A woman with a hat looks at a sunburned woman with a concerned expression.

Always on the Alert for People Making Skin Cancer

Now that I’ve had so much skin cancer, I can’t keep my mind from buzzing and beeping when I see someone doing a silly thing or when I hear about it.

Coming across someone who's tanning

Today was a good example. I was walking with my boyfriend along a beautiful beach on Cape Cod, at Wellfleet Harbor. It was a summery day in May. I was not wearing officially sun-protective clothing, but I was covered from head to toe: hat with UPF 50 and a brim, long-sleeved dark shirt, and leggings. At the start of our walk, we came across a woman lying on her stomach, her back “catching some rays,” as we used to say. She was only wearing what looked to be white underpants. I assume it was a bathing suit bottom though.

It brought back memories

Her skin was getting red. I could recall the wonderful feeling of doing the same thing back in the day. I remember trying to cook evenly, front and back, at the beach near our little house on Long Island in the Village of Atlantic Beach. I would ask if I was even. My friend or whomever I was asking would say yes. But as I told my boyfriend, I got the front much more than the back. My back is actually fine, while my front has sprouted so many squamous cell skin cancers, I lost count.

No part of your body is immune to skin cancer

The front is also victim to all my activities – tennis, running, and walking – which although good for overall health can be bad for the skin if done without protection. I have to say I have not always been good about consistently applying sunscreen, though I am better now. Also, my calves on both sides have gotten either squamous cell cancers or actinic keratoses.

I want to warn them!

In any case, I wanted to say to the woman, “You’re making skin cancer!” I said it in my head, though. We walked for about a mile. On the way back, we passed two wizened older women who looked like they had been baking their skin their whole lives. They were sitting in chairs under the sun. They didn’t have an umbrella. I thought, well, they have just given up.

Complementing people on their tan

I told my boyfriend that I had a friend who came back from Florida all tan. Some of us commented on it. She did look good. That’s through the eyes of people in this culture, of course, where we think that a tan is healthy while we know it’s not. She said that since she has olive skin, she doesn’t need to wear sunscreen. We said, “Not true!”

Should I say something?

At the other end of our beach walk, we saw the sunbathing woman again. This time she was doing her front. She had on more than the underpants-looking bottom. I could see that her chest was getting red. Once again, I remembered how good it felt at a time when I didn’t know how bad it was. Once again, my mind buzzed. I was thinking that now she was making skin cancer on her chest. Once again, I thought that of course, I wouldn’t say anything. I asked my boyfriend if I should say something. He said no. I wasn’t really going to do it. I just smiled and said hello. She said hello back.

I don't want others to go through what I went through

Who knows, maybe she was wearing sunscreen. Even if she was, though, I don’t think she should have been sitting out that long. We had walked for more than an hour, and she had been in the same spot, under the sun, the whole time. She looked like a nice person, so I hope she is OK.

We're going to cover up

We’re going to read at the beach later. It is so pleasant to read at the beach, with the sound of the waves lapping and that beachy smell that I wish I could bottle to take back inland. I can assure you that we are going to cover up and take an umbrella.

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