing...that one of her grand daughters uses too much sunscreen.  "I told her she just loads it on, she's not going to get a tan at all."  Needless to say, my friend responded to her mother with "Yeah, and she won't get burnt either, and therefore lessens her chances of gettng skin cancer."  (Atta girl)

She went on to mention to me that her fair-skinned daughter has "endured teasing from friends and people who just think their comments are funny, considered it, and at the cusp of teenagerhood has decided that fewer wrinkles and a lesser chance of skin cancer at 50 is more important than a tan now."  (Atta girl..again)  It's sad to think that we have to fight not only ignorance about skin cancer, but peer pressure as well.

But the point I wanted to bring up is that the grandmother apparently muttered something about "chemicals" when discussing the use of sunscreen.  This is an arguement/opinion that I've heard before, so it prompted me to dig into the article I linked in my last post.  Here's what the article had to say:

With regard to ingredients, many dermatologists recommend products with micronized titanium or zinc oxide as the most effective sun blockers that leave no white residue on the skin. There is some concern, based on animal studies, that the most popular ingredient in sunscreens, oxybenzone, may disrupt natural hormones, but the scientific evidence is scant.

Another chemical, retinyl palmitate, sometimes listed among the inactive ingredients, has been linked to skin cancers in animal studies. Because it is converted into a compound that can cause birth defects, it should be avoided by women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant.

However, although more studies of these possible risks should be done, Consumer Reports concluded that “the proven benefits of sunscreen outweigh any potential risks."

- NY Times

Chemicals in any lotion or cream is a valid concern...so I won't downplay anyone's fears.  At the same time, one has to learn that sun exposure can be a deadly thing as well.  A "simple" sunburn can have major consequences.  So if you have a fear of sunscreen chemicals, seek reliable natural alternatives.  Stay in the shade...wear protective clothing...wear a proper hat...research "natural" sunscreens (if they exist and are reliable).  Don't assume a "base tan" provides ample protection...it doesn't.  Whatever your choice...be sun smart and sun safe!

And to my friend's mother, I'd say, "your grand daughter isn't the palest girl on the beach, she's the brightest girl on the beach!"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All About Sunscreen

I was going to write an information piece on the new sunscreen rules (to be applied next year) but I ran across an article in the New York Times that explains it far better than I ever could.  The important thing to realize is that we probably don't put on enough sunscreen now...so make sure to reapply it every two hours.  Also, don't just apply it when you go to the beach or an outdoor activity...make it a part of your daily routine.  If you work indoors like me, spray it on in the morning to prevent "commuter tan."  Take a can with you to spray if you go outdoors at lunch, and reapply before commuting back home.

But as I said, the following article has so much more to share, so please read!


