Scare tactics


Age spots waiting to happen

Yesterday I did my own head in. Since my own mind is susceptible like no other to my mental obfuscation, it is easy to put one over myself. It takes mental discipline to not allow it to happen. It is still singularly disappointing when my own mind turns on itself. In the long lead in time from referral to appointment for a skin check up, I had convinced myself that my failure to comprehensively comply with skin safe/sun smart/cancer avoiding routines, meant that I was harbouring multiple deadly skin lesions. My Celtic genetic pool has blessed me with the kind of freckly, pale and easily burnt skin that doesn’t belong in a country with no ozone layer. I haven’t been sunburned for a long, long time, but I still have some sun exposure in the garden, at the pool, in life in general. I am pretty good at wearing hats and sunscreen and I don’t seek out the sun. I have many freckles and significant ‘photo ageing’. Most of this damage is a result of my childhood exposure. The 70s were not great for Slip, Slop, Slap compliance. Aside from the childhood persecution that I received from the freckles, I am now more prone to age spots (excellent!) and other skin lesions. So far, so cheerful!

In October, my GP suggested I have an appointment to check some of the spots. I wasn’t too worried, but I knew I was at higher risk. The first appointment was five months away. Yesterday five months were up and I had comprehensively worked myself up to hear a melanoma and all kinds of other skin cancer diagnosis.

For someone like me, the public health messages are just giant scare campaigns. Cancer Council tells us “two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.” “Sunburn causes 95% of melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer.” “Individuals with higher risk include – high levels of UV exposure and episodes of sunburn during childhood.”

Taken together all of this convinces me that I have skin cancer. Right now. I’m all those things! Well, I’m not 70, but I will be! I was sunburned as a child! I live in Australia! I don’t always always wear a hat! OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO DIE! In this state of mind, I entered the office of the dermatologist.

This doctor is one of the more charming bow tie wearing expense incurring specialists in town. I chose him specifically on his reputation as the best and also because he trains other doctors. In two minutes with my personal history delivered and my skin under examination, it was clear there was nothing to be concerned about. The gorgeous Pakistani dermatologist in training complemented my grey and blue linen shirt by telling me how well it matched with my hair – she is taking charm lessons too it seems. That prompted a conversation about Celtic origins, dark hair and fair skin. All up it was complete in 12 minutes. The solar keratosis on my shoulder was blasted with liquid nitrogen, not because it was dangerous necessarily, but rather to prevent me from continuing to find it with my fingers. Genetics play a large part in how your skin will respond to sun damage, and lucky for me, the genetics which gave me freckles so far haven’t passed on other more dangerous predispositions.

I am to have a return visit if anything changes or when I am 50. Of course, maintaining my sun safe habits, and being even more diligent is crucial. I did my own head in yesterday, when actually I just needed to wait for an expert opinion.

As for the age spots, well it seems I am highly likely to get more. They are a fact of ageing it seems in this country. Slip, Slop, Slap and stay out of the sun.

NB: this is not medical advice. If you are worried, see your doctor. Useful information about Sun Smart habits can be found here.