The Mom Stop: Tips can help save your skin
When “Happy Days” star Erin Moran died on April 22, she became one of the nearly 11,730 Americans expected to die from skin cancer in 2017.
However, her skin cancer was unlike the atypical moles that dermatologists warn to search for. Instead, Moran first discovered something was wrong in November when she noticed a blood spot on her pillowcase, according to an open letter written by her husband, Steve Fleischmann. At first she thought she bit her tongue, then she thought she might have tonsillitis. But a biopsy showed that the spot at the back of her throat was squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer.
Moran started chemotherapy and radiation, but it wasn’t enough.
“It got so bad so fast,” Fleischmann wrote. “By the middle of February, Erin could no longer speak or eat or drink. She had a feeding tube implant and I (fed) her six to eight times a day.”
After her death, a coroner found the cancer had spread to her spleen, she had fluid in her lungs and she had a brain infection. Moran died only 5 months after she was diagnosed.
Moran was on my mind last weekend, as I sat at the soccer fields Saturday on a sunny, spring day. My 8-year-old and 5-year-old had back-to-back soccer games, meaning we were in the sun for 4 hours without sunscreen. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought anything about it -- I would have welcomed a little sun on my skin to start my “summer glow,” even if that usually meant getting a minor sunburn.
My attitude changed in 2015, when at 32-years-old and pregnant I was diagnosed with melanoma -- the most deadly form of skin cancer, which on average kills someone every 54 minutes. I was lucky to have caught it early, but I now have the scar of a quarter-size skin graft on my chin to remind me daily the importance of SPF and regular skin checkups. It’s stories like Moran’s, plus countless others who have died from melanoma, that make me diligent about not only protecting my own skin, but protecting my children’s skin, too.
That starts by taking basic steps, like wearing sunscreen not only at the pool or at the beach, but even at school, too, especially for my two blonde-haired, fair skinned kids. When we swim, my kids wear rash guard swimsuits, which gives added protection. And, as my young kids get older, they are being raised to know that the dangers that come with skin damage from the sun.
It’s also vital to know the dangers that come from tanning beds. People who have used an indoor tanning bed in their lifetime are two to six times more likely to develop melanoma than those who did not, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota. Women younger than 30 who used indoor tanning beds were six times more likely to have been diagnosed with melanoma than women who reported no use. The study also found that the major site of melanoma diagnosis has changed from the head and neck to the trunk in younger women, consistent with a link in the rise of melanoma and the use of tanning beds.
More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas and 6,200 melanomas, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
May is national skin cancer awareness month. Here are some tips to avoid skin cancer, from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
• Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
• Do not burn.
• Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds.
• Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
• Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
• Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
• Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
• Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
• See your physician annually for a professional skin exam.
-- Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at email@example.com.