I would first like to acknowledge that this is not a photography related post. My work is derived consciously and subconsciously from my perspectives, experiences, values, and life; bear with me as I sometimes feel the desire to write about those influences. I also believe in posting words that are optimistic, sincere and that, hopefully, make at least one person’s life better in some way. So…
This week I had surgery to rid my cheek of the dreaded 'C' word!
I had what I knew wasn’t a pimple on my cheek for a few years. It would sometimes be more inflamed and look almost infected (like a zit) and other times it was just a little bump. My dermatologist had looked at it before and was not concerned; she said that it could stay or she could remove it for me. I finally became tired of the damned thing (this is where vanity can be your friend!) and booked an appointment for my doctor to remove it. It was at that appointment that she thought it looked suspicious and proceeded to take a biopsy. With a diagnosis of Basal Cell Carcinoma, (which is a common, slow growing, non-aggressive, and non-fatal form of the disease) she referred me to Mohs (pronounced Moze) surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Dawes.
Mohs sugery, named after Dr. Frederic Mohs who developed the procedure in 1938, is actually pretty incredible...they first gave me a local anesthetic and then proceeded to make the first incision, taking only the area they were confident was cancerous. I was then escorted back to the waiting room while the doc put my ‘offering’ under the microscope to see if the perimeter was clear or if they needed to take more tissue. This process was repeated until the doctor was satisfied that the perimeter was Cancer and inflammation free, with a 2mm-3mm margin of healthy tissue around the lesion. I had to have three sessions under the scalpel before they were satisfied they’d gotten every last offending cell and with a safe margin taboot! This careful and methodical process ensures that they take the least amount of tissue possible – I love modern medicine! Once they had removed all of the cancerous and inflamed area they patched me up (Dr. Dawes described it much more eloquently than that ;)!). The nurses commented that I was lucky that my lesion was quite small (didn’t seem super small to me!) and it was in an area that is relatively easy to repair, versus other areas where perhaps a skin graft would have been required.
|Taken with the iPhone 4S the day after my surgery.|
Clearly I knew, during my youth and beyond, that sunscreen was important and that even sun tanning was likely not the best idea; please know that I am not now standing on any soap box, I’m not. I have ZERO regrets about my past, including the wonderful time I spent on the beaches of Brazil or diving off the boat in Fiji and I have every intention of playing in the pool for many summers to come! That said, my surgeon taught me something that I didn’t know about sunscreen which I want to share with each of you…
I have long relied on a high SPF thinking that I was doing right by my skin; however, I never understood that the high SPF didn’t necessarily mean that I was protected. Turns out that, for example, a “broad spectrum, SPF 100” sunscreen may prevent a sunburn from UVB rays but it may be ineffective against the UVA rays (which cause the quiet, cumulative, and aging damage and which were likely most to blame for my skin cancer). This is because many sunscreens rely primarily on “chemical filters that can break down light, rather than more effective mineral (physical barrier) ingredients”*. They suggest, for the most effective protection, that we use a mineral based sunscreen that contains a concentration of 5% or greater of zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide. This mineral based sunscreen should be reapplied every three to four hours. These types of sunscreen are more expensive and so the recommendation is that we apply them to the most vulnerable areas of the body: face, tops of ears, chest, heads (gents!), and potentially arms. You’d better believe that my kids and I will be switching!
I have infinite gratitude that my experience was only an inconvenience and that life has already returned to normal (save the giant white bandage that I’ll need to fashion for a few more days!). I remain forever grateful for the medical help I’ve received, that I live in a time of knowledge and non-invasive treatments, that the cancer I had was nonmelanoma (melanoma is VERY DANGEROUS and if you have any concerns about changes on your skin please get in ASAP to your doctor – don’t waste one second), and that I am surrounded by people who made this experience reasonably painless – primarily my awesome husband who, as he promised to do, stands beside me no matter what.
I wondered if I should share any of this but I have decided that knowledge is power. If I can inspire one person to switch sunscreens or to make an appointment for a patch of skin that has changed or just doesn’t look ‘right’ I will be a very happy woman.
Life – and mineral-based sunscreens – are beautiful!
*Excerpt from the handout given to me by the office of Dr. Jeffrey C. Dawes MD, FRCSC
The skin protection that Dr. Dawes office sells and recommends is called Solar Protection Formula TIZO2, SPF 40 and is available by calling his office (near Westhills) at 403-571-3141.