Posts Tagged ‘skin cancer’

For five or six blissful months, I have (mostly) felt safe from the sun. In the winter, I am covered up, out of the sun. But when I’m in it, I’m relaxed. This is not the case the rest of the year. Last Sunday, a lovely day, we considered walking over to our favourite brunch place. I sighed. It is October, spring is in full force, and I knew that if I was going to spend an hour or more outside in the mid-day sun, I would need to cover up, and use suntan lotion. We took the car.

New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. We (mostly) have temperate climates (if you can call Australia’s regular 40 degree plus temperatures temperate), and very active populations that spend a lot of time outdoors. The man-made ozone hole over Antarctica extends over New Zealand and parts of Australia. It is beginning to heal, but will not be healed until 2070. In the meantime, exposure to the sun in New Zealand brings real risks – risks that you do not see in Europe. Peak UV intensities in New Zealand are about 40% greater than at comparable latitudes in Europe. I shudder when I see Europeans baking in the sun in the northern hemisphere, smeared with oil, something that went out of vogue in New Zealand by the 1980s. Fair-skinned northern Europeans (and their descendants who have spread throughout the world) are at risk everywhere. Sunbathing and a tan – any tan – is a recipe for wrinkles and leathery skin, for freckles and moles, for skin cancer and death. I’m not being melodramatic. A friend of my husband’s, about our age, died of melanoma two years ago.

My father too died of metastasized non-melanoma skin cancer. I have his pale Irish skin and green eyes. I burned badly as a child and teenager when we didn’t really know any better, but I’m very cautious of the sun now. Sunscreen is essential – carried with me during summer, always in the car (I love the high SPF Neutrogena spray cans that go on and stay on dry), and I won’t buy a moisturiser or makeup that doesn’t have SPF protection. Hats too are important. If we’re going to be out for a long time, we might wear long sleeves, and a collar to protect the hard-to-cover back of our necks. Sitting outside for lunch is one of the joys of spring and summer, but I need shade. Huge umbrellas at a café table, or picnics under a tree, are perfect.

I get annual skin checks. Earlier this year my GP removed two moles, just to be careful. I have tried Mole Mapping, but frankly, I have so many moles and freckles, it seems like an impossible task. I try not to be too paranoid, but being conscious of the risk makes me alert and cautious. I hope that’s a sensible balance. Certainly, getting our skin checked regularly is the bare minimum we should do. Today’s National Skin Check Day campaign has reminded me it is time for my annual check.

Spring and summer. They bring light and warmth and hope. But they bring danger too. Beware!


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Warning: I am fully aware of how self-indulgent this is about to sound. Please don’t abuse me. If you have a weak stomach, you may need a bucket.

As readers of my Travelalphablog know, I love to visit overseas beaches. Let’s face it, New Zealand waters are just too cold for me. Going numb before you can enjoy your swim is not my idea of fun, especially not that painful stage of getting wet, not to mention the stress of that unsolved dilemma of whether to go in gradually, or jump in and die of shock. So every couple of years, my husband and I pick a location and resort, fill our bags with books and swimsuits, and head off for a week. Often we try to do this in New Zealand’s winter, when the Pacific Islands or Queensland are an easy three or four hour flight away, and are still warm and balmy. But even in the summer (and this summer in particular), New Zealand’s weather is variable, and a tropical beach, with that freedom and happiness that comes with warmth, is always inviting. My favourite location is Thailand. The combination of the sea as warm as a bath, Thai food and the Thai culture of sanuk (joie de vivre) can’t be beaten. But we’ll try other spots.

We recently spent five days and nights at a beach resort in Malaysia. We slept late in our villa on stilts above the Malacca Straits, enjoyed long, late, breakfasts from an enormous buffet selection, read and slept again in our room and on the beach, swam in beautiful, buoyant Emerald Bay and lazed on loungers with a cool beer, enjoyed a fabulous bath house spa experience, swam later at the pool with an aquatic monkey then enjoyed an icy lime juice or cocktail whilst watching hornbills and bats fly in and out of the palm trees, and finished the day sipping wine on our deck watching the sun go down, before an exotic meal at one of the resort’s (overpriced) restaurants. It was a wonderful opportunity to read, to relax, to talk, and just to be together.

But we also spent half the time uncomfortably hot and sweaty, and my hair frizzed up like Basil Brush in the humidity so, frustrated, I abandoned my useless hair straightener. Having read in the local newspaper about a dengue fever epidemic, I spent half my time checking that I was covered by insect repellent, but still managed to get a number of bites. I’m waiting another week or so before I know I’m out of the woods for another (more dangerous) dose of the disease. I also spent the other half of the time ensuring I was completely covered by SPF 30 or above sunscreen, wearing a hat (one of the only people I saw doing so), and keeping out of the sun, but still frustratingly managed to get a bit of colour on one shoulder. Given that sun and mosquitoes are such an integral part of the whole beach resort experience, I am starting to wonder if this is the right holiday for me.

Perhaps I should be searching out a mountain lodge, where I can curl up in front of a fire with a nice red wine with my book and some good music, where we can take invigorating walks, and then soak later in a hot tub. Where I can bundle up, and don’t have to worry about whether I’m showing too much flesh, or what condition it might be in. It does sound appealing.

But a long winter is coming. And a niece is planning a wedding in Rarotonga. Seems I’m not done with beaches quite yet. And right now, in the midst of the worst summer I can remember, that doesn’t sound so bad.

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