I am the oldest of three sisters, and growing up, I was always the fairest. My family spent a lot of time out in the sun – by the pool, on the beach, on a boat, and I would fry to a crisp unless I slathered myself in sunscreen, and even then I would burn sometimes.
I got a wrath of shit about this from my family. I got everything from the “you just need to stay outside more” to the “you need to get a base tan” lecture. The reality is, I don’t tan. My skin doesn’t tan, no matter how much time I spend in the sun.
Being fair, and having plenty of freckles and moles, I made numerous joking references to melanoma. My sisters would tan in tanning beds while they were getting ready for events or preparing for summer, and I remember lecturing them that one day they would end up with skin cancer.
Cut to a few years ago, and my middle sister was diagnosed with melanoma.
I know what you’re thinking… Those four words. I admit, I probably said them before, too. Have you guessed them yet?
It’s just skin cancer.
Except, when it’s not.
Look, I get it. You want to be tan. I cannot recall how many times I have heard things like “everyone looks better tan”, “even fat looks better tan”, and similar sentiments. How many times has sunkissed been used as a positive statement?
Want to know something irrational? Sometimes, I feel so guilty about making those melanoma threats that it makes me sick to my stomach. Perhaps, in some sick twist of karmic retribution, she ended up with cancer because I said so. Like I said, I know it’s irrational… I don’t think I have that much power over the universe. But she is my little one. My first baby sister. The best toy you could ever get at 6 years old. And there she was, facing an enemy that I couldn’t fight for her. And that was MY job as the big sister, to stop the bad things from happening. And what did I do? I should have taken ACTION instead of just SAYING something.
What if I had given her sunscreen instead?
What if I had bothered to look up the real statistics?
What if I could have shown her the information that she now provides to people to encourage sun-safety?
The fact is, I didn’t. And no matter how desperately I wish I could, I can’t go back in time. But I can tell you.
– Tanning is as stupid as smoking, and we all know that’s just plain asinine. So sit under an umbrella, avoid peak sun hours, and wear a hat.
– Wear sunscreen. REAL sunscreen, not some of that SPF nothing nonsense. And for the love of god, slather it on your kids. Sunburns aren’t a right of passage, they are 100% preventable.
– Don’t tan in a tanning bed, ever. I don’t care if it’s prom/formal/your wedding. It isn’t worth it. And if you think it is, think about your mother. Your sister. Your daughter. All the people in your life that you love. Is cancer worth their pain? Because yeah, you may die. That’s the reality of melanoma. It’s not just skin cancer, it can kill you. But then you’re dead. And your mom, your dad, your husband, your kids… do you think they are going to be thinking, “Well. At least she was tan.”? No. Resoundingly, no.
My sister can be a giant pain in the ass. Trust me, I’ve had 27 years of it. (I can say it. She’s my sister.) And fortunately, she decided to direct all her fierceness to melanoma. She’s doing great, and she has become an advocate for herself and for melanoma. I tear up when I think about how proud of her I am, and at what a beautiful woman she has become – both inside and out. How lucky is Pickle to have a truly amazing role model to look up to, a real life Super Aunt that can battle anything and win, and knowledge that in her blood is the strength to conquer any obstacle.
I highly recommend you check out the facts about skin cancer in general, and about melanoma specifically, through The Skin Cancer Foundation website.