Wellness Wednesday: How to Help Prevent Skin Cancer

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Loudoun County, Va. — I used to call the Sunshine State home. I lived there for two years when I took a TV news reporting job in southwest Florida. One of the less glamorous parts of reporting that many don’t know about is when you have to ‘door knock’ for a story. You get an address for some stranger, walk up to their front door, knock and see if they want to go on camera to talk about whatever that story may be. Needless to say, unless that door-knock goes something like this, ‘Hi, I’m Sarah and I work for the news. Would you like to talk on camera about the three adorable puppies you adopted?’ it can be brutal, end with a door slammed in your face or a few expletives yelled at you. But, it’s part of the job and I will say one particular door-knock caused me to make some very necessary lifestyle changes and is the spring board for this blog.

One hot, humid and very ‘Florida-ish’ evening in August 2011, I went on a door-knock. I drove up to a house to see if the owner wanted to talk about a fraud scam he was involved with years ago. No one answered. Knowing I needed a sound bite for our newscast, I walked next door to ask the neighbor if I even had the right house. A nicely dressed man who had obviously just returned from work answered. I was about halfway through my normal introduction, ‘Hi, I’m Sarah with the news…’ and the man cut me off, pointed to my forehead and interjected, ‘Have you had that looked at?’

Caught off guard and simultaneously wondering what ink pen marks I’d accidentally smeared across my face, I stopped. He apologized for interrupting and went on to say he was referring to a large freckle I’d had for years on the left side of my forehead. I told him no, I’d never seen someone about it. He then formally introduced himself as doctor so-and-so and went on to say that being in Florida, any skin mark that looked like mine was something a dermatologist would want to investigate, especially given how fair-skinned I am. He apologized for not having any information that could help me with my story that day but he did give me the name of a well-respected dermatologist in the area.

I made an appointment for the following week, the doctor took a biopsy and two days later my phone rang. The dermatologist told me that I had an aggressive form of melanoma, and thankfully, they’d caught it early enough. But I still needed to get surgery as soon as possible to ensure the cancer cells did not spread. It was a major wake up call for me and my entire family. I am thankful to say that with just two surgeries, the doctors removed the cancer and aside from a faint scar on my forehead, you would never know what happened almost five years ago!

But my life has some changes now and since we are still in the heat of summer, I thought it was timely to share some simple ways you can protect your skin to hopefully prevent any serious issues.

  • Wear UV-reflective clothing: I love doing activities outdoors. Hiking, running, walking, biking, you name it, I love it! Since dealing with these skin issues though, I don’t do anything outside for extended periods of time without wearing UV-reflective clothing. You can buy shirts, hats, shorts, pants, anything you need made from this material at a variety of stores now. Just covering up with regular clothing does not mean you are blocking the sun’s harmful rays. UV-reflective clothing provides an extra layer of protection.
  • Always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen: You are most susceptible to sunburns between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. My doctors told me to never wear anything less than 30-SPF.  Apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before you head outside and reapply it every two hours. This is particularly important to remember if you are sweating or swimming.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Reflective surfaces like sand, waters, even snow, can reflect the sun’s damaging rays and increase your chances of sunburn.
  • Get regular skin checks: Even if we think we can see all our freckles, moles and sun spots, there might be some we don’t notice or, like in my case, some we are wrongfully assuming are just plain freckles when they might be cancerous. Go to the experts. Right after my surgeries, I went to the dermatologist every three months and now, try to go at least once a year.

NOTE FROM OUR SPONSOR: The skin is our body’s largest organ so let’s protect it!  At Loudoun Sports Therapy Center, we want to make sure we help our patients live healthy lifestyles. For more healthy blogs and recipes, or if you have a questions about physical therapy, speak with a member of our team at 703-450-4300.

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Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is a premier physical therapy clinic. We offer outpatient orthopedic and sports physical therapy as well as specialty programs.

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