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Sunny Days and The Big C

Sunny Days and The Big C

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Sunny Days and The Big C

Page Type: Article

Object Title: Sunny Days and The Big C

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope, Bouldering, Ice Climbing, Aid Climbing, Big Wall, Mixed, Scrambling, Via Ferrata, Canyoneering, Skiing


Page By: splattski

Created/Edited: Feb 27, 2010 / Jun 23, 2011

Object ID: 600764

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Page Score: 97.19%  - 66 Votes 

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Sunny Days and the Great Outdoors

“It was a gorgeous, sunny day.”
How many trip reports have you read that said something similar? How many of your own trips included a day like that?  
Big hat AND a nose guard. Sun protection on Denali.
Big hats AND nose guards. Sunny day on Denali, 2009 (that's me in the middle)

If you have been lucky enough to be out in the mountains to enjoy as many gorgeous, sunny days as I have, then you should read this article and think seriously about how the sun affects your health.

I’ve been active in outdoor sports my entire life. I learned to ski at age 9. I summited my first glaciated peak at 14. I climbed Mt. Rainier at 17. I worked two years as a Field Technician for the Forest Service. By the age of 20, I was also a bike racer, riding 250-350 miles per week in the summer. During the winter I was a cross-country ski racer. I was and continue to be a mountaineer and an athlete (although these days, an old fat one), and I was outside a lot.

The Big C

I’m now 54. That may seem really old to you. Don’t let that fool you, because you might be lucky enough to be 54 someday yourself. But here’s the deal and why I’m telling you all this. I loved being outdoors, but that may have increased my risk of cancer because I seldom if ever used sunscreen. Yes, cancer. About two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with skin cancer, what doctors call a malignant melanoma.

Risk Factors

In his article A Climber’s Guide to Prevention of Sun Damage, SummitPost member FlatheadNative lists some of the things that might put you at higher risk of having skin cancer some day:
• Fair skin, red or blond hair
• Light-colored eyes
• Sunburns
• Many moles, freckles, or birthmarks
• Working or playing outside
• Lots of sun exposure, especially a lot as a child
• Serious sunburn
• Family members with skin cancer
• Tanning in the sun or with a sunlamp

In addition to these risk factors, the America Cancer Society's brochure on malignant melanoma mentions as additional risks:
• Being over 50
• Already had melanoma or another skin cancer,
• A weakened immune system

I had or have blue eyes, blistering sunburns as a child, a ton of moles, play outside, and am over 50. In my later years I’ve been more careful about big hats and sunscreen, but the damage was already done.

Getting the Word Out

Stitches after biopsy
What's left of an 1/8" (3mm) mole

Many of the people I have climbed with have either read about or heard about my good friend Brian Mahon. Brian is a Physician’s Assistant who’s best friend, Jeff, died of kidney cancer. As Jeff lay dying in the hospital, Brian made a promise to him to get the word out about cancer.
When later I met Brian, it was to participate in what we call the Celebration of Life. The point of the Celebration is to raise awareness of men's cancer. You can read the full story behind the Celebration here along with a story about the 2002 Celebration.

My Cancer

Through my association and friendship with Brian, I learned a lot about cancer. Fortunately, I learned the ABCDs of skin cancer detection, because in my annual physical I asked my doc about a suspicious mole on my shoulder (and as Brian would point out if he was here, it didn't look anything like Cindy Crawford's mole).
My doc removed the mole the next day and the biopsy report came back that afternoon: malignant melanoma.
So about a week later I had an appointment with a dermatologist, who did a more complete skin removal. Fortunately for me, we caught it really early and it is 100% gone. And chicks dig scars.
I'm not normally one to share this kind of thing, but if it can save you some grief, my shirt is off. The moral of the story: Learn how to take care of yourself and then do so.

What You Should Do

You might consider helping Brian fulfill his promise:
• First, by becoming informed and taking care of yourself. In this article we're discussing skin cancer, so learn the ABCDs and apply sun screen when you are outside. As the American Cancer Society points out, don't just dab a bit on. Fill the palm of your hand and paint it on. 
The right way to apply sunscreen
Don't dab. Fill your palm and paint it on. Early on a sunny day on Mt. Adams

• Second, spread the word- either by telling the Celebration story (and if you have one, add your personal tale), or helping directly. Check out Brian's free MANual and send one to a friend (Note: yes, there is a shipping and handling charge. You shouldn't expect the guy to pay when he is doing you a solid).


Big hat AND a nose guard. Sun protection on Denali.The right way to apply sunscreenStitches after biopsy


[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 1-20 of 47 « PREV 1 2 3 NEXT » 

Jerry LLife's Surprises

Jerry L

Voted 10/10

Just found out that I have prostate cancer. I went in for my annual check up, had no symptoms, and was planning on leaving on a cross country bicycle trip. One thing led to another.......surgery in (3) weeks.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 8:44 am

splattskiRe: Life's Surprises


Hasn't voted

Ouch. One of my climbing partners on Denali last year had recovered from prostate cancer. He found out accidentally when visiting the doc after crashing on his bike. The world is a funny place. Best wishes and a fast and full recovery!
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:35 am

imontopGreat article!


Voted 10/10

Ok, you've convinced me.I never wear sinscreen, and I've had some pretty nasty burns. But, I always wear a hat since I'm folically challenged. Sunscreen it is from now on!
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:03 am

splattskiRe: Great article!


