Sun, sea, surf & salvaging one’s skin

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a water baby. Thrown in the pool and told to swim as a tot, I remember swimming to my parents at Riverdel Swim Club in Riverside, N.J., as they would walk backwards to the other side. They would never stop. Then, when we did finally get to them, they’d dunk us in the water ala tough love and wouldn’t stop until we stopped crying. I don’t think there was such a thing as Child Protective Services back then. Eh, they figured they were water proofing us, and they succeeded. We were the Gillingham kids. We had gills.

The same thing would happen when we’d go to Long Beach Island each summer. We’d have to cross a deeper area before we’d get to the sand bar and it was always scary.

The result? They could never get us out of the water. We were on swim team, we body surfed and surfed on inflatable rafts in the ocean, and when I came to Hawaii I took to surfing, and kept my lifeguard credentials up to date.

So all this means I’ve spent more than my share of time in the sun. I remember during more than one of those small-kid-time summers down the shore how I would black out and faint from the bad sunburns I had. When I came to Hawaii, I learned the hard way how quickly a sunburn would occur. Even now I sometimes get carried away when I go out back to pick a few weeds and end up out there for hours and then suffering for more than a day from a bad burn.

I go to a dermatologist once a year to get the once over by a doctor who can spot a bad spot instantly. Previous years I’ve been given the CO2 treatment, spots frozen on my face, my chest and my arms. But this time the doctor recommended I use a topical cream so as to get everything. Pre-cancerous keratoses were detected on my hands and arms, so the doctor prescribed me two tubes of fluorouracil cream, a non-radiation chemotherapy treatment to apply once a day for a month on each arm. The doctor recommended I not do both arms at once and now I know why. It’s very uncomfortable.

Is my arm red!
Paula iPhone photo by daughter Charlotte

So here I am all red, but now a convert and true believer in all things sunscreen, including wearing SPF arm sleeves while out riding my bicycle and eventually while SUPing and surfing in Maunalua Bay.

My Charlotte has so much resolve and resistance against sunscreen that we took to calling it sunscream and we’d even pin her down to smear her up. But now she’s seeing what I’m going through. Not only is it not pretty, but it’s a warning to the young, beautiful and fair, and not so fair, to seriously consider protecting their skin.

I hope it’s not too late for me. The doctor says the red nastiness will be gone in a few weeks. I have to get a refill for my prescription. One tube on one arm lasts two weeks. I’ve got six weeks to go before both arms are pau. It is so uncomfortable I’ve toyed with the idea of not treating my left arm. But I will. I know it’s the right thing to do. And you know what else? I shall go and sun no more.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.

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