As I approached the 12th anniversary of my dad’s passing, I found myself thinking more and more about some of the choices we make for our kids.
Although I was born in Southern England, I have lived almost my entire life in sunny San Diego. I played outdoor sports year round, went swimming and to the beach on a regular basis, and did all the outdoorsy things we often associate with our incredible climate.
Then, when I was 18, my dad was diagnosed with melanoma. He had multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo and radiation and fought the evil disease for 5 long years. He lived just long enough to see me graduate from high school and college. When we found out about the cancer, we all began to take our skin health more serious. In the years since, we have become dedicated to high quality sunscreen, wearing clothing that protects us from the sun’s rays, and staying in the shade when we can.
This does not mean we don’t do all the same things we have been doing our entire lives, but the amount of time in the sun definitely plays a larger role in how we prepare for these activities. Skin cancers have been on the rise in recent years, and the fabulous San Diego weather makes it so important for us to remember the sunscreen for ourselves and our kids.
Now that my son is old enough to begin playing sports and doing more outdoor activities, I find myself worrying more and more about his sun exposure. He has very light skin, even lighter than mine or my dad’s, and I’ve already had three melanomas removed. He is eager to play baseball and football and as crazy as it may sound, I’m not worried about concussions and broken bones as much as I’m worried about how much time he spends in the sun.
I am diligent about putting sunscreen on him and he has never had a sunburn. I use the recommended types of sunscreen from my saint of a dermatologist and have had no issues with them so far. I have even been to UCSD for DNA testing to determine whether or not I have the markers for certain related cancers, so I can make better decisions for his health while he’s so young.
But still I worry.
How can I not want my son to experience all the fun and exciting things he can do in San Diego? I know I’ve taken all the necessary precautions for him, but still I worry. My parents didn’t really know better when I was a kid. Yes, we wore sunscreen, but only when they remembered.
I know that I am certainly paying the price for the long weekends of softball, soccer, and volleyball tournaments when I got older, where it was up to me to remember to reapply the sunscreen. My first year at UCSD I surfed every single morning and had the most beautiful tan, which I loved because I had never had one before.
Now, 15 years later, I have to see my dermatologist every 3-6 months because of the cancerous spots he has found because of that beautiful tan. Each time a biopsy comes back it’s a reminder that I didn’t do all I could have when I was younger, and I am determined not to put my son in the same position.
When my son showed interest in playing hockey I was so happy that I wouldn’t have to worry about him being in the sun all the time!
I signed him up for the San Diego Gulls affiliate in Poway and bought all the gear he needed. I thought hockey would be fun for my son, but he’s over it now after only a year. He wants to play football now more than anything, and there is a good program just a block away from my house instead of the 45-minute drive to Poway twice a week. I certainly don’t want to discourage him from trying something new, even if my overprotective mom brain tells me hockey is so much safer for his skin.
So, I guess I’ll lather him up, hope sunscreen doesn’t get in his eyes, and be that annoying mom he loves so much standing on the sidelines reminding him he needs another coat of SPF 60 (at least). I will continue to take him to see a dermatologist every year to make sure any sun damage is checked out. Hopefully all these efforts will instill in him a healthy respect for the sun, so he can continue to enjoy all the activities we love in our sunny city.
Here are some tips for protecting your family’s skin this summer!
1) Find a dermatologist and see them once a year, just like a regular doctor’s check up.
2) Find a makeup with an SPF for yourself and use it daily. Check the AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) for SPF recommendations.
3) Wear a hat! There’s so many fashionable ones out there for you and your kiddos, and it’s one of the easiest ways to protect your face.
4) Please don’t go to the tanning salon! Check into a spray tan instead- there are so many alternates to give your skin a golden glow.
5) If you do get sunburn, call your doc right away for treatment!