Monday, June 20, 2011

Cat's in the Cradle

A personal note…this post really has little to do about melanoma or skin cancer, but is a memory of my brother Jeff who is the inspiration for my blog site and current awareness campaign. 
Typically, a posting with a song title is more likely found over at the Hotel Melanoma (check out Rich’s blog if you haven’t yet, and prepare for some toe-tapping).  The title of this posting is indeed that of a song, but it has further meaning for me.
A little over a year ago, I had a dilemma.  I had only a limited amount of vacation days at work, and two out-of-town events to which I was invited.  One was a family reunion, but technically not my family.  A couple years after my mother died, my dad married a wonderful lady named Kitty.  Apparently her family, the Finch’s, held a family reunion every two years, and my dad asked me, my wife and my kids to attend the one scheduled in June, 2010.  I really don’t know Kitty’s family at all and wasn’t sure I wanted to drag the family 6-plus hours to West Virginia to spend a day or two with strangers.
The second event was my 30th high school class reunion.  I had attended a different university than many of my high school friends, and then my life and career path took me on a far different course than theirs.  While I kept sporadic touch with few acquaintances over the years, I essentially lost touch with many friends from my past.  I might have had little interest in attending the reunion, but Facebook helped me reconnect with many, and the temptation to go back for the reunion was strong.  I knew my wife would be bored with the events and my kids would not have wanted to hang around daddy and some other old people.
I wanted to attend both, but again, my vacation days only allowed me to attend one.  For me, it was a toss-up.  Spend time with family that, while our time together is rare, I’ll most likely see again soon…or visit old friends I’d not seen for decades.  At times when I had trouble making such a decision, I’d call my brother Jeff, so I did.  He shared some of the good times he had at his class reunions and also mentioned that he went to the Finch reunion two years prior and had a pretty good time.  Well, at least he would be there…but still I was undecided.  Then Jeff said four words…”Cat’s in the Cradle.”
My dad was 76 last spring.  While he was in generally good health, he wasn’t getting any younger.  Each time I saw him…at a frequency of every 3 to 6 months…he appeared to age every bit of it.  His advancing aging stopped somewhat when he met Kitty…she reinvigorated him quite a bit after his depression following Mom’s death.  Still, he was 76…and this is what my brother was referring to.  Essentially, it was much like the Harry Chapin song.   The father-son relationship in the song is such that the father is always too busy to play with his son time, yet the son continues to admire the dad.  And when the father suddenly has more time later in retirement, his son is grown and too busy to spend time with his dad.  What my brother was hinting at was that I should pick the family reunion and spend time with Dad…because we really didn’t know how much time we all had together.
I decided on the Finch reunion.  And I had a great time.  But the best part was that I got to see my brother and his wife for the first time in a few years.  Sure, I met a bunch of Finch family members that, honestly, I can’t remember now.  But I remember playing cornhole and passing Frisbee with my brother.  I also recall that he and I spent the morning together before the picnic sharing a hobby we both enjoyed…geocaching.  I’ll share a few stories about that another time, but the thing is, we spent about three hours together doing this activity.  Waking up early in the morning like a couple of fishermen, we headed out on our quest.  And we had a blast doing it!  In fact, I can’t recall anything we’d done together like that since we were kids.  My dad even made note of the fact, and commented how much it pleased him to see the two of us bonding and spending time together.
I suppose you can guess the irony of all this.  It wasn’t dad who I might not see again…it was Jeff.  The reunion was June 19, 2010…about a year ago.  That turned out to be a fun reunion for my family, and a special day personally with my brother.  It also was the last time I saw my brother healthy.  I talked to him weekly, and I saw him once more before he died of Stage IV melanoma, but that day one year ago was truly special, and shall continue to be. 
“We sure had a good time then, Jeff, we sure had a good time then.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's The UV Index Where YOU Live?

You may have noticed that I attached a UV Index gadget to the top left of this blog.  (Thanks to Melissa of “Melanoma Sucks” for sharing this).  If you enter your zip code, it’ll take you to the EPA website where it will present your UV index for the day.  Gadgets are cool.
But what exactly is the UV Index?  I consulted the Google-Gurus and found this excerpt from the NOAA and National Weather Service:
The UV Index is a next day forecast of the amount of skin damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth's surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky (solar noon). The amount of UV radiation reaching the surface is primarily related to the elevation of the sun in the sky, the amount of ozone in the stratosphere, and the amount of clouds present. The UV Index can range from 0 (when it is night time) to 15 or 16 (in the tropics at high elevations under clear skies). UV radiation is greatest when the sun is highest in the sky and rapidly decreases as the sun approaches the horizon.  The higher the UV Index, the greater the dose rate of skin damaging (and eye damaging) UV radiation. Consequently, the higher the UV Index, the smaller the time it takes before skin damage occurs.

