When we were kids, you could find us most days at the beach.
No sunscreen. No hat. Just a towel, boardies and thongs.
If we weren’t in the surf, we’d be baking in the sun. After school. Weekends. And on summer holidays, morning till sunset.
The girls were worse. Apart from a quick dip, they didn’t move from the sand. Most used coconut oil to make their tan even deeper.
I think back now, to all the times I came home burnt to a crisp. I can remember actually peeling sheets of skin from my nose, so bad was my sunburn.
Mum and Dad didn’t know better. The Old Man spent every day of his working life frying on a building site. No sunscreen. No hat. For the most part, he was just a shade off being black.
It took too many years for me to realise I could have fun in places away from those harmful rays. Establishments that had a roof, and served cool drinks. But the damage was done.
The tan faded. Replaced by moles and spots. Innocent looking at first. And deceiving.
I began having them cut out when we were in Cairns. Fifteen years after those sun-drenched days. The first three or four were fine. But not the next one.
The doctor rang me at work, and asked me to come and see him. Rarely a good sign.
The lab had called, about a small, dark spot taken from between my shoulder blades. It was a skin cancer.
They were testing to see how advanced it was. And whether it may have spread.
A few days later, he called again. Good news. He’d cut deep, and taken the lot. What a relief. I was one of the lucky ones.
He explained that I would need checks every six months, to make sure any other bad spots were whipped off in time. That was the key, he explained. Don’t give the nasty little buggers time to grow.
I’ve done exactly that, ever since. Middle of winter and Christmas holidays. Checked from head to toe. And if any start to itch, I’m on doc’s doorstep the next day.
It also meant that I retreated indoors. No more sun. Which produced the original white whale. With floppy hat, and sunglasses, and long sleeve surf shirts.
My own girls always wear sunscreen. They see my scars, and are frightened. That’s a good thing.
It should be said, however, that they are now old enough to flatly refuse to wear sunshirts at the beach. “Dad, like, what are you thinking?”
You could say I have been the pale poster boy for Slip, Slop, Slap. Until now.
I have read with interest, the problems that a lack of sunlight is causing us. Major Vitamin D deficiencies. With links to a whole range of worrying ailments. Because we’ve gone to the other extreme. From peeling skin, to refusing to go outdoors.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve settled on a compromise. I’m in the sun again. Reading a book, or, as it happens, typing this blog.
Yes, I’m smothered in 30 plus sunscreen, with my trusty hat and sunnies. Never in the hottest part of the day. And I don’t spend too long out there.
I’m sure the experts will tell me I’m mad. After all those pesky medical procedures (there have now been at least a dozen), why take the risk?
Well, I feel healthier for it. Really, I do. Without the sunburn.
I will have more moles frozen, and prodded, and removed. No doubt about it. Paying for my past sins. Yet again.
You may be shaking your head. If you have medical knowledge, you might even be throwing small drug company giveaways against the screen. I’ll live with that.
A bloke is exercising, and eating healthier, and (ahem) only having the odd tipple. Never smoked. So, I’ll take my chances.
I’ll let you know how my return to the great outdoors unfolds. And I’d be interested to hear your own experiences.
Regardless of my stance, one thing is for certain. If you, like me, baked on the beach when you shouldn’t have, go and get checked over. It’s simple. And it beats that dreaded phone call.
Great piece that resonates with me. I’ve recently had a Basal Cell Carcinoma removed and had a melanoma removed a number of years back. Like you, I remember burning a lot in my childhood – we knew no different, and we can’t turn back the clock. Also like you, I’ve done lots of cogitating on the risks versus benefits of sun exposure and now have a similar attitude to you: I slap on the factor 50+ and sit in the sun for short periods of time, avoiding the hottest part of the day etc etc. It’s all about balance and being careful – your body needs a certain amount of sunlight to produce vitamin D (and, like you say, a little bit of sun makes you feel so much better) so hiding away indoors isn’t necessarily the right answer. I live in the UK so don’t see quite as much sun as you do in Oz (!) but, I still holiday in sunny climes and simply take the necessary precautions and get my regular check-ups.
Lisa, I’m glad this struck a chord with you. I’m finding so many people who had the same experiences we have. And you’re right – balance is the key. And those regular check ups. Thanks so much for your feedback. Cheers Dave.
Just come across this article which I thought might be of interest to you – http://real-agenda.com/2011/11/21/increasing-rates-of-melanoma-not-caused-by-sun-exposure/#comment-5326 – some good food for thought on the whole sun exposure and vitamin D debate.
Thanks Lisa .. vey interesting.