The Melanoma Mom
Parenting with melanoma knocked on my door in 2007. I had unwittingly invited it into my life over the years through my heated desire to tan my pale, freckled skin. I was the mother of two small children and was about to turn 33 years old when, for the first time, I saw myself as truly vulnerable.
In addition, it was also the first time I felt fearful for my son and daughter and their futures. They were 4 and 5 years old when everything I had ever done regarding the great outdoors did a complete 180-degree turn.
Former tanning fiend
Before that spring afternoon in 2007, I would have put sunscreen on my children and, without another thought, placed the bottle on the shelf or tossed it onto the washing machine as we headed out the door. On myself? Never. Using sunscreen would have prevented me from using every opportunity outdoors to tan.
My children, thank goodness, don’t remember the days of me laying out or visiting the tanning salon. They can’t recall a time when I wasn’t laden with carefully selected cosmetics and lotions because they have an SPF of at least 30. If I was a tanning fiend before, I am ten times as much a sunscreen fiend now.
Parenting when living with melanoma
I don’t talk with my children, now teenagers, about those days following my diagnosis and first skin cancer surgery. They don’t recall the moment I received the call. They don’t remember me coming home with my arm wrapped or the stitches and incision that left the scar I now bear on my upper arm. They were too small to remember any of those details. As they have grown, so has my scar count.
I do talk to them, however, about my sun damage and what I could and should have done to prevent it. As they entered their teens, I talked extensively about the fact they would see others their age seeking tans and shunning sunscreen. I had done the same thing for far too many years. They are well aware of the basal cell surgeries that followed my melanoma diagnosis.
Sadly, they are all too familiar with the side effects of using Efudex, a topical chemotherapy, to remove precancerous spots from my face and chest. They have watched each November as I struggle to sleep and function when the Efudex is doing its darnedest to fight through the sun damage and pull the actinic keratoses to the surface and rid my body of precancerous lesions. (It is not a pretty sight, I might add.)
My children are the pale ones you will see on the beach and the ones you might see only in the late afternoon at a pool. If you do see them on a hot and sunny summer afternoon, they will be the ones being called over to reapply sunscreen.
Thankfully, they are also the ones not complaining about being sprayed down or having their mother vigorously rub lotion on the backs of their necks and hitting the tops of their feet just one more time with another blast of sunscreen. Yeah. They have that mom.
My son, now taller than me, likely laughs inside a little as he watches me motion to rub the sunscreen over the tops of his ears as if by now he doesn’t know to do that. He, like his sister standing there, arms out, asking me if she got everything covered, knows better. They know it’s just our routine now. And they know why.
Message received and understood
That spring afternoon, an afternoon on which I would normally have been on my way to the local tanning salon, my life changed. Mine was far from the only life that changed. My children were nudged, not so gently, down a path to sun safety-- a path I am not sure they would have otherwise taken. You see, for all we preach to our children about sunscreen and avoiding peak hours of sunlight, they will likely only practice what they see another person-- a loved one-- value.
Saying the words “wear sunscreen” is one thing. Had I not been a parent with melanoma and had my children not begun to see me actually put it on myself and value its importance, I seriously doubt my words alone would have been enough to resonate with them as they grow older. The thing that could easily have taken my life has, in turn, changed theirs-- and for the better.
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