Below is a chart showing the minutes to skin damage chart, depending on the UV Index and how easily you sun burn:

What this basically says is that if you “usually” burn and the UV Index is at “7”, you’ll start seeing sun damage at around 28 minutes.  If you “rarely” burn, then you’d start seeing sun damage at 70 minutes.
Anything that indicates that one should wear sunscreen is a good thing.  The UV Index for Raleigh today was 11+ (that’s as high as they post), so it was definitely a day to wear sunscreen.
What I don’t like about the chart above is the suggestion that it’s okay to wander around in the sun unprotected for the minimum time listed.  I think this gives a false sense of security.  It’s best to simply tell everyone to wear sunscreen despite the UV Index.  Anyone who ventured outside in Raleigh today at noon who might “sometimes” burn probably would not have wanted to be unprotected in the sun for the 30 minutes implied as safe.  It was hot, sunny and not a safe place to be without sun protection.
Below is another chart I found which seems a little better:

This one doesn’t distinguish between skin sensitivity, but it pretty much just says if the UV Index is high, seek protection.  What I don’t like is the recommendation for UV1 or UV12, “No protection required!”  I guess living in the south, I can’t imagine too many days where no protection is required…and if such a day does exist, I’d probably want to keep my shirt on anyhow.
One thing I read on the EPA site is that once the UV Index goes above 6, a UV Alert is issued.  Okay, when I imagine an "alert," I think of an announcement that's important and wide spread.  As I said, the UV Index today was 11+, and yet I saw no evidence of an alert.  I don’t get the daily paper, so it might have been in there.  But I do watch the local news and check out the websites.  Neither had one bit of information about the UV Index short of a link buried deep within other links such as local lake levels and historical hurricane maps.  I emailed one local TV station to ask why they don’t post the UV index…once I hear something, I’ll post their response.  I suspect that they might say that the UV Index is posted for only the noon hour each day (true) and that it’s not a true reflection of the entire day’s sun exposure, therefore they don't report it.  Or they might simply state that, at least in this area, there’s an alert every day in the summer months, so why constantly post it when there’s nothing “new” to report?  I certainly hope the latter is not the case.
The UV Index is not a perfect tool, but again, anything that gets a person to consider the consequences of going into the sun unprotected is a good thing.  So feel free to type in your zip code and determine how strong the “burn” is in your town.  Either way, wear the sunscreen!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don't Be Merely Informed, Become Aware

I think we’ve all encountered this person at one point in our lives.  It’s the person that moves into the neighborhood and talks about how everything is better “back home.”  It’s the new colleague that just graduated and is full of all the theories that’s been learned and how your years-of-experience is all wrong.  It’s the good friend that seems to berate all that you hold dear.  They might have great intentions …but they don’t REALLY get it.
Now you probably think I’m getting ready to rant about those who don’t listen to sun-safe advice…the ones that visit tanning beds despite the increased notices that it’s a dangerous and deadly practice.  Sure, they can fall in this category. But in this case, I’m talking about…well…me.
I started this blog a few months ago as a way to deal with the grief associated my brother’s passing.  I figured if I continued telling others of the dangers of tanning as he had done, it would somehow make it all better.  Honestly, it hasn’t brought him back, but it has made me feel better.  But I didn’t really know what he went through.  I didn’t understand the worry he had when he had melanoma 6 years ago and had it cut out.  (That’s all you have to do…right?).  I didn’t fully understand melanoma it reappeared bad (Stage 4) last autumn.  I had hoped that he’d get better, but I didn’t really understand the cruelty of the disease.  I learned to hate it, but I didn’t REALLY get it.
Still, I decided to start my BITNP campaign.  I wanted to tell people about the dangers of UV rays.  I wanted to warn people so they’d not have to experience it.  So I read articles and browsed the web and found all I could about melanoma and skin cancer.  I didn’t learn it all, but I gained plenty of pertinent facts and figures.  And I started to post them.  I made this blogsite and I made a Facebook page so that I could tell everyone exactly what’s what with melanoma.  But then I encountered something that I didn’t anticipate.  I crossed paths with people…people who did understand…people who got it…people with melanoma.
I guess I naively thought I’d reach out to those that needed to be warned, and didn’t even think I’d be meeting those who actually experienced this damned disease.  In fact, I’ve come to realize that everyone that reads this or my Facebook has probably been touched by melanoma directly.  They appreciate that I’m sharing information, but I appreciate what they have to offer more.
I have followed several blogs of melanoma warriors and survivors closely, some closely and some sporadically.  Each time I read an account of their lives…of their experiences…it taught me so much.  I do know that melanoma can take someone you love away from you as it did my brother.  But I’ve witnessed through others’ words the joys of remission very closely followed by the terror of reoccurrence.  I have read stories of incredible support from friends and family, and I have felt sadness when some relationships faltered due to the stress of the disease.  I have read how people laugh in the face of melanoma and continue to live life to the fullest, and I have read as some…well…can no longer live as they desire.
I still feel the facts and figures are important and I’ll continue to share, but I don’t think people will understand the true seriousness of melanoma until they read the real stories.  Your stories.  So to those that don’t read my blog, please click some of the links to other blogs I offer here, read them and learn.  And to those that do read my thoughts, continue to share yours.  It’s not bitching or whining…it’s not merely venting after difficulty or being boastful after success.  It’s sharing the entire true experience of melanoma.  It’s making people aware, not just informed.  It’s helping and making a bigger difference than you know.  Thank you for sharing.

Irony Follow-Up

I revisited the doc today for a couple reasons.  First, to get my blood work (refer to my previous admission to high cholesterol/triglycerides) and secondly to get a steroid shot for some tendonitis in my shoulder (too much Facebook time probably...smirk).  While there, I asked, "so, doc...what were you saying about that mole of mine?"

Well, it turns out we had a miscommunication.  He claimed that he might have said we could "lop it off"...but for now, he just wanted to keep it under observation.  While my growing awareness has instilled a growing paranoia within me, I agree that it's a good idea to just watch for now.  Afterall, I know I've had this mole (dysplastic nevi...or as I learned recently, Clark's nevi) for years and it's not changed that I can recall.  Plus I had two separate dermatologists do the full-body finger skin dance on me and neither really made note of it.  And I KNOW they looked at it...it's in a realtively high ticklish spot and I recall the fingers brushing that area (blush).

I'm scheduled see my primary dermatologist before I'm to return to my GP, plus I plan to monitor this (and one other that's being "watched" per suggestion by dermatologist #2) closely with comparitive photos.  I'm not a doctor by any means, but I feel pretty confident that I can effectively monitor it and make an appointment should I see a change.

Thanks for the thoughts and commentary here and over on Facebook.  Now to start a diet because...well, my triglycerides are through the roof.  That's what I get for munching on snacks during vacation.  But at least I did so while wearing sunscreen  :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sun Safe and Sheik (Not Chic) Hats

Sheik hat, sunglasses, suncreen, and hydrating in the shade!