Hasn't voted

Thanks for the comments. Keep that solar collector covered!
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:37 am

tiogaNice Scar


Voted 10/10

I had the same thing in the same spot about a year ago. A malignant mole on my left shoulder and now I have a very similar scar to yours. But I was 30 years younger than you when I got it removed. Pretty scary. I guess I will be lathering myself with sunscreen and making good friends with my dermatologist for the rest of my life. But at least my wife digs my scars. Oh yeah, they had to remove a few other suspicious moles on my back and arms. Thanks for the article. I hope it hits home with a few people!
-Tom (tioga)
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:03 am

splattskiRe: Nice Scar


Hasn't voted

Wow Tom- that is young. I've got a kid who is older than you. Thanks for sharing.
My friend Brian offered to write me a prescription to have my wife check me for moles regularly.
See-- there is a good side to this!
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:41 am

Deltaoperator17Thank you


Voted 10/10

Thank you Bubba for sharing this with the rest of your world. Undoubtedly you will reach more people and maybe get them to "think about it".

Thank you for all of your contributions regarding cancer which include "The celebration of life" adventures and climbs. Well written, well said.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:10 am

splattskiRe: Thank you


Hasn't voted

You're welcome Delta. When we gettin out next? I'll bring the SPF-45.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:42 am

Deltaoperator17Re: Thank you


Voted 10/10

Uh today? LOL
Posted Feb 28, 2010 11:38 am

splattskiRe: I can't decide...


Hasn't voted

No, I wear shirts these days.
But melanoma is sneaky and even likes to show up in hidden places like soles of feet, backs of ears, etc. They still think that overexposure to the sun is a risk factor, possibly by UV damage to your DNA? But not necessarily the particular spot that was exposed. (not that I am a scientist, mind you).
PS- Sunscreen is a LOT cheaper, and the recovery time considerably shorter.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 3:07 pm

MoapaPkRe: I can't decide...


Voted 10/10

That's one of the odd aspects of melanoma; people often get melanomas on parts of their bodies that see little sunlight-- e.g. soles of feet, inside the eyelid. One theory is that an area that rarely sees sun has no natural protection; then one day you get a very bad burn in that spot, and the cancer cells initiate. And melanomas readily metastasize.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 8:58 pm

Dmitry PrussIt also runs in some families

Dmitry Pruss

Voted 10/10

mostly due to a mutation in a gene called p16 aka p16INK aka CDKN2A. I know that it isn't your personal story, still it's good ideas to let SPers know that if there are multiple cancers in their families, and at least one melanoma, then a visit to a Genetic Counselor to evaluate the situation might be worthwhile. People with mutations of the sort are not to take any Sun exposure lightly. Of course most work on this genetic stuff is done in Australia where fair skinned people are in the tropical Sun all too often.

My heart goes to you, keep us posted
Posted Feb 28, 2010 2:35 pm

splattskiRe: It also runs in some families


Hasn't voted

Yes, excellent point: genetics plays into the risk factor.
My doc told me that my kids' risk is now elevated about 10% because I had it and they share my genes.
But they've been exposed to worse things from getting my genes ;-)
Posted Feb 28, 2010 3:11 pm

moonspotsThe "big C"...


Hasn't voted

...yup, I had it too, and from probably the same cause(s) - lots of sun when I was a kid. Lot's of sun exposure, plenty bad sunburns, and so on. Now I slather the goop on, and wear a floppy desert Army hat. Besides blocking sun, it's really handy for blocking extraneous light when looking through DLSR viewfinder.

Annual dermatologist checkup has since revealed no recurrances though.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 3:41 pm

dyusemComparing scars


Voted 10/10

I too was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when I turned 30 and like you, it was caught early; 20 years later I'm still kicking. I was fortunate enough to have the team at the John Wayne Cancer Clinic who were gracious to use me as a guinea pig for a wide excision of the primary tumor and cross-sections of a couple of lymph nodes (sentinel node procedure of the axilla and supraclavicular); to say the least, I count myself super lucky. Many people that were in the same study which I participated in did not live very much longer :(

Recovery was extensive (as you no doubt know) but after two months of being cared for by an extremely supportive family (my cancer was much more difficult on them than me but I digress) I couldn't take it any longer and I returned to the Eastern Sierra before the incisions were fully healed and well, I kinda mucked up the plastic surgeon's work on my back but those moments realizing that I was going live another day was the sweetest :)

Many thanks for the reminder to use sunscreen (most especially on children!); I too had some bad burns when I was a kid and it is likely that was the cause of my cancer.

Be well and be thankful that you've got another sunrise to enjoy...
Posted Feb 28, 2010 9:47 pm

splattskiRe: Comparing scars


Hasn't voted

Dyusem, I'm glad you survived and to have you around to compare.
Thanks to spending many hours trudging up peaks together with my friend Brian with nothing better to talk about (not really... but given enough time you cover EVERY topic, right?), I know the ABCD rule so I caught my cancer very, very early. Just barely more than a single cell layer deep, and only about 1/8" across. No lymph nodes.
But I'm now on the 3-month program with my dermo.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 11:13 pm

NoonduelerGreat report!


Voted 10/10

Thanks for the info. I became a convert to sunscreen over the past year after my nose got fried from sunny spring hiking. Always thought I didn't need it. Now I use it regularly even when it ain't so sunny.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 11:04 pm

splattskiRe: Great report!


Hasn't voted

You're welcome Noondueler.
And you make another important point: the sun's rays are still there on less-than-sunny days.
Posted Feb 28, 2010 11:16 pm



Voted 10/10

That doesn't look fun! I got sunburned yesterday while I was out snowshoeing and it wasn't even sunny. I'll be swabbing on more sunscreen from now on.
Posted Mar 1, 2010 12:13 am

The Defiant OneThanks for writing this

The Defiant One

Hasn't voted

I'm a convert now, slathering it on. Wish i did when I was younger.
Posted Mar 1, 2010 1:24 pm

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