I was 26 when I first found out that I had melanoma. My dermatologist called me with biopsy results and I instantly knew it wasn’t good news. A few days earlier, the dermatologist had removed the teeniest, tiniest little speck of a mole. I recalled her saying, “I doubt it’s anything but your mom had one like this that was bad news so I’d feel better taking yours too. If it was anyone else, I’d probably leave it.” Why couldn’t I be anyone else, dang it? Soon thereafter, I had what appeared to be a perfectly healthy stretch of skin removed from my left forearm “for clean margins.” The bruising and scarring was nasty, but fortunately, scars never bothered me too much.
I had melanoma and a shark bite of a scar to prove it. Now what?
One of the first things I did was grill my dermatologist on all the things I needed to be doing. I needed to know what I needed to do but also how to keep my toddler safe from the sun. Her #1 rule: sunscreen re-application. I went from being a pretty relaxed mom about sunscreen application to the nuttiest one on the block! I kept sunscreen in my purse, the diaper bag, at home, in the car* and everywhere in between.
My summer mantra: there’s no such thing as too much sunscreen.
Over the years, I have developed quite the stash of sunscreen sprays, sticks and lotions. There’s SPF in my moisturizer and in my make-up. Post-melanoma, I immediately began teaching my son that a hat was a mandatory article of clothing when leaving the home as it was another barrier between him and the sun. In the summer, he wears a lot of ball caps, bucket hats, sunglasses and swim shirts. My two cents: Look for the swim shirts that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They rule.
My son is now seven and finds sunscreen application to be quite the hindrance to his fun, but he puts up with it as he knows it’s his ticket to the pool, the playground, the zoo or anything fun outdoors. He’s been going to day camps in the summer for the past few years and almost all of them not only encourage it but require kids to bring and wear sunscreen. At his first camp of this summer, he was the only one to bring sunscreen. He used it too! It was a feather in my metaphorical, wide-brimmed straw hat that he didn’t mind applying his sunscreen, even when his peers were not. I’m not lucky that my son applies his sunscreen; it’s not a miracle, nor a surprise. I’ve taught him this.
We talk about a skin cancer A LOT.
I’m a firm believer of the motto “To each their own” in this parenting gig so while some folks may not agree that telling my young child the truth about skin cancer is age-appropriate, I think it is. He is not afraid of sunburn or skin cancer because I told him we don’t need to fear it, we can prevent it.
My son knows that I have had skin cancer, he knows I go to the dermatologist a lot and that I have had countless moles removed. He’s seen the stitches and heck, he’s seen me take out my own stitches. He knows what causes skin cancer and how to prevent it. I treat the conversation about taking care of our skin the way I treat the conversation about eating fruits and vegetables or getting enough sleep. We talk about the consequences of not taking care of our skin. I firmly believe this is why my son understands sun safety. Though he doesn’t like using it, he willingly slathers on all the sunscreen at every pool safety break.
It’s never too early to begin talking about taking care of our skin and demonstrating it for our little ones. Let’s normalize these conversations for their sake. We teach our children so many things about taking care of their bodies and what the consequences are if they don’t do what we tell them to do.
Eat your vegetables so you can be healthy.
Eat protein so you can grow big and strong.
Brush your teeth so you don’t get cavities.
Get a good night’s sleep so you can have energy.
Wear your sunscreen… sunburn hurts and skin cancer stinks.
It sure isn’t a delicate nursery rhyme with the grim consequences, but it is the truth: Sunburn hurts and skin cancer really stinks.
*Yes, you’re right. You aren’t supposed to keep sunscreen in the car because the summer heat can weaken the chemical compounds in it but I still figure something is better than nothing. I’m a remarkably average mom, not a doctor, but I do talk to mine… a lot. While it’s not ideal to keep sunscreen in the car, she agreed: something is better than nothing when it comes to protecting skin from harmful rays. I’d rather have to re-apply weakened sunscreen than not have any at all.