When I was a young teen I went on a holiday to Mexico. A typical goth-Brit at the time, my skin was as paler than a white peacock’s plumes. I was also a very stubborn individual—spending hours in the ocean, the pool, and generally any body of water where I could escape my parent’s tanning rituals and entertain myself.
I also didn’t return regularly to apply sunscreen.
I paid for this.
One night I woke up in agony. My skin was itching furiously. It was like something was trying to escape its surface. It’s testament to this pain that I could comprehend it because I was also grabbling with awareness as sun stroke took hold of my body and replaced rational thought with confusion and distress.
Skin blistered, my shoulders began to resemble something out of a viral infection horror movie and I sobbed for days and my mother lovingly (and forgivingly) nursed my shoulders back to a respectable condition.
And that it the story of how I got freckled shoulders as a teenager—a physical change which terrifies me.
Let’s Talk About Melanoma
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and, while no one wants to talk about skin cancer, it’s important to be aware of something to effectively prevent it.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is, sadly, also one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States. Caused by UV-induced damage, nearly 10,000 people are expected to die from Melanoma in 2017.
Melanoma is also the fifth most common cancer in the UK, where around 13,500 new cases are diagnosed each year. More than 2,000 people die from Melanoma per year in the UK.
Melanoma occurs when skin cells begin to develop abnormalities, prompted by exposure to the UV lights of the sun, getting a sun burn (especially at an early age, hence my personal fears), and tanning beds.
The UK’s NHS page is cautious about the link between tanning beds and Melanoma, stating that ‘there’s evidence to suggest that some may result from sunbed exposure’, but the Melanoma Research Alliance is more definitive. On its statistics page it states, in no uncertain way, that the risk of Melanoma increases by 75% with tanning bed use before the age of 35.
Whether tanning beds are your jam or not, it’s been widely recognised that our culture of getting bronze-like skin has led to an increase in the cases of Melanoma.
According to the CDC, the incidence of melanoma has doubled during the past three decades in the United States and Melanoma is most common among young women. Oh goody, yet another way that the unrealistic beauty standards inherently imposed upon women as part of our male-driven society ultimately fucks women over. Joy of joys.
Melanoma is a cancer that spreads, but if detected early then survival rates are very good.
Treatment in the early stages involves surgical removal of the affected area. People who undergo this will then be supervised to make sure that the Melanoma doesn’t re-emerge (or new cases form), and the five-year survival rate is 92% but catching it early is crucial.
Further treatments get complicated to describe and vary depending on the type of Melanoma (because, yes, there are different types).
If you are interested in learning more about these treatments and the types of Melanoma then I highly recommend that you look at relevant charity pages and talk to your healthcare provider if needed.
How To Spot Melanoma
Because of just how crucial early detection is, it’s important you make sure you know how to check for Melanoma yourself.
When it comes to Melanoma you need do regular checks of your skin and know your ABCDE (stopping there, because a full-alphabet system would be horribly complex). It breaks down as follows:
Asymmetry: Check for moles and/or growths on your skin that are uneven. No one expects your body to be adorned with perfect circles but noticeable asymmetry is cause to monitor a mole/growth.
Border: Are the edges uneven, ragged, notched, or blurred? Keep an eye out for these tell-tale details.
Diameter: A diameter larger than a pencil eraser (6mm) or a growing diameter is another big red flag.
Evolving: If the mark has gotten bigger in size and/or thickness then it’s also cause for concern. Changes in colour and overall appearance should also be given attention.
If you suspect that you have Melanoma then go see your healthcare provider immediately for an official screening.
Ideally, none of us will have to experience Melanoma in our lives, but for now prevention is the best we can do.
Still, prevention is worth practicing, especially when some of the methods are so easy to adopt.
- Limit direct exposure to the sun between 10am-4pm. To do this then stay indoors more and, when out, wear sun protective clothing.
- Get sunscreen that will protect you from the two types of UV exposure (UVA and UVB) and with varying SPFs. Use at least factor 30 and reapply every 2 hours when in direct contact with the sun.
- Try to avoid the temptation to sun bathe. This is a cultural phenomenon which increases your chance of damage (in addition to causing premature skin damage) so is better avoided. And if anyone judges you then just say you would tan but you’re trying to avoid the whole skin cancer thing.
- Tanning beds are always a no. Always.
Follow these guidelines and check your skin monthly and you’ll be in a better position to help prevent Melanoma.
How Can I Help?
Even if you’re not personally affected by Melanoma, you may still want to do your part to help. To which I say that you are an absolute champ.
If you want to help with the fight against Melanoma then make sure to be an advocate for prevention and spread awareness about the main causes of Melanoma where possible.
Identify reputable Melanoma charities and donate money or time to them where you wish (through volunteering where possible).
Do your own fundraising events that make these things more possible and help encourage others to give.
Join pre-existing causes too. Crystal Delights have long since done their own Colors Against Cancer charity series and this month they’re focusing on Melanoma (with a giveaway and everything). Getting involved in such efforts is the literal definition of a win-win.
And, finally, make sure to utilize social media and your own digital voice by using appropriate hahtags and sharing posts on Melanoma.
As cliché as it sounds, together we can make a difference and help protect ourselves and others against the effects of Melanoma.
As for my own freckles? You can be that I keep an eye on them, and I’ve tried to be vigilant about the sun ever since.