A pair of sunglasses rest on a table next to a pair of gardening gloves and a trowel, all illuminated by dappled sunlight. In the glasses frames is a reflection of the sun.

Keepin' It Shady

Lately, I've had a lot of time on my hands to complete projects both inside and outside my house. Thankfully, the weather here in Tennessee looks and feels like spring, and I have had the opportunity to work outdoors and complete some home improvement projects. Had this been 1990, my outdoor plans look quite different. This is 2020, however, and I am a skin cancer survivor.

Who needs sun protection?

In the years prior to my melanoma diagnosis, my outdoor activities were carefully planned. By carefully, I mean almost obsessively. From mowing to pulling weeds in my flower beds, I would wait until the sun was at its peak and the weather was at its hottest. Crazy, huh? It’s the truth. When I could have easily gone outdoors early while my flowerbeds were in the shade or mowed my grass after 5 in the evening, I waited. I watched and waited for the ideal time to have the sun on my shoulders, feel the heat on my cheeks, and watch a slow burn begin to take over my arms and the tops of my thighs.

A tanning obsession

You see, I watched for the sunny spots. I wanted to expose my skin. Intent on trying to tan my pale, freckled skin, I waited with the full intention of sunning myself as much as humanly possible. It was, without a doubt, an obsession. Any little activity outside required forethought - and not the effective, healthy kind. I was caught up in the tanning frenzy of the 80s and 90s. I was determined not to be pale, and looking for every available minute of sunshine was high on my priority list.

Now seeking shade for sun protection

It hit me again this week as I worked outside - I am a different person now. After melanoma, “my life got flipped--turned upside down.” (Now there’s a 90’s throwback for you!) My outdoor plans are now centered around finding all of the shady spots. I wait to weed my yard until the neediest spots are shaded by the trees. I work on the shady side of my house and wait until the sun has moved to do the rest. Mowing is almost certainly reserved for after 5:00 pm when the sun is much lower in the sky. All that being said, I still throw on my sunscreen.

My, how my tanning views have changed

This week, I painted new porch posts on my carport. That side of my house is in the sun most of the day. Old me would have been itching to wait until high noon to climb that ladder. I would have worn the strappiest tank top possible, and sunscreen would have been the last thing on my mind. In fact, I would have cringed at the thought of keeping myself from getting tan. 2020 me covers up, uses at least 50 SPF sunscreen, and looks for the shade like it’s my job.

Harsh sun protection reminders

If I have learned nothing else from living as a tanning-obsessed, sun-seeker, I have at the very least learned the sun isn’t my friend. After watching for the sun, looking for every opportunity to absorb all it had to offer, I realized how much damage I caused for myself in the long run. Three basal cell carcinomas removed by Mohs and multiple rounds of Efudex all remind me to look for the shade. Those are some pretty harsh reminders but good reminders nonetheless.

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