I’ve been trying to come up with a good explanation for what happened that would captivate readers. Ideas that came to mind included:
1. I forgot to apply sunblock to my nose while skiing at Aspen.
2. I took a header over my handlebars.
3. I was frying bacon when a grease fire flared up.
I even thought about a story that would appeal to small children:
Santa wanted to give Rudolf a year off, so he appointed me to lead the reindeer team. That was me up on the rooftop going, “Clop, clop, clop,” while sugar plums were dancing in your head. We had a lot of toys and a lot of stops, but we got it done. I was home and in bed by 6….
But the sad truth is, all of the above is fiction. I don’t ski, haven’t been on a bike in years, and have never set myself on fire over the stove. Factually, I am only paying for the sins of my youth.
When I was growing up, I lived only a block and a half from the most popular swimming beach in my hometown. From age 5 to 15 and from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I spent at least half of every day — except for the week I was sent to visit my grandparents and the year we couldn’t swim at all because of a polio scare — in the lake or hanging with friends on the beach. I burned a little every Memorial Day, but by the Fourth of July I had a deep tan, year after year.
Then, when I was 21, serving in the U.S. Navy, our ship had an open bridge, meaning there was no shade for the lookouts. I developed a significant “farmer’s tan,” meaning my face, neck and forearms were fairly dark.
After several weeks at sea, we docked for a couple of days at Roosevelt Roads, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
Some friends and I decided to spend an off day at a small lagoon not far away. I stripped down to my bathing suit, and lay out in the tropical June sun for just two hours.
Being a Minnesotan, I didn’t realize just how much stronger the sun’s rays were down there. The next day, I woke up feeling ill, looked at my front, back and legs and realized I was covered with blisters.
The Navy frowns on sunburn in terms of being an excused absence, but my division officer took mercy on me, and I spent a day in bed out of the sun. I spent the next few weeks itching and peeling.
Like most people, in my youth I did not worry about how much exposure to the sun I had. In America, at least for the past half century, it’s been cool to be tan. An entire industry, tanning beds, even sprang up.
However, once one reaches their mid-40s, gradually things start to sag and droop in new ways.
When I was a kid, I’m not sure if suntan lotion even existed before I turned 18. By the time I was 45, however, I was applying it faithfully every time I went golfing or did anything else when I knew my time outside would be extensive.
Having taken good care of myself for the last third of life, at least skinwise, I thought no more about it, until I went in for a routine physical a couple of months ago,.
The doctor entered the exam room, walked up a foot from my face and said, “I don’t like the looks of that.”
Thank you very much.
One thing led to another, and they took a small slice of a blemish, no more than a quarter inch across, from my nose, then sent me off to see a dermatologist. The dermatologist said I had the second most common type of skin cancer.
The secretary of health and human services at our house had something similar on her nose about nine or 10 years ago.
When she had it removed, she underwent something called a “Moh’s procedure.” The procedure involves numbing up the offending area, then scraping a slice of tissue off. The tissue is put under a microscope to determine if it is healthy or not. If not, the doctor scrapes another layer off. The doctor keeps scraping until he/she gets down to healthy tissue.
No one would ever know the secretary had such a procedure, if I hadn’t just told you all.
This time, the dermatologist persuaded me to undergo a different, less expensive procedure since the problem was caught early. For three weeks, twice a day I had to apply a medicated ointment to the affected area. Within a few days, my nose turned bright red, as if it were badly chapped.
While it didn’t hurt, I refer to it as “Moe’s procedure.” That’s “Moe” as in Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, who was fond of saying, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,” while giving Larry’s or Curly’s nose a jerk.
I started treatment a week before Christmas, figuring that I would mostly be around family, and wouldn’t have to explain myself 15 times a day. But alas, in my job I talk to a lot of people, and there’s no way to hide a bright red nose unless I were to put on a burka, which would lead to even more questions.
The dermatologist suggested I take this opportunity to educate the public about the importance of protecting their skin.
That’s why I’m writing my column on this topic. If you have blue eyes, you have a good chance of developing skin cancer at some point in your life if you don’t take care of yourself, Put the suntan lotion on whenever you go out for an extended period.
If you are under 40 and reading this, you may think it is no big deal, but I guarantee, if you protect your skin, in a couple of decades you will be the envy of your peers.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].