Vacationing at the beach, swimming at the neighborhood pool, and working in the yard…these are activities that have thrust me well into sun-protection mode.  With being a little more aware this year, I have a few observations and tips to share:
·         Apply your sunscreen before going to the beach initially.  If you try to apply it at the beach and you prefer spray sunscreen, the ocean breeze will spread it more on the group 30 feet away than on you.  If you apply lotion, it will be fine, but expect to spread sand all over your body as well.  I neglected to apply beforehand the first time, so I used a combo of the two at the beach.  I make my beach neighbors glisten and my skin look like it was covered I textured paint.  (But I still wore it!)
·         Spray-type sunscreen is REAL easy to apply to kids, with less wriggling and tickling giggles.  But it seems that one can of spray lasts for only one application to a family of four.  At $8 to $10 per can, it was an expensive application.  In that regard, I’ve since learned that Target brand sunscreen was ranked very close to Banana Boat and Coppertone by Consumer Reports, and it’s nearly half the price!
·         Wear wrap-around sunglasses.  You know…the kind that David Duvall made famous?  (Does anyone remember David Duvall?)  They’re futuristic looking and they protect your eyes well.  Plus, when driving, I find there to be less glare when the sun’s at my side.  But beware, wrap-around shades does not mean that your wife can’t tell when you’re watching passing…um…patrons at the beach.  You’ll still have bruised ribs by the end of your visit.
·         Baseball/golf caps cause an increase of red necks.  No…I’m talking about real red-colored necks.  Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your neck, or better yet, wear a hat that provides protection to the entire neck.  I wear a wide-brimmed straw hat socially and at the beach while I don a hat that my kids say make me look like a sheik when I mow my lawn.  The latter is a bit hot to wear, but provides great protection.
·         Speaking of hats, visors do not protect the scalp.  And for those who are hair-challenged like me, this leads to embarrassing red monk head.
·         Wear a shirt when you work outside.  Trust me, when you’re man in your late 40’s, this is more of a fashion necessity than sun-safe advice.
·         One thing I read…a wet t-shirt offers almost no sun protection.  No wonder such contests are usually held indoors and at night.  Seriously though, my parents used to have me wear a shirt in the pool to protect from sunburn, and now I know why it never seemed to work.
·         Don’t forget your feet!  If there’s any part of my body that I burned more than others when I was younger, it was my feet or ankles.
·         Stay hydrated!  This means drink lots of good ol’ water.  Beer tastes great after mowing a lawn, but it actually dehydrates, as does all alcohol.  Refresh your body with water before refreshing your taste buds.
·         Seek shade whenever you can.  The best investment we made at the beach was one of the large rental umbrellas and chairs.  We paid $18 for half a day and sat in the shade the entire time.  Plus, we witnessed many folks chasing their personal umbrellas down the beach in the strong wind while ours stayed put the entire time.
·         Do the yard work after 4:00.  Between 10:00AM and 4:00OM is when the sun is at its peak, and your neighbors will thank you for not mowing the lawn at 7:00AM.
You can stay safe in the sun, but you can still have fun!

Irony is an Ironic Thing

The Funky Mole
 Since I've returned from vacation, I've been composing a few blog posts mentally.  I do that at times, hoping I'll remember my thoughts when I finally have time to put fingers to keyboard.  However, I thought I'd mention one quick personal thing that occurred before I start typing ideas from a few days ago.

I went to my GP today for my annual physical.  I'm always a little anxious before the exams because I have very high inherited triglycerides and cholesterol, and while I take my meds religiously, I don't follow the diets as I should.  However, this year, in addition to my normal anxiety, I was concerned about a few other ailments.

I'm happy to report that nothing major was found.  Those other ailments are mostly a result of me getting ever so close to age 50 and they have quick and easy fixes.  At the end of the exam, he mentioned one thing.  "I'd like to see you back in a week or so...you have a funky looking mole we should probably remove and have analyzed."

This GP cut out a "funky mole" from my back a couple years ago that turned out to be nothing...so my first thought was that this one might be nothing as well.  Afterall, I've had 2 full body screens by dermatologists in the last 8 months...wouldn't they have noticed this mole as well? 

The photo attached to this posting is "the" mole.  I have many...always have.  This one happens to be on the right side of my torso, about the third rib from the bottom.  As I look at this photo (which by the way, I'm VERY impressed at how good a photo my busted up camera took), I see asymetry, a relatively smooth border, a typical brown color, a size smaller than a pencil eraser, and no changes as this has been on my body for a while.  By the ol' ABCDE methodology, this mole should be fine.  Then again, I have over 50 moles on my body, I'm faired skinned, I have blonde hair and blue eyes, I've had several sunburns in my youth, and I used to use tanning beds in my mid-20's.  So, I should take this seriously. 

I'll either get it cut out and analyzed, or go back to my dermatologist for a second look before I have a chunk cut out.  Either way, it won't be ignored.  And you can bet you'll be kept updated.