We love the sun so much that we live where we see it shine almost every day. And where we may be among those who are likely to propel Florida into having the second-highest number of new cases of melanoma, a serious skin cancer, this year.
Because this is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it's a good time to consider what we need to be doing to protect ourselves. We consulted an expert, Dr. Clay J. Cockerell. He's a physician and is also the chairman of the golf committee of the American Dermatological Association.
Cockerell says he has golfed since he was a boy in Abilene, Texas.
"When I started playing, we really didn't have any sunscreens and didn't know how bad sun was for you," the Dallas physician says.
Sun needn't be dangerous if people are wise about their exposure time and protection, he noted. When Cockerell heads out for golf, he chooses a sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30, and he slathers all exposed parts of his body. Cockerell says reapplication is needed every couple of hours.
He tries to tee off early, but if playing in the middle of the day, he makes an effort to seek shade. Because baseball caps don't protect ears, neck and jawline, Cockerell plays in a wide-brim hat, noting, "It just takes some getting used to."
What about women who wear visors because they want to protect their hairdo, or they simply like the look? Cockerell says these are not as effective as a larger hat for protecting the scalp.
Sun-protective clothing is a good idea, he adds, such as a windbreaker with an SPF of 30 or more.
Learning the hard way
Linda Pilkington, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, grew up in New Jersey. Fair-skinned, blond and blue-eyed, she recalls she used to spend time as a teenager sunbathing, and in her 20s, she spent time in tanning salons.
Annual skin checks were not on her schedule.
Eight years ago, when she turned 40 but before she began working for the foundation, she saw a mole on her knee change appearance within a week. Pilkington had Stage 3 melanoma; it had traveled to her lymph nodes.
She has since learned that in addition to her previous sun exposure, she has a gene mutation associated with melanoma.
For a year, she took a drug called Intron A and endured side effects of flu-like symptoms. She is disease-free now but will always have to be alert to the possibility melanoma will return.
Pilkington says people often assume a melanoma can simply be cut out by a doctor. "For the early stage, that often is true," she says. "But most people aren't aware of the risk and the progress of it, so they tend not to get something checked out."
That increases the possibility melanoma will spread to lymph nodes or other organs, which is often fatal.
Juli Cragg Hilliard is a freelance writer living in Bradenton.