Friday, June 20, 2008

Keep An Eye On Changes To Your Skin

As I wade through the warming summer days, I can’t believe the summer solstice is just about here. It signals the longest day of the year, the first day of summer officially, and the days are definitely going to get hotter, yet this also reminds me, now the days will already begin to get shorter. I love the summer months and this year the summer feels particularly short since Mother Winter held on with a vengeance. She robbed us of what are typically balmy days in June. 4th of July is right around the corner already! ;~P

I enjoy soaking up the suns’ warming rays first thing in the morning while I sip my cup of Joe. A great way to get some of my daily dose of vitamin D. Dr. Michael Holick, director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory and professor of Medicine, Dermatology, Physiology, and Biophysics at Boston University Medical Center states that midday sun in small doses is actually the best time for optimum uptake of UVB rays which stimulates vitamin D within our bodies. But I still love the morning sun the best. I take this time to discuss plans for our day with my husband and to simply relax and regroup from hectic schedules. I wish summer would never end until the days become sweltering, then I long for a slightly cooler day which seems to be the cycle of things in my life.

I relax and sit and examine my skin taking note of any changes, making sure all is well. I look over my husband as he does the same for me. This is so important, especially for us since we both are covered in moles and freckles due to our European Heritage. I just recently had one removed from my back for testing since it began to grow. Happily, it turned out to be benign. This was the first time I had to have one removed and caused me concern otherwise in all my screenings my moles appeared normal.

I was after my husband for years over a mole he had on his upper shoulder at the base of his neck to get it checked out. He ignored it since it had been there as long as he could remember. But I noticed thickening and scabbing along with a dark center developing and worried me to the point I threw a fit until he would go to the doctor.

By the time he was seen, the doctor with his years of experience thought it had to be a Melanoma due to color and consistency. Plus, he had to dig this thing out since it went as deep as an inch and the area had to be sutured to close the wound. He remained reserved as to the seriousness of the mole until the tests were back so as not to worry us. It wasn’t until after the results were returned, the doctor revealed his fears and told us, “In all my 35 years of practice, I never saw a mole with such definitive signs of being melanoma only to turn out to be benign. I was thoroughly convinced I was going to be telling you to get your affairs in order and my weekend was spent sleepless over this mole. I have never been so glad to be wrong.” Both men teared up over the reality of what might have been due to ignoring the danger of this suspicious mole and the doctor told my husband, "the next time your wife has a bad feeling about a mole, get it checked." I was still stunned by what could have been and by how much compassion this doctor had for his patients. This delightful, caring man bore the weight of worry for us, showed humility, and was our Dermatologist every year after that until he retired about 8 years ago. We now visit his partner who is also a wonderful man.

Gratefully for us on the day of follow-up, the testing proved otherwise, however the doctors’ statement to us spoke volumes to me and especially to my husband, and proved to be a strong motivator to have ourselves checked every year after that.

Wow that looks painful.....this picture reminds me of the old days, but now I avoid sunburns at all costs.

My husband and I totally abused our skin in our youth, doing the baby oil thing and baking until we were a dark brown, which this included always getting a nice sunburn. We then became snowbirds for the last decade, traveling south of the border, exposing our skin further to sun damage every February even though we caked ourselves in sunscreen. It was only practical to maintain the ritual of visiting our Dermatologist every fall to check our skin. We have even had our moles mapped for any changes since we have so many and they are difficult to keep track of unless one is totally obvious, and by then it might already be too late. The smallest, insignificant change can go undetected and turn out to be a melanoma of the smallest proportion. This is when you want to find it, not after it has already grown.

Be wary and attentive to skin changes, do not ignore them and think you'll have it looked at later. When my GP became concerned about the mole on my back during my annual visit, I did not waste time and called my Dermatologist as soon as I got home. The mole was removed within a few days of the discovery. Visit your Dermatologist each year for a screening. Make it part of your annual checkups so as not to miss early detection of deadly melanomas.

Also be cognizant to your scalp. Although our heads are covered with hair, melanomas have been found in this area and can go undetected until it is too late. How many of you haven’t burned your scalp in the past? I certainly know I have, and still do periodically if I fail to put my sunhat on. A large sunhat will do more than just protect your scalp it can also shade the shoulder and chest areas.

I try to wear the largest sunhat I can find for that added protection.

A simple checkup, screening and watchful eye throughout the year, not just in summer months, may very well save a life.

Be safe and be well, wear sunhats, zinc oxide that nose and have a wonderful summer! ;~)

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