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?
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 CI’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 FactorsIn 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
• 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
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 CancerThrough 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 DoYou 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.
• 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).