What Skin Cancer Has Taken from Me
Last updated: August 2022
My maternal grandfather had a real love for horses. When I was a child, he bought a few Tennessee Walking Horses and kept them at his farm. They were stunningly beautiful creatures. I also remember that my maternal grandfather gave me a book about different horse breeds. I treasured that book. Sadly, my maternal grandfather died when I was only ten years old, and he was only fifty years old.
I share my grandfather's love of horses
Later in life, when I was out of law school and on my own, I decided to take beginner horseback riding lessons. It was rather humorous. In the lessons, we walked our horses around a small ring and then turned around and walked in the opposite direction for a whole hour, week after week. My fellow classmates were just kids, and they were no more than ten years old. Then there was me, a full-grown adult. I did not care that I was so much older than my classmates, and I did not mind just walking around the horse ring in circles for an hour. I loved every minute of the lessons and being with the horses.
Finding my peace
I work as an attorney for the Federal Government, and unfortunately, it has caused me to have to uproot and move several times over the course of my career. It has always been difficult for me to leave friends behind and start afresh in a new location. Despite this difficulty inherent in my career, I have always carried my horseback riding with me to each new location; it's been a constant source of joy in my life. I love to ride horses, and I also love to just be in their presence. Horses are beautiful, loving, majestic creatures. Horseback riding and being in the presence of horses makes me feel happy and at peace. I especially enjoy trail riding because it allows me to enjoy nature while horseback riding.
My skin cancer diagnosis
In June 2018, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma on my bottom lip. It came back three additional times, and I had a total of four shave excision surgeries. I now have a very visible scar on my bottom lip. In February 2022, I was diagnosed with a severely atypical dysplastic nevus on my upper chest. Shortly thereafter, I had an excision surgery by an oncology dermatology surgeon, resulting in a fairly large scar on chest. My dermatologist advised me to maintain “limited sun exposure” going forward.
The impact that skin cancer has had on my life
Generally, I consider myself to be a very positive person. It does not come naturally to me, but I work at it. I work very hard to see the glass half full, and I am grateful for all that I have. At this time, however, skin cancer has taken a lot from me, and the greatest thing I have lost to skin cancer is my sense of safety and security. Whenever I go outside, it feels stressful. I feel like I am running through a 10-point checklist before I even step a toe out the door. Am I adequately covered? Is my sun hat securely on my head and fastened under my chin? Did I remember to put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes? Do I have enough sunscreen on to properly protect my face and body? Do I have both sunscreen and lip sun protection on my lips?
Finding a horseback riding routine that works for me
In June 2022, just a few months after my latest skin issue, I decided to do a horseback riding trail ride. It had been a hard few months, and I knew a trail ride would bring me so much joy. However, I am now very fearful of the sun and its effects. I did an extensive search of the trail ride offerings around me, and luckily, I found a sunset trail ride, which sounded just perfect for me. It started at 6:00 p.m. and was located only an hour away from Dallas, Texas, where I live. I was super excited and could not wait for the upcoming trial ride.
Having second thoughts
As the day of the trail ride got closer, I started having second thoughts. Will it be safe for me to go on this ride? How much sun is out at 6:00 p.m.? I will be wearing a riding helmet, and my recollection is that a riding helmet has only a short brim. Will my face be properly protected?
I decided to not take the risk
After a few days of really over-analyzing the situation, I concluded that it was not safe for me to do the sunset trail ride. I was not sure if I could get my money back, but it did not matter because I was not going to go under any circumstances. I was not going to put myself in an unsafe situation, and the sunset ride felt very unsafe. As much as I wanted to do the sunset trail ride, and as much as I would have totally been in my element out there riding, it was not worth the risk to my skin.
Putting riding on pause
At this time, I am not riding horses outdoors, but I have not given up on my love for horses and trail riding. Since June 2022, I have been trying to work through the safety concerns in my mind so that I feel at peace with trail riding once again. In the meantime, I will remember the good times I had trail riding and know in my heart that one day very soon, I will be back out there riding.
Skin cancer has taken a lot from everyone it touches. What has it taken from you?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?