Age Spots By Any Other Name
I remember exactly when it happened. I was driving to school, and I caught a glimpse of my hand wrapped around the steering wheel. I’m still not sure what made me look down in that instant. The early morning sun was streaming through the driver’s side window at the perfect angle, and the inevitable happened. Now, I knew it was my hand. I wasn’t having a break from reality. Somewhere tucked in the back of my mind, though, was a picture of the same hand with that same skin. All of this happened in the blink of an eye the way the most poignant memories always happen. I was seeing my grandmother’s hand. More importantly, I saw before me on my own hand what she always pointed out to my sister and me as her “age spots.” I had age spots...have age spots. Age spots.
Calling it as she sees it
Deep down in my heart, I know these dark spots I used to consider freckles are the least of my worries. I have had melanoma once, basal cell carcinoma three times, and more visits to the dermatologist for cryosurgery than I care to count. I think it’s the verbiage attached to these age spots that bothers me. You see, the more I looked at my hands, the more I realized how similar they are to my chest and my neck.
This is where it gets dicey. My dermatologist, for years, has reminded me that my chest is a real piece of work. Her words, repeated time and time again go a little something like this: “You really have a lot of sun damage.” She changes it up a bit here and there, but the message is always the same. Damage. She is referring to the discoloration of my skin and the dark patches on my chest, neck, and, yes, my hands. The FDA gives these anomalies the term “premature aging.” (That’s a nice one, too, huh?) I think I would much prefer to hear “age spots.” At least hearing “age spots” brings with it fond memories of my grandmother and our talks. “Sun damage” has a negative connotation and makes me feel pretty low. To make matters worse, I have been hearing these words since I was in my early 30s--I’m now 44.
Since 2007, I have had regular appointments with my dermatologist every six months, and my chest is always the focal point. I’m examined head to toe, the dermatoscope makes its appearance to get up close and personal with some of the more suspicious spots, my hair is parted and my scalp inspected, and even my glands are checked. No matter what, my chest stands out as the biggest area of concern every single time. That sun damage rears its ugly head time and time again. I stopped tanning in 2007, but those rays are forever with me.
Living and learning
I have come an awfully long way since I walked into the dermatologist’s office for my first visit. Sadly, my first visit was due to a melanoma noticed by my best friend and biopsied by my family doctor. That’s what stopped my tanning. If she hadn’t spotted that odd mole and questioned me, I would have continued tanning and added weeks, months, even years of sun damage to my roster. When I walked into that initial visit, my skin was tan (well, my version of tan which was beet red) and emanating from my skin were those mild heat waves you always seem to produce following a tanning bed visit. I was a dermatologist’s nightmare.
Eleven years later, I am leaps and bounds ahead in the sun protection game. All I can do now is prevent further damage. Sunscreen is part of my daily routine. I don’t intend to add insult to injury by multiplying that sun damage, err, those age spots. No matter what I choose to call them, this much I know--I no longer have the power to reverse them, but I have all the tools I need within my grasp to make smart, sun-safe choices.
Are you concerned about skin cancer when the weather gets colder?