Spray-tanning may be the answer?
Isn’t it lovely to have a golden tan? After a couple of summers in almost constant sunny weather, I am well kitted out in the light dress garment. So, despite the steamy humidity of New York City, I am able to flounce about in next to no material, and in a variety of shapes and colors. With my hazel eyes, however, my Northern Hemisphere skin tone, my British looks; I probably should be covering up. I know that of course. This knowledge has been imparted many times over and I cannot feign ignorance. I am a cancer biologist working in a cancer hospital. So on a level, I do make a concerted effort to protect myself. On the tennis court, I roughly layer my face in Factor 60. I spray my shoulders and give a quick rub on my arms and neck. On weekend wanders, I cover my cheeks, for the superficial fear of wrinkles, but throw that cardigan in my bag soaking up the UV light on my back.
I am 29 years old this week and just days ago I was lying on my tummy in the dermatologist’s office having pinprick biopsies taken of several unsavory features scattered across my back.
I remember thinking, over and over again in my youth, I am never going to get sunburnt again. Never. I remember the searing pain as the dried out, raw skin was layered with cool plain yoghurt (unknown brand). My school friends and I, released after final exams for our first unsupervised trip abroad, returned to our villa, after Day 1 in Rhodes, with painful red patches all over our backs and arms and legs. It was Lucy who returned with the useless advice (we would consider anything at this point). Spread yoghurt, any brand, all over the burns. She had been told it worked wonders as her sores had motivated sympathy and suggestions from her beach-y peers. It will cool the skin and moisturize the burns. We did it. We bought a bucket load of plain, flavorless yoghurt and we caked ourselves in it. The smell was quite unbearable, the giggling was definitely memorable but the pain remained unresolved.
After the first couple of days of our summer holidays this year I thought, ooh my skin is a bit tender. It looks more pink than tan and so tomorrow I will cover up with a t-shirt. But the vain pull of the golden tan won out. And sun cream was applied without zest and I allowed my skin to darken. A few more freckles appearing on the exposed parts.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation there are an “estimated 2.8 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) diagnosed in the US each year. In fact, it is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs.”
Cancer is a scary word. It is a routine word in my daily work but it is always referring to patient A and never ever reflected back at me. So today I am scouring the clinical websites for information. Not my usual academic journal pool. Working on the molecular level, the intricate detail of the cell and its genetics won’t help me understand what is coming up next for me.
I tap away at the keyboard. Basal cell carcinoma is mostly non-malignant. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation website tells me that “BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. Usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.”
Well that is a relief. I keep hearing “it is better to be safe than sorry” and of course I agree wholeheartedly but I am already sorry. I am sorry I ever nurtured my skin to that unnatural tan I have always so craved. I am sorry for that and as I sit back on the sterile, paper covered examination bed, waiting for my ruthless dermatologist to return, I find myself slightly flushed with the worry of what is coming next. And mainly, dear readers, it is entirely the dent to my vanity. I know she is going to cut these unsavory growths out. She is going to cut nice and deep to be “safe” and “not sorry” and she is going to sew me back up and then onto the next. I pride myself on a strong racquet sports playing back (well I do now. Now that I have had a little think about it) and I definitely don’t want any more war wounds to count. Appendix removal left an unsightly blemish, hockey injuries pockmark my legs and knees and general clumsiness, as the overzealous child I once was stumbled about grazing and scratching and sometimes slashing my smooth skin.
When it is over. When the local anaesthetic begins to wear off and my shoulder aches a little bit, more biopsies taken for good measure, I am feeling very determined. Is it worth it to have a gloriously brown glow to take you into the white winter months? Does anyone really care but me? I know the answers of course and once this is finally over, in a few stabbing weeks or months (if she removes one every two weeks we could become quite the bosom buddies), I will be viciously vigilant in my sun protection regime. I promise. I promise myself.