Will O'Bryan: May 2008 Archives

Sun dissed

As an aside to the Domestic Partner May 1 story about skin-cancer screening, Ban the Tan, it's worth mentioning that I know too well how scary this can be. My sister, Megan, died from melanoma about 10 years ago.

While she had very pale skin, she learned how to make it tan. She rarely burned, but she was dedicated to just the right amount of exposure and lotion to get a beautiful tan. Going to college in San Diego in the early 1980s, it was the thing to do.

Years later, after the birth of one of her four kids, a melanoma lesion appeared on her back. Surgery followed immediately, at which time her doctors at Scripps were pretty confident that they'd managed to excise the tumor, and that it hadn't moved to any other part of her body.

That's when the clock starts -- five years in the clear, and you can be pretty confident that the cancer was completely removed. But about five years and six months later, a lesion appeared under her arm.

From her home at the time, Japan, she waited a couple of weeks so that she could enjoy Christmas with her four kids and husband, before heading back to Scripps in San Diego. There, the chemotherapy took its toll on her. The melanoma eventually spread to her brain, where the treatment was radiation. While initially successful, the melanoma returned to her brain, where the radiation treatment could not be repeated.

Within a year of the return of the melanoma, at 38, with a great marriage, four young kids, and years of avoiding the sun after her college-tan days, she died.

Locally, a friend of mine has also battled melanoma. Years of Florida sun exposure manifested themselves as melanoma after she moved to D.C. The chemo ravaged her body and cost her some lymph nodes. But she survived. And, similar to my sister's case, about five years later, another melanoma tumor surfaced. Thankfully, it was not a sign that the original cancer had spread, but an isolated case. This time, she was well aware of what to look for and immediately went to her doctor, who immediately removed it from its spot on her cheek. These months later, no one can even tell that she had this tumor removed from her face, which is testament to modern surgical skills.

While I wish I could tan myself, purely for reasons of vanity, I know I can't and that I shouldn't try. It could end up killing me. As it stands, those childhood burns may still. At least with increased awareness of skin cancer, all of us stand a better chance of being able to catch skin cancer early. And though there is some minor debate on whether sun exposure is a leading cause of skin cancer, avoiding the sun may save your life. Getting tanned, on the other hand, won't really get you anything.


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