Learning the Hard Way After Skin Cancer
- Rachel Collett, 48, noticed a mark on her head in 2014 that she initially dismissed as a scratch. After some time, the mark started changing, and Rachel said it looked like a “volcanic crater” that was “dipping” into her head.
- Finally, in 2015, she went in to see a dermatologist who immediately biopsied the legion. It was basal cell carcinoma, one of the most common types of skin cancer. Like many others in her age group, Rachel admittedly did not use sunscreen while growing up. Unfortunately, that is common, as we didn’t know then what we know about the dangers of the sun.
- Experts say that we usually only get about 50% of the SPF on the label. So, if you’re using SPF 60, you’re really getting closer 30 SPF of protection. To make sure you’re getting the right protection, apply sunscreen every two hours and wear protective clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses.
After some time, the mark started changing, and Rachel said it looked like a “volcanic crater” that was “dipping” into her head.Read More
Finally, in 2015, she went in to see a dermatologist who immediately biopsied the legion. It was basal cell carcinoma, one of the most common types of skin cancer.
The school worker subsequently had another mark removed in 2018, and yet another growth on the end of her nose was removed just this year—thankfully non-cancerous.
The Dangers of Early Sun Exposure
When Rachel first went in to get checked, her doctor asked if she had ever used tanning beds, which was common for people her age. Rachel had not.
“She asked if I used sun cream and I didn’t in my youth because I was born in 1974 when skin cancer wasn’t known about.”
Her mother, like many others who didn’t know better back then, would put coconut oil on her olive skin … and that’s it.
For Rachel’s first surgery, “they cut my forehead across, down and across, opened it up like a window to remove the cancer and tissue around it to make sure they’ve got rid of the whole cancer,” she explained of the medical process.
“They then put it back together and my scar ended up being like an anchor,” Rachel noted of the scar’s appearance.
“It [the diagnosis] was a bit worrying because I’d never heard of it before and obviously I’d heard of skin cancer and melanoma and how that spreads,” she said. “I was given a leaflet to read and told that it’s very rare that it spread to other organs, so I felt a bit relived about that.”
Skin Cancer Scars and Self-Confidence
Rachel’s doctor told her that she would likely get more basal cell carcinomas on her body, which understandably makes Rachel feel uneasy.
“It’s the scar that everyone notices,” she said. “In the school that I work in all the young people say ‘what’s that scar on your head for, miss?'”
Sadly, like many other people who have gone through cancer and its repercussions, her scar makes her extremely uncomfortable and feels that people are often staring at it.
“I have to remind myself that this is a warning to other people and try and tell myself it’s the story of my life.”
Which is exactly right. Working to build a more positive mindset can be achieved. As hard as it can be, we must learn to feel strong and proud of our scars, because it’s much better than the alternative! The next time someone asks about your scar or stares at it, use it as an opportunity to educate, and consider it a blessing to do so.
Find the positive out of any situation and how it can help others.
Thankfully, Rachel has been doing just that as she raises awareness about skin cancer. She wears ample SPF 50 sunscreen and regularly checks her entire body for new moles and marks.
“Up until my 20s no one knew about skin cancer,” she said. “In my 20s I went to the Greece islands quite a lot and was going on two holidays a year there. I was putting on some factor 15 thinking that was enough to protect myself but that hardly protects you at all.”
Now, she’s even more protective of her children and their health future, constantly making sure they are protected with sunscreen. These days, Rachel prefers to mostly lounge in the shade. “I go down the beach I don’t stay there for long,” she said.
“My message would be to always put on sun cream and protect yourself. It’s not putting it on once you’re out there, it’s putting it on before you go out because it takes time for your skin to absorb it.”
“‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ is the slogan the Australians use and we need to remember to slip on a t-shirt, slop on sun lotion and slap on a hat.”
Protecting Yourself in the Sun
Many people slather on sunscreen every day, but if you’re not choosing the right type or not using enough, it may not be working.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, recommends you use no less than SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours. Your sunscreen should also be broad spectrum, says Dr. Larocca, meaning it covers both UVB and UVA rays.
According to Dr. Larocca, people usually only get about 50% of the SPF on the label. So, if you’re using SPF 60, you’re really getting closer 30 SPF of protection. To make sure you’re getting the right protection, she also recommends using sunscreen every two hours and wearing protective clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses.
According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, you should:
- Avoid sun exposure during peak hours when the sun’s rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside
- Use at least SPF 30 broad spectrum sunblock and reapply every 2 hours when outdoors
Following these guidelines will help reduce your risk of skin damage and future skin cancer.