I knew about melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, I just never thought about it.
When I was young, I had been told all about the dangers of sun exposure, but I thought everyone had that same burn-first, tan-later philosophy. You went to the beach, fell asleep in the sand, turned into a tomato, then really started your vacation.
I grew up at a time when a day in the hayfield was accompanied by a no-shirt philosophy. After that first burn, it was all under control.
My dad worked for the state department of transportation, and those guys used to drive all that heavy equipment ... yes ... shirtless. That was my example.
So when I drove as a 19-year-old in March from New York to Gainesville, Fla., for my first winter-in-a-hot-place vacation, I burned the tops of my feet so bad that first day I couldn't walk the second day.
It was about 10 years later, though, when I received the call. I was living in California and my dad was in our upstate New York hometown. He told me he had a melanoma on his back, and the doctor said there was nothing he could do. Those of you who have seen a loved one die of cancer know the rest of the story.
I thought about melanoma from then on.
A few weeks ago, I had a visit from longtime friends from the Midwest, who wanted to get that first really bad burn out of the way so they could take a tan back with them. I urged against it. But, then, I never listened when I was young, either. It is amazing to me, though, with all the information we have now about skin cancer, we can remain so oblivious.
It all came to mind as I went to the Sarasota office of Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, who founded SkinSmart in 2005. SkinSmart is hosting free skin cancer screenings every Thursday in April and May. If you bring a partner with you, you are entered in a chance to win a meal for two at The Capital Grille in Sarasota worth $250. Call 308-7546 for more information or to schedule.
I sat down with Dr. Callahan and retold the story about my dad, and my own stupidity as a young person. She advised me with my background, a once a year skin screening makes sense. Dr. Callahan has skin cancer in her own family, so she gets checked once a year as well.
Now Dr. Callahan is fortunate, since she has skin cancer specialists walking all around her office. It's pretty darned convenient.
Then again, what's better than free? So you've got no excuse, do you?
Whether you visit SkinSmart, or any other dermatologist, it might be something you want to put on the schedule. "The older you are, you chance (of skin cancer) increases," she told me.
Of course, I do believe my chance of getting everything bad increases as I age, so this was no surprise.
But then Dr. Callahan gave me a few tips, such as the fact we can keep a pretty good eye on our own skin. The back, well, we need some help there. She let me know the back is the leading place for melanoma for men. For women, it's the legs.
If you see something, don't let it go. You are looking for anything dark. Anything you question. Anything new or changing.
Dr. Callahan gave me the ABCs. Asymmetry, where one half of a mark on your skin is not equal to the other half. Border irregularity, or a jagged outline. Color, dark colors should cause concern.
You can keep going through the alphabet. Diameter, bigger than an pencil eraser should be checked out. Evolution, something changing.