Tennis, the sun and my skin cancer scare
Last month, I saw my dermatologist and received some concerning news. After carefully surveying my skin, she paused when she found a mole on the side of my face near my ear. She asked me if I had ever noticed it before, noting that it would be difficult to see while looking in a mirror. My husband said it had been there for as long as he’d known me.
As she continued to survey my skin, she asked me, “What do you do outdoors in the sun?” When I told her I played tennis, she sighed and said, “Geez, I wish you ladies would play in the evenings!” I could sense her frustration…I was not the first patient she’d seen with sun damage. I also walk the dog and run outside as well, so the cumulative effect of sun exposure from living in the south was evident.
She decided to take a biopsy of the suspicious mole and a few days later she called to tell me the mole was “pre-cancerous” and one grade away from melanoma. My heart sunk; my dad died from a melanoma brain tumor 15 years ago this August. Clearly, I have his skin type and we’re extremely vulnerable.
I’m so glad that I went in for my yearly skin check and we caught this early! I want to encourage all of you to do the same, especially those playing tennis on fully exposed courts and doing other activities in the sun.
In my case, the mole was on the side of my face, a spot that was always exposed during sports activities because I pull my hair back, and not a place I would regularly slather sunscreen. Nose and forehead – yes. Side of the face – probably not. And, shame on me, I never wore a visor or a hat.
As my dermatologist explained to me, sometimes you can have a mole all of your life, but repeated sun exposure can “anger” the mole, causing the cells to proliferate and become atypical, or precancerous. I suspect all of the sun exposure I’d received while living in Houston had done exactly that.
Here’s the good news: my dermatologist performed a quick and relatively painless (thanks to a local anesthetic) procedure to remove the mole. I was actually surprised at how much extra skin around the mole she removed.
They do this to make sure they remove all of the atypical cells and obtain “clear margins” around the mole. The scar has healed nicely and is barely visible, and continues to fade.
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, 53% of melanomas are detected by patients themselves. So, it is really important to get to know your moles and check your skin once a month. Also, have a family member check places you can’t see, like your back and scalp. If you see something suspicious, consult your dermatologist.
So, have fun on the courts ladies…but please, cover up, apply your sunscreen liberally and, if at all possible, play in the evening when the sun is down and the temperatures are cooler. And, if you are looking for a little color because your summer legs are just SO white, I am a big fan of self tanner. Recently, I’ve been using Tan Physics which gives a nice even glow and doesn’t smell bad. The Clinique Self Sun has also received good reviews.