Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Skin cancer can result from poor protection

Dear Grandkids,

Allow me to correct some misinformation I’ve given you most of your lives. Your well-meaning Granny unintentionally steered you wrong about the hazards of being in the sun. We didn’t know the things I learned two weeks ago about skin cancer.

For the second time in my life a kindly doctor said, "Sue, you have cancer." Early diagnosis and immediate major surgery took care of it about 10 years ago. I was a swimming teacher, bicycle enthusiast, canoeist, fisherman and gardener; why should I be surprised, in my 80s, to have a cancer on my nose?

My love of being outdoors began before age 2. Mom wrote, "Sue loves being outdoors, I can’t keep her from puddling in the chicken’s water with her shoes on ... she cries when I bring her in and take off her sweater." Mom and I loved the woods and sometimes stripped off and cooled in our creek.

I played outdoors at recess, on teams and with clubs. I hoed and replanted corn. I swam in our pond, coal mine, and Grindstone Creek. I taught swimming in the 1940s and built a pool in the back yard for our Nancy and Walt, who are your parents.

By the time you kids swam here there was sunscreen, and we slathered it on each other for sun protection.

I used to swim in a broad brim straw hat. Remember how I’d watch from the shore for a while, then take off my hat and throw it into the pool? I’d dive and come up under the hat and you’d laugh. I’d ask, "Who wants to try on my hat?" You’d yell, "I do!" and I’d dunk it and bring it up full of water, then quickly turn it over your head with water spilling all over you.

I had an assortment of straw hats and dealt them out to you often. You are now six grown men and one grown woman. You’re from 17 to 23 years of age. Each year my pool seemed smaller to you. Your terry robes, which once drug the ground, just barely come down to your knees! You "kids" have changed and so has my understanding of suntan and skin cancer.

We used to try to "build up a protective tan" in spring by being in the sun for short times and staying a little longer each time. It doesn’t work that way!

Every exposure to the sun is one step closer to skin cancer.

We thought sunburns healed and that was the end of the misery. Not so. Damage accumulates! We thought that dark complexioned people or people of dark skinned races would not suffer from sun exposure. Not So. Remember how "Uppa" —my husband — turned a golden tan the first week of summer? He finally had skin cancer requiring radiation therapy on both sides of his face.

We thought skin cancer wasn’t life threatening. Wrong! There are several kinds, and some can spin off to other parts of the anatomy. We thought that we were protected by SPF 15 sunscreen and that it would perform miracles. Not so! It must go on 30 minutes before you get in the sun, and you must re-apply after two hours. Better still, get out of the sun for a while, apply screen and wait another 30 minutes.

I’ve worn straw hats, my bike helmet had a face shade, I used lots of sunscreen, but every exposure to the sun was one step closer to what my doctor discovered on my nose two weeks ago.

Anticipate better information in the years to come and grab it!

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