Sunscreen, people! SUNSCREEN!

In 2015, during the OD-less Void, a friend of mine who was the leading authority on penguins and other waterfowl asked me to do a Skype call with him on a research vessel in the Weddell Sea.  FT was in his early 70’s, and in the previous 30+ years had spent 4-5 months out of every 12 working in the Antarctic.  He said he had a “blood blister” on his face that popped, and the on-board medic didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

I took one look at the screen and said, “Get back to the US, now!” What I saw screamed Melanoma, and given his Scots-Irish ancestry, it’s no surprise what the hefty UV exposure off the ice had done to him.  Of course, wearing sunscreen never crossed his mind.  So, my visual interpretation was correct, and FT had an aggressive surgery that removed a dime-sized chunk of soft tissue off the bridge of his nose.  Luckily, his plastic surgeon was brilliant, and it healed beautifully.

But did I mention that that closer to the body’s mid-line a melanoma is, the more likely it is to metastasize?  So, the next thing was having both sides of his throat cut to remove 4 lymph nodes on one side, and 3 on another.  Being this aggressive, we decided on a combination therapy of nivolumab + ipilimumab, which statistically would extend his life 18-36 months.  He said he wanted enough time to finish his last book, and we gave him that.  FT died in January of 2017, and I kid you not when I say that the list of where the cancer hadn’t spread was significantly shorter than where it had.  His bone mets, including lesions on his skull, had him in agony at the end.  A sad end to a brilliant mind that was probably avoidable with some sunscreen.

Now today, another friend, this one in his 80’s, called me about a Stage 0 Melanoma in situ on the side of his nose.  Forgive the graphic image, but if this scares you shitless (and I hope it does), maybe you will make sunscreen a part of your daily regimen.  The good news for him is that it appears to be localized.  The bad news is that if he wants a close to 100% survival rate from this, he’s going to have some majorly disfiguring surgery.


So when people ask why I use sunscreen EVERY DAY, this is why.

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March 8, 2018

This is an important warning. My Irish-American grandfather had skin cancers on his face and arms all the time during his later years, largely due to his love of fishing (outdoors of course) in Colorado and Texas throughout his whole life. I have terribly fair skin, and have allowed myself to be severely sunburned 3 times in my life, so I realize that I need to be aware of anything that “pops” up. Thank you again for this important reminder.

March 12, 2018

I’ve been using sunscreen on my face for decades now, but I still am scared that I had too much fun when I was younger…. What blows my mind are all the tanning salons. How the heck do they get away with it?

March 12, 2018

@lakeland Those tanning beds should be illegal.

March 12, 2018

I’ve been using sunscreen daily for 45 years. I hope it helps!