Dear Younger, Sun-Loving Me

There are many things I wish I knew when I was younger, before I had skin cancer.

What I wish I knew before skin cancer

Here is the list of things I'd go back and tell my younger self:

You need to wear sunscreen

Dear 7-year old me: I know that playing outdoors with the neighborhood kids all day until the sun starts going down makes for fun summertime memories. But tell Mom that you need sunscreen. And you need to wear it.

Dear 11-year old me: I know that taking hours’ long walks with your best friend is an awesome way to spend the afternoon. There’s lots of exploring to do and lots of conversations to have. How about taking those walks some time other than the heat of the day though?

You'll sunburn and not tan

Dear 14-year old me: I know that you really, really want to have a tan. I know that the popular girls in school all have tans, and that you wish you could get a pretty tan. But know this: ‘laying out’ out on a reflective blanket with baby oil on your skin isn’t going to make you tan. You’re going to get sunburns, and those will not turn into tans. (I also know that you think you’re pudgy, but believe me when I say you’re not. You’ll wish you could be that size again someday.)

The portable face tanner is a bad idea

Dear 16-year old me: I know you now have a job and some money to spend, but please do not buy the portable face tanner. It’s a really bad idea. Sure it sounds like an easy way to get some color on your skin, sitting in front of it in your room for a few minutes a night, but it’s a horrible idea. Also, while we’re at it, don’t go out with that one boy. You know the one I’m talking about.

You don't need a base tan

Dear 20-year old me: Listen up. This is really important. Tanning beds are a bad idea. I know they’re being advertised as safer than the sun, but believe me, they aren’t. You don’t need them to get a “base tan” before you go on vacation. Stay far, far away from them.

You're going to get skin cancer... more than once

Dear 28-year old me: You’re going to be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. It’s going to come as a surprise to you, although knowing what I know now, it shouldn’t. You’re not going to take your first diagnosis as seriously as you should, and that is a mistake. You won’t realize at that point that you’ll get it again and again and again, but you will. You will have it for the rest of your life.

Lounging by the pool is not good for your skin

Dear 35-year old me: I know you love all those trips to Florida, spent lounging by the pool or lying on the beach, but believe me, they are not good for your skin. At all. Come to think of it, go ahead and break up with you-know-who, even though the relationship is just starting. I know spending frequent long weekends at his beach condo is relaxing and fun, but save yourself the skin damage. And the heartbreak. You’ll do this for four years, and it’s not going to end well, on any account.

You're going to feel regretful

Dear 49-year old me: This year you will have your hardest skin cancer surgery yet. You’ll look in the mirror the night before surgery and realize that this may be the last night that you look like yourself, and you have no idea what you’ll look like after tomorrow. You’ll be immobile for two weeks after the surgery, and you’ll have 23 places removed at one time. You’re going to have stitches on ten different places on your body. It’s not going to be fun, and you’re going to wish you would have not had so many sunburns when you were younger.

You’re going to regret the many hours you spent at the beach, and you’re going to wish you never knew what a tanning bed was. But you know what? It’s going to be okay. You’re going to recover from the surgery, and apart from some permanent numbness and a few small after-effects, you’re still going to look like you. And you’re going to decide to share your story with your friends in hopes that they don’t make the same mistakes you did, and that is a good thing that comes from all of this.

Now I know: you’ve got a lot to live for

Dear 51-year old me (hey, that’s now!): I don’t know what happens from here, but I’m glad that we’re a lot smarter than we used to be about sun exposure. Thanks for finally wising up. We’ve got a lot of living left to do.

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