I’m always seeing little graphics that say, “tag someone who needs to hear this,” or, “tag a friend to let them know you’re there for them,” on Facebook and Instagram. While the person who created the thread means well, as do the friends who write, “@insert_name_here” in the comments, that just doesn’t cut it for letting your loved ones know you care about them.
November is a month for thankfulness, so the next few weeks I’d love to challenge you to write love letters to friends and family you care about. A letter is one of the most intimate and personal things you can offer someone; you are giving a piece of your heart and spilling out your feelings on a permanent page.
Is letter writing not really your thing? Then I encourage you even more to sit down at your desk and write a few letters. Often some of the most beautiful notes I get are from people who have scribbly handwriting or don’t use the most eloquent adjectives available in the English language. I realize that these letters are truly written from the heart, and that someone was sitting and thinking about me for an uninterrupted amount of time while they put pen to paper.
If you don’t quite know where to start, some of the subjects you can touch on are why you love the person you are writing to, how they have made an impact on your life, and what they do that you happen to think is incredibly amazing about them. You love them for a reason, and all you have to do is write that down so they can see that and cherish it forever. If nothing else, I challenge you to write three letters in the rest of November. Then, see who really appreciates the note, and make a habit of sending one letter every month. It only takes a few minutes, but is a gesture that can mean the world to someone.
Bonus: Write a letter to sweet little Jacob. You can count this toward your three for the month, and I promise this will be an effort that won’t be in vain. As someone who saves special letters from readers and loved ones, this gesture means more than you could imagine.
Here is something written by my lovely mother about getting diagnosed with skin cancer. I wanted to share her post because I think it’s really important for people to know more about the dangers of the sun. I hear so many of my friends say they are going to the pool to “tan,” and I understand wanting to have nice color, but it can come at a very high price. I’ll do another post soon about a few of my favorite products (self tanner, bronzer, vitamin D tablets, clothing items, and a few other things) that keep you healthy and make you feel like you have a nice, summery glow. Without further ado, though, here is my mom’s message about skin cancer.
One of the biggest fears most people have when getting a diagnosis from the doctor is hearing the “C” word, and in March that’s exactly what my dermatologist told me I had.
As a child I spent most of my summer days in our backyard pool or at the beach. My mother always insisted I wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit since I was fair-skinned, and thankfully she always kept me in a sun hat. As I got older I admired my sister and friends who could get a deep, golden tan, which is when I started using concoctions like baby oil mixed with iodine to attract as much sun as possible. My best friend and I would sit out in the midday sun when the rays were their brightest in hopes of looking like the model on the Coppertone ad.
As a young adult, I discovered that nearly anyone could get a “healthy” looking tan by going to the tanning booths that were popular in the early 80’s. It seemed like they were everywhere, and everyone was doing it. Looking back I am so happy that I only purchased one package, as I hated the strange smell and the claustrophobic feeling they gave. The beach was still my favorite place, so whenever I had an opportunity to travel I chose somewhere with lots of sun and sand.
I have always been interested in health and wellness, which is why I decided to become an esthetician many years ago. By then I knew that any kind of tan is considered sun damage. I did whatever I could to avoid having sun on my face and always used a good amount of sunscreen. My kids who were avid swimmers never left the house without being slathered with sunscreen and an SPF shirt. I lovingly nagged all of my clients about the danger of too much sun exposure and my “platform” was reinforced when a sweet young man treated his mom to a relaxing facial with me. He had driven her straight from the hospital. To my horror, when she removed her hat she had a giant scar from one side of her scalp to the other and had received the diagnosis of terminal melanoma. Her sweet son was treating her to something he hoped would make her feel better. That poor lady and her son will be forever ingrained in my mind, so you can see why this has always been one of my most important platforms when educating my clients.
This leads me to my doctor’s appointment this past March. I have always been diligent at getting my annual skin cancer screenings. It’s never fun sitting in the paper gown knowing that someone will be scanning every part of you from head to toe, but the alternative of not being checked could always be worse than the embarrassment, so I bit the bullet and went into the office. “No changes, you look fine,” the doctor said. I showed him a very tiny dry patch of skin just below my throat that I had been concerned about. “Oh that’s nothing,” he assured me, so I left feeling confident and proud of myself for being able to cross the annual appointment off my “to-do” list. A couple months later I accompanied my daughter to the same dermatologist for one of her appointments. Before the doctor left the room I asked him if he would mind taking a look at that tiny patch of dry skin again that he had dismissed as normal before, and told him I had tried exfoliating it but that it kept coming back. Again, he took a look with his doppler glasses and said casually, “Nothing!” I felt relief, because in the back of my mind I kept thinking of that poor lady and her sweet son who had visited my esthetics office some years back.
About three months passed and I went to my family doctor for my annual checkup. During the exam, I showed her the tiny patch below my throat and she said she wanted me to see the dermatologist she refers to, so I went to see him that Thursday. I showed him the dry patch and he biopsied it right then and there in the office. He told me if it was positive, someone would call me within 3 business days. Tuesday rolled around and no call. Great, I thought! I’m in the clear. Another week passed, then another. Several weeks later the phone rang. “I’m calling to tell you that your biopsy was positive for cancer,” I heard on the other end of my phone. Wait, didn’t they say they would call within three days? Now my mind was racing back to months before when I had first asked my dermatologist about the cancer I now realized had taken residence in my body! When I asked the bearer of my news why she didn’t call me sooner she simply said, “Ma’am, we have a stack of calls to make every day.” I asked her what my next step was and she said the doctor would do the surgery to remove an inch around the area. My first concern was getting these rogue cells the heck out of my body, but realizing this scar was going to be significant and unable to hide above any neckline outside of a turtleneck I said I would get back to her to make the appointment — I wanted to check with a skin surgeon I knew of who was also a plastic surgeon. Then she informed me that by law I needed to let her know within a few weeks that this procedure had been completed. Why then did it take the dermatologists’ staff three weeks to let me know I had cancer in the first place?!
