Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Some sunburn lessons learned the hard way

The worst sunburn I ever had came one Sunday during an outing on Perche Creek. I rowed a heavy, homemade boat downstream alone and turned back to discover that the current had helped me go down, but it would take twice as long to row back to meet my friends. That was at least 60 years ago, and we treated the burn successfully.



The worst-sunburned person I ever knew was a blond student who missed my swimming class at Christian College. "She was in the sun three hours," her friends said, "and didn’t feel burned when she went in." Several hours after her shower, she went to the infirmary with chills, high fever and upset stomach. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "If the skin is exposed to sunlight too long, redness may develop and increase for up to 24 hours." That’s what kept my student in the infirmary with pain, swelling and blistering for 10 days!

I was introduced to sunscreen 24 years ago when I helped direct "Missouri Bikation," a five-day bicycle tour across Missouri. Thirty-five riders started from near Kansas City and rode to Lexington the first day.

The next morning, Edie Pepper, a premed student at UMC, handed me her Pre-Sun to spread on her back and shoulders because she was wearing a low-back blouse on the second day’s ride. As I spread the sunscreen on, I noticed that she was not burned on the first day’s ride. After lunch, we applied more sun screen.

That night, her back was normal in streaks where my fingers spread the sun screen, but I could see that there were tiny red streaks between some of my finger marks.



In spite of these experiences, I didn’t recognize the skin cancer on my nose about four months ago. The sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are most intense in midday, and I had taught children’s swimming classes outdoors, for up to four hours a day, several summers. Classes were between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. I sometimes taught, in the water, wearing a wide-brim straw hat, but harmful rays were reflecting from the water onto my face. I usually forgot to reapply sunscreen between classes. According to the brochure dermatologist John DeSpain handed me, I was most vulnerable.

In spite of the many times I discussed sunburn and its ill effects with children’s parents and with my college students, I thought the red warty bump on my nose would go away. When it stood up about the size and color of a pencil eraser I sought professional help. DeSpain said, "You were a swimming teacher?" Yes. "This is a cancer caused by long exposure to the sun." He discussed surgery, saying, "Fortunately it has a high cure rate ... when treated early." The American Academy of Dermatology put it bluntly, "In rare cases, if not treated, it can be deadly." It had been bothering me for six weeks. Was that early enough? Or was it a rare case? I dashed to the pharmacy and immediately began applying the prescription medicine twice a day for several weeks. It was early enough. The cancer is gone!

DeSpain said that I had a close call. I’m forever grateful and expect to protect my skin as never before.



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