Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Save the Wrapping

by Jill R. Adler, M.S.
Manager, Community Health Education, LifeBridge Health

So what’s the largest organ in the body? If you said skin, you win! The wrapping that covers our internal organs, protects them from injury and also provides a barrier between germs and our internal organs. Our skin regulates body temperature too!

Given all the amazing things that our skin does to protect us, it’s a wonder we then injure it by spending too much time in the sun. This is my story - I hope it isn’t yours too.

I am a two-time melanoma survivor. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. I was diagnosed first at age 23 and then again at age 33. Having one melanoma put me at increased risk for having a second one. A couple of nasty sunburns in my youth combined with several risk factors such as light skin, red hair, and family history put me at a greater risk.

So what prompted me to change my evil ways? No. 1: At the age of 22 I attended a lecture given by a dermatologist. She said “If you see color on your skin, any color-red, pink, tan, brown-consider that an injury to your skin.” Something clicked and that day marked the end of my sun-seeking behaviors. No. 2: Coincidentally, several months later a friend noticed a small, very dark mole on my skin and encouraged me to get it checked it out by a dermatologist.

After visiting with a dermatologist and getting my mole removed and sampled, I received a phone call about a week later with the news that I indeed did have melanoma. Since it hadn’t spread too far it could be removed surgically and the chances of survival were pretty good. Pretty darn good, I would say, as I didn’t have another incident until 10 years later. My second melanoma was caught at a much earlier stage, as I knew what to look for and had been pro-active with my follow-up care with my dermatologist.

Today – I am happy to say I am melanoma free! I do the right stuff. I wear protective sunblock every day. I try to plan outdoor activities early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the sun is not at its strongest. I wear my shades. Finally, I look at my skin from head to toe every month to see if any moles have changed and may need further examination.

Today there are additional risks such as new environmental hazards and using tanning beds. Tanning beds are now recognized to increase the risk of melanoma by 75 percent if the user is under the age of 30, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer's recent report in the Lancet Oncology.

Remember - it's up to protecting your unique birthday suit, your biggest organ, the skin you are in for life!

No comments: