Thursday, July 5, 2012



By Randy Rawls

         For most of my life, I have been a sun worshipper. It started when I was a towheaded kid with a face filled with freckles. As soon as the temperature heated up in my hometown in North Carolina, my shoes came off, and shorts went on. A shirt was appropriate only when Mom made me wear it because we were going somewhere special. I baked my skin a golden brown, almost as dark as my freckles.

        I only lived a few blