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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stay Sun Smart

Ladies and gentlemen,

What you're about to read is a personal journey I've undergone.  This was written initially for Sun Smart Victoria, however they haven't used it.  Those who know me, know that I love having fun in the sun, and with summer heading our way, I'd like to think of this as a warning to those wanting to spend all day at the beach.

This summer, please remember the simple rules: Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen and Slap on a hat.  Be safe this summer and hopefully you can avoid the scars I possess.

Rhiannon Elizabeth Irons

I moved to Queensland from Victoria when I was just 8 years old.  Living up north certainly provided me with a lot of opportunity to be at the beach, frolicking about in the surf.  I would always wear hats and sun shirts when I was younger, but as I hit my teens, I wanted to be like every other girl on the beach and show off my body in a bikini with a nice tan.

Most summers I would be at the beach or beside the pool, and despite everything you’re about to read, I still enjoy having fun in the sun.  I’m just a lot more cautious now.  I would, and still do, always use sunscreen and reapply it after I get out of the water.

I am very fair skinned and I do have many beauty spots all over my body.  So at the age of nineteen, I noticed one on my arm had gotten darker.  I went to the doctor who took one look at it and simply said “That needs to come out.”  He immediately issued me an appointment to have it removed the following week.

I’ll admit that was more self-conscious of how a large scar would look on my arm than what the dangers were of leaving the mole there.  I was only nineteen and already self-conscious about the way I looked so to me at the time, a large visible scar was just going to make me uglier.

The appointment came and it took nearly forty minutes to numb the area, remove the mole and stitch my arm.  My doctor sent off the mole to be checked and thankfully it came back benign.

It took a while for me to start showing off my arm as I felt that people were staring at my scar.  I use to work with Coles Supermarket and during the following summer after having it removed I began using it as a cautionary tale for children who didn’t want to wear a sun shirt or who complained to their parents about the stickiness of sunscreen. 

I thought my worries were over, but at the age of 24, I discovered a mole on my back had grown and had darkened.  Not taking any chances, I followed my father to a skin clinic and saw his doctor who advised me it was best to take it out because out of all the moles on my body, that would be the one to turn into something nasty.

As I was heading overseas to the USA to celebrate my 25
th birthday, I decided to wait until I got back to have it take out.  Wouldn’t you know it, while staying in Hawaii, I got badly sunburned on the last day my friend and I were there.

It took longer to get this mole out than it did the previous one as it was larger.  The procedure was the same.  Numb the area, remove mole, insert stitches.  However this time the whole area wasn’t numbed and I could feel the doctor cutting it out and stitching it up.  It was pure agony.  But once again, the results came back benign.

The scar on my back looks worse than the one on my arm but I’m not as self-conscious about it probably because it’s on my back and I don’t see it every day.

Now every year I head back to the skin clinic to get checked over and make sure nothing has changed.  My sun habits have changed slightly.  When I am out and about I remember the simple rule of slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.  I also wear sunglasses and can often be found camped out under a shady tree or umbrella.

I’ve come to love my pale skin and am doing everything in power to protect it from sun damage.  My partner loves it too and though at times I’m still self-conscious about my scars, he doesn’t notice them.

My father, who is in his mid sixties, has had numerous skin cancers removed, including one from his nose in which his nose had to be peeled back from his face so they could get all the tentacles that had grown beneath the surface of his skin.  More recently he had the top of his right ear removed as it was riddled with skin cancers.  He has, and will always be, a warning to me to stay out of the sun or at least be protected.

The ads on TV are right.  There is nothing healthy about a tan.  The only safe tan is a spray on one. 

This picture is of the scar on my arm.  Slip, Slop, Slap this summer to avoid having one of your own.

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