This is a bit of a brave post and I have debating for all of the summer months about posting it. In 2012, I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) and Actinic Keratosis (pre-cancerous skin cancer). Whilst basal cell carcinoma is one of the easiest skin cancers to treat, I had let is fester under my eye for too long and it had grown deeper. If left it any longer, I was in danger of it spreading and it affecting my eye sight, and I required Mohs surgery. I’ve never really blogged about it before. I guess I’ve treated it a bit like a dirty secret.
So far, I have had 5 treatments on my face, and one on my arm – most of the treatments have been for Actinic Keratosis (pre-cancerous cells that turn into Squamous cell carcinoma’s). For these treatments, I have had to apply an anti-cancer drug to the area before sleep. The cream burns out and kills the cells which gave me terrible burns to my skin including open wounds. At the end of the treatment, my skin was burnt and red raw. Yes, I have good make up for running (don’t judge me! 😊) so it’s difficult to spot unless its pointed out. I am also lucky to have had a fantastic consultant and have to regularly go back for checkups.
Unfortunately, the cream hasn’t worked on many occasions and I have had to have Photodynamic therapy which consists of initial treatment of cream to kill the cancer cells, this is then followed by a special light treatment which reacts with the cream to kill the cancer cells. This treatment was excruciatingly painful (think about the shuddery feeling of putting your foot in a boiling hot bath – but leaving it there for 15 minutes).
Skin cancer is real, but it is preventable. Roughly 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultra violet radiations from the sun. I lived in Australia for a year and didn’t think skin cancer would happen to me, and would regularly sit in the sun without any sun factor. Shamefully, as a teenager, I used to lather myself up with baby oil and just bake until I was burnt to a crisp. I naively thought I would eventually end up with a golden tan like my friends. Half of my family are pale, Scottish and freckly so this wasn’t ever going to happen!
Cancer is scary and unpleasant, it’s also really emotionally draining. This hasn’t been an easy post to share but If this post has just reached one person in using sunblock and using sun preventative measures, I have saved one person some sun damage.
My relationship with the sun is complicated. I love soaking up its warmth and energy, but obviously have to be really careful. The sun does like to leave its mark – age spots, tan lines, painful burns – to name but a few. There are, of course, reasons to be wary, especially if you’re logging lots of summer miles. But you might be surprised to learn that running in the sun also does your body good..
There’s something about the sunshine that makes us happy. Our mood is better, we feel more positive – making the sunshine vital to our mental and physical health, but we should also know when enough is enough. Here are a few tips to staying safe in the sun…
- Certain medication can make you sensitive to the sun. Most topical and oral medications, including those for acne, high blood pressure and birth control can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
- Wear a hat or join the #visorclub to prevent sun damage. You won’t catch me without my visor in the summer, I feel naked without it. Also UV – blocking sunglasses are a must – polarised lenses help beat the glare.
- Use Sun protection. Bit of an obvious one but a lot of runners won’t wear sunblock due to the stickiness and how much they can make you sweat, so its worth investing in a sports sunscreen which is lighter in texture and less occlusive. I use Neutrogena Ultra sheer, dry touch lotion, factor 55 and it goes on really lightly and isn’t sticky at all. Gents- Don’t forget to do the rim of your ears and the top of your scalp if you have thinning hair. If you are able to purchase a travel size, you can keep this in your hydration pack or waist band.
- Run when the sun is less intense. Generally, the sun us at its strongest between 10am and 4pm, if you train during those hours, find somewhere shady to run.
- Do your checks regularly. If you spend a lot of time outside, its important that you check for irregular moles or spots which are there for a long time, suddenly appear or become itchy. It’s always worth getting a second opinion by a Doctor if you are unsure.
Taking these small steps is a no brainer. Not only can they extend your running, they can extend your life.
May your miles be long and your injuries few