Growing up, I was an outdoorsy kid from a small-town in BC. Thankfully for me, my parents were smart and would smother me with sunscreen every time I went to play in the sun. It wasn’t until I was about twelve years old, when we thought we were too cool for helmets and sunscreen, that I discovered an odd mark spreading on my shoulder.
For those of you who don’t know, if you grow up in a small town, your main options for fun are sports or other clubs, most of which get you outside. I took swimming lessons in an outdoor pool, played with my friends outside, did plenty of outdoor activities with Girl Guides, went hiking, biking, and camping. These were all great times, and the worst part seemed to be when my parents would put sunscreen on my face as I squished up my nose.
I grew up thinking as I’m sure many young kids do, you put sunscreen on to avoid a sunburn. Skin cancer? I didn’t know what that was. Cancer was “a thing that happens to old people.” Either way, I didn’t like sunburns, so I would wear the sunscreen.
In the summers when my friends and I got older, and by older I mean 12 and 13 (at that time we were basically adults), we would bike to the lake everyday. They didn’t wear helmets, so I wouldn’t wear mine. I would bring sunscreen, but I was told that I wouldn’t get a tan with that on. Most of my friends would either wear tanning spray or no sunscreen at all. I slowly started doing the same. I typically wouldn’t get burnt, so I didn’t see the harm in it. A couple years of hitting the lake every summer and getting a “wicked tan,” I noticed a brown splotchy mark on my left shoulder that seemed to be spreading. My mom and I figured it was some harmless pigmentation mark.
When I turned 17 I realized that I should get this mark checked out, as it had spread down my arm and over my shoulder onto my chest. It would grow and get darker during the summer, but because I was used to it, it took me a while to realize what was happening. Still thinking it was just a pigmentation spot, I went to my doctor to see what she made of it. It was suspicious that this mark’s growth was linked to the sun, although it didn’t present itself as skin cancer. It was still recommended to me that I get a biopsy to make sure it wasn’t harmful. Well my brain jumped to the worst conclusion and I had just about convinced myself I had cancer.
After getting a chunk of skin taken out of my arm, the results were inconclusive on what it was, but we knew it wasn’t cancer. After seeing a few other doctors and specialists, I still have not gotten a definitive answer as to what is spreading on my arm, but they are still convinced it has something to do with overexposure to UV radiation.
Since that day I have been sure to wear UVA/UVB sunscreen when going out into the sun. After its substantial growth from ages 12-17, my mark has slowed remarkably and doesn’t get as dark during the summers. I am lucky that I have not seen any negative effects of overexposure, but the time I’ve spent unprotected in the sun has increased my chances of skin cancer and I will continue to practice sun safety. Although it’s unfortunate that it took me so long to take sun safety as seriously as I do now, I’m grateful that I have the knowledge and precautions I gained from the experience.