Sunshine and Skin Cancer

I will not hide.  Right now, this is me.  Sometimes life is, what it is.  And for me, this week, it means nursing a small surgical wound on the side of my face because I had a small basal cell carcinoma removed.  Two days before the 4th of July, my dermatologist called to tell me that the biopsy they took was a basal cell.  The next day I had an appointment to have it removed. I was also told that due to where the wound was I needed to refrain from lifting anything over 20 lbs and not engage in any cardiovascular activity for 7-10 days.  It wasn’t how I expected my week to go, but I take comfort in the fact that I have good doctors who did what they needed to do and I’m here to joyfully soak in another day.  Unfortunately, this isn’t my first go around with this type of thing.  I had two very small ones removed from my face roughly 7 years ago during a very stressful period in my life.

But since I’ve had this resurface, and its summer and everyone is in the sun enjoying the weather, I thought it important to share with you the facts about basal cell carcinoma and the symptoms you need to know.  The more you know, the quicker you can respond, and that, my friends, is the key!

Okay, so basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer diagnosed in the US.  The cancer sets in the lowest layer of the skin called the “basal cells.”  Research shows that there is a link between the development of this cancer and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light (i.e. the sun). 

When I was younger, I knew this to be the case on some level, and while I took small measures to protect myself, if I had known more, I would have taken more measures. Plus, I’ll admit to a tanning bed or two before our wedding (a move I wish I could reverse time and take back).  I knew it was dangerous, but I thought if I just did it once or twice to remove some tan lines it wouldn’t be such a big deal.  Hopefully, people are smarter than me.  It’s not worth it!  However, as I’m told by my doctors – most of the damage done to your skin in this capacity is done before you turn 18.  BEFORE YOU TURN 18.  What this tells me is we need to keep our kids doused in sunscreen and teach them how to put on their own!  We need to educate.  We also need to watch ourselves.  If you were a kid that spent lots of time in the sun at the beach, camping, at the lake, outdoors playing in the sprinklers, and had 1 or a few too many sunburns you need to watch yourself and pay attention to your skin.  I had more sunburns as a kid, than I ever did as an adult.

The American Cancer Society classifies symptoms of basal cell carcinoma as the following:

While most of these appear on the face, head, and neck areas (most exposed to the sun) they can also appear in other places.  They can look like:

  • Flat, firm, pale areas similar to a scar.

  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy

  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps which have blue, brown, or black areas.

  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal looking blood vessels

  • Open sores that don’t heal or that heal and them come back.

This spot that I had removed appeared like a pimple.  I couldn’t really see it and just assumed that’s what it was for a while, a persistent pimple that wouldn’t go away.  When I accidentally scratched it and it started to bleed and not heal, I knew it was time to get it checked.  The doctor froze it off telling me “if it grows back come back” which it did, and I did.

How do you know if you’re at risk?  As mentioned before, if you’ve had any sort of lengthy exposure to the sun it will make a difference.  It can take decades for these spots to appear, which is why the average age is 50.  However, my doctor also shares with me that a lot of it has to do with genetics.  If you have a family history of this type of skin cancer you are likely to be more at risk than others.  According to the Mayo Clinic other risk factors can include:

  • Exposure to radiation therapy

  • Having fair skin

  • Your sex.  Men are at more risk.

  • You’re taking immune suppressant drugs, like that after a transplant surgery

  • Exposure to arsenic.

  • And other skin syndromes that cause skin cancer.

Do I like that I’m going through this?  No, absolutely not.  The good news, however, is that so much of this can be taken care of and/or managed if you are diligent about getting checked.  I see my dermatologist at a minimum of once per year.  It’s now gone up to every 6 months.  By the looks of it, if I ever need that kidney transplant one day, and need those immune suppressing drugs, my risk may go up even more.  I’m on the younger side of the scale, for these to be popping up, but it’s the cards I’m dealt and how I play them will be my life.  So rather than live with regrets or sorrow I’ll do this:

I’ll keep eating well of course 😉 Some evidence I discovered states that science is finding that foods rich in antioxidants and other nutrients can protect us from certain types of cancers – like basal cell carcinoma.  Nutrients found in foods like orange colored fruits and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, apricots);  Antioxidants found in red pigmented fruits (tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, grapefruit); Omega 3’s found in fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna or walnuts and flaxseed);  the polyphenols in Green Tea are tumor inhibitors; Selenium found in Brazil nuts, chicken, and grass-fed beef; plus vitamins C, D, E and the mineral zinc; are all ways to get cancer fighting nutrients in to the body!  The funny part is, the only thing on this list I stay away from in general is green tea….me and caffeine just don’t mix!

I’ve also been on the look for a functional medicine doctor I can trust to help me navigate all the other areas in life in addition to this one.  I haven’t found one just yet, but this has pushed me to pursue it a little more quickly.

Manage my inflammation.  Certain cancers, including basal cell carcinoma are linked to chronic inflammation in the body.  I will continue to be smart about this as well.  Inflammation can be caused by so many things, not just food.  Time to be smarter.

Manage my stress.  Meditate and pray.

Be joyful.

Be grateful.

And live with compassion, love, and life!

Don’t wait to make a doctor’s appointment if you think you are at risk.  The sooner you are checked the easier it is to solve the problem.  For those people facing this or a much bigger issue, my heart and prayers are pouring out to you and I wish you the best outcome possible.