Summer is just around the corner and it’s a good time to talk about protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. I spoke to Shelley Baker, a woman in her 50s who lives in Oklahoma. She discovered several years ago that she had basal cell carcinoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, and talked to me about her experience.
She noticed what seemed to be an itchy rash forming on her arms, legs, back, and face and went to a clinic to see what it was. The doctor/dermatologist there sent in a culture and told her she had eczema/psoriasis. For twelve years she treated it with various creams. Then her skin lesions began to change. They grew flatter on her body and the ones on her face started getting deeper. It became painful when she took off her makeup. When her lesions started to bleed, she knew something else was wrong.
Shelley was in her late 40s at the time. She called a dermatologist in Tulsa but was told an appointment was 3 months out. Not wanting to take “no” for an answer, she called back the next day. There was a cancellation and she was able to get in immediately. The doctor told her she had a basal skin carcinoma. Because it was too advanced and wide-spread to do surgery, he suggested she try a new drug Erivedge™ that had shown promising results.
The drug comes in pill form and there are some side effects. (muscle pain, hair loss, loss of appetite and no taste) Shelley tried it and within 3 weeks her doctor was floored with the results. It fights the disease from the inside and, for Shelley, it was worth enduring the side effects. She experienced a little hair loss on her head (nothing too noticeable) and total hair loss on her body. She joked with friends that she didn’t have to shave. Wearing false eyelashes was a plus in her mind.
The drug completely cleared up her lesions. Now she watches to make sure it doesn’t come back. So far, she has been 4 years clear. She goes in for regular checkups and takes precautions to protect her skin from the sun.
Shelley did so well on the Erivedge™ drug that the company sent out a film crew to document her treatment. They even followed her as she and her husband rode their motorcycles to church where she sings in the choir. She was interviewed and they used it to create an ad for the drug that has been on YouTube.
Get a second opinion
Shelley was lucky that her skin cancer didn’t progress further in the 12 years she was treating her skin for eczema/psoriasis. Her lesions started out looking like a rash and they itched. Because the symptoms were similar to eczema/psoriasis, it was why she had been misdiagnosed. Once there was bleeding and pain Shelley knew she had to get another opinion.
Check your family health history
Her mother had been treated for basal cell carcinoma years before and her sister’s baby had melanoma. (she is fine now) Skin cancer is a dangerous and deadly disease and can be genetic. Treatment for it is not something you want to postpone. If you even have an inkling something is wrong, get checked. (A weird mole, a strange rash) Yit’s better to be safe than sorry.
Sun damage can become dangerous as we age
Most sun exposure damage occurs after age 40. Nearly 50% of Americans who live past age 65 will have an incidence of skin cancer at least once in their lives.
What Shelley is doing to prevent a recurrence of skin cancer and what we all should be doing daily
- Wear a makeup foundation that has sun protection and at least a UV 30 sunscreen on the rest of her body. If you are concerned about the chemicals in sunscreen you may want to try Coola sunscreens. They are great!
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat when you are out in the sun.
- Wear thin long-sleeved shirts that have UV protection. It gets hot in Oklahoma so Shelley can protect her skin and still stay cool.
- Cover up when you swim. When Shelley goes to the lake, she wears yoga-style pants instead of a bikini.
- Be proactive with your healthcare. As I mentioned before, she didn’t take “no” for an answer when she knew she needed to see a doctor right away. Be persistent. If she had sat there for 3 months, her outcome might have been much worse.
Shelley’s treatment changed her life. For 12 years she had developed a ritual to take off her makeup without pain. Now that her skin is cleared up, she feels like a new person.
Have you ever had skin cancer or know someone who has? Tell your story in the comments below.