Playa Jaco

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon. There were palm trees and tropical birds. The two-hour ride from San Jose was scenic, if not spectacular. Our missions team had just spent seven straight days conducting soccer clinics and feeding Nicaraguan refugees in Central Costa Rica. Today was our “touristy” day. Our time to relax and have fun. We zip lined in the morning and were planning to hang out at the beach (Playa Jaco) in the afternoon and early evening before heading back to camp. Everyone headed for the hot sand and the glistening water. It was hot and humid and it was this past January.


Like all “beach” days, I had decisions to make. Would I lay out? No. Would I walk along the beach? No, not right now. Would I go in the water? Um, nope. Everyone was lathering up and I looked out at the gorgeous Pacific Ocean and headed back to our small bus to find shelter. We were close to the equator so I figured I had a couple of hours to waste chatting with the bus driver. He spoke in broken English and I did my best to butcher his language. He thought it strange that I was not on the beach. Seems like I have had to explain my reasoning a thousand times and mostly in English for my sun avoidance regime. I eventually went out to the shore as the sun began to sink over the water. Sure, I had sunscreen with me and on. Yes, I had a hat and shirt. I just didn’t feel comfortable roasting and baking in the hot Caribbean sun.

The bigger picture

Vacations have not quite been the same since my diagnosis in 1988. Cruises, beach trips, time shares, golf, all day hiking: I am just so hesitant to enjoy these wonderful opportunities. I know that I have developed strategies to handle the sun in almost any context, but I am not about to relax and isn’t that the whole point of vacation? Seems that I always end up looking at the possibility of trips that involve touring museums and ancient cathedrals, all great stuff. But, for a Southern Cali guy, it’s not the same. There is nothing like body surfing and searching for shells.

Family matters

Fast forward to one week ago. My daughter was preparing to go with some of her friends on a spring break trip to Puerto Rico. We talked about sunscreen and she said that she probably would be the only person on the trip using it. Ugh! As she was finishing up packing and rushing around, I hurriedly went to the hall closet and found two bottles of spray sun block, SPF 70 and 100, the heavy-duty artillery. Thankfully, my daughter understands the risks and the critical importance of sun protection. She knows my battle, which is hers as well. She has not returned, yet and I am interested in not only everything that she did, but if she managed her sun exposure.

Moving forward

My skin cancer diagnosis affects so many areas of my life. I take the effects of sun exposure seriously decisions, great and small. I would love to do nothing more than enjoy hours in Miami Beach or Newport Beach. I used to surf and body surf. The point is that I can still do these things, but only if I have a plan and stick to it. Sometimes it is hard to be the “skin cancer” guy on a trip with others who don’t understand my situation, but the more I educate others (especially my family), the more I feel that I am making an impact. I want my experience to be a cautionary tale.

My Sun Strategies on Vacation

  • Consider sun protective clothing (more on this another time).
  • Wear UV- blocking sunglasses.
  • Remember that you can get burned on cloudy days.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunblock and reapply often.
  • Try to avoid direct sun from 10am-2pm.
  • Learn to enjoy museums.

A final thought

I have begun to do some research on the idea of companies offering vacation packages for people who have had skin cancer or other sun-related illnesses or conditions. I have not found any, yet. I envision cruises and vacation spots with dedicated areas for shade and sun management. I imagine them to have a dermatologist on duty and lots of sun screen available. I can see lots of events after 3:00pm or before 10:00am. It could be lucrative for some business ready to serve people who want to have a great time and relax and not worry about how their vacation is putting them at risk. Aloha! And please pass the sunscreen.

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