Due to the busy demands of the doctor, yet another three weeks passed before I was able to reluctantly go in for the surgery. The surgeon performed what they call MOHS surgery, which is a procedure in which they take as little tissue as possible and test it for cancer cells right away. They continue to take more if necessary until it is all gone. I was so thankful that it only took one “pass” until I was told they had gotten it all. They stitched me up, put dressing on the wound, and told me they expected to see me again as most people who have these types of carcinoma become “repeat customers.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
Shortly after the procedure I was talking with my friend and described my cancer patch to her. She grew quiet and said she had the same kind of thing just above her eyebrow. “I’m sure you are just overly-concerned because of what I just went through,” I reassured her, but knew there was always a chance, so suggested to get it checked — just in case. She phoned me a couple of weeks later to let me know that her doctor had found bad cells!
My platform for maintaining healthy skin now feels even more important and I am asking you to thoroughly check yourself. Get on the phone and make that yearly dermatological appointment to get yourself checked head to toe. A good exam includes the doctor checking your scalp, behind your ears, between your toes and even inside your mouth. If you have a strange feeling about a mole or a freckle or a dry patch of skin that just won’t go away, get to the doctor as soon as possible. If you feel that someone might not be right about your diagnoses, it never hurts to get a second opinion. Early detection is your best friend.
My scar is healing well. A couple of weeks ago I knew that my incision was healed enough to use my needling roller to smooth out the scar. I honestly can’t believe how much that has helped! I’m guessing there will always be a small scar but I will wear it proudly as a reminder for myself and others to take precautions when outdoors, and to always get your annual dermatological skin screening.
My mom was diagnosed with skin cancer in March, and she has a really powerful story I want to share with you. Today I am going to be sharing a little piece of how I’ve felt about my mom’s journey, and tomorrow I will be posting the more important story that my mom wrote about her journey with skin cancer and her health.
Ever since I was a little kid my mom has emphasized the importance of wearing sunscreen. I remember going to the neighborhood pool flaunting my long, chubby toddler legs, a polka dot bikini, and a hat that covered all the way to the bottom of my neck. We would make tents out of chairs and towels to create forts of shade, and sat under them and applied sunscreen at every break.
My mom has always taken better care of me and my family than she has herself. She consistently puts us first and wants a better life for my brother and I than she ever had for herself. I grew up hearing about how she used to go to tanning beds and put on baby oil instead of sunscreen when she went to the beach in an attempt to get a deeper color. This was a funny thing to think about because the entire time I’ve been alive my mom has been one of the most careful people in the sun that I know. She puts sunscreen on every single day and invests in enormous wide-brimmed hats and expensive SPF umbrellas to stay out of the sun. We always took family beach trips to Bethany Beach in the summer, and dad was typically the one who would play in the water and beach volleyball in the sun with my brother and I. My mom would make appearances for a half hour at a time, but you could typically find her reading a book in the shade.
As a child my mom called me her little “brown bear” because despite putting 60 SPF sunscreen on the hour at every break I spent a lot of time at the pool for swim team and playing with friends. I would take little breaks to go in the shade, and was diligent about being careful in the sun and wearing pink zinc on my face.
Even when I was high school and being called “pale” was one of the biggest insults you could bear, I told my friends they needed to be careful in the sun whenever they’d mention going to the pool to get a tan. Even though sunburns might be the worst kind of sun exposure, any change in your coloring is sun damage, which can lead to negative lasting effects.
Although I did get a little too much sun from being on the swim team in my childhood years, thanks to my mother I have never in my life had a bad sunburn. Did you know if you have 5 blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 your risk of getting melanoma is 80% greater than it would have been? Your risk of getting another kind of skin cancer is increased by 68%.
This March when my mom came back from the doctor and told me she had skin cancer I was scared. It wasn’t melanoma — thank God — but the “C” word is just terrible in general. I know I complain about myself being sick sometimes, but I don’t want my mom to have anything wrong with her. She is literally an angel on this earth and the best person I’ve ever known. I know some of you might think I just say this because I’m her daughter, but it’s true.
This is the perfect example of how not being careful in your twenties can really catch up to you. It’s why we need to wear sunscreen, be careful about what kind of things we put into our bodies, and try to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
I am sharing more of her story tomorrow because I want to remind everyone the very real effects sun damage can have on your body in the future. When we’re in our twenties we often feel invincible like nothing can touch us, but sadly that’s just not true. When you go out this summer, please just make sure to be careful. Tan skin fades so quickly, but skin cancer can have a very real, lasting effect. If you want to be tan for an event, use self tanner. Think about all the beautiful people like Emma Stone and Anne Hathaway who totally rock red lips and pale skin. Ultimately, no matter what you look like it’s not the color or shade of your skin that makes you beautiful — it’s the inside that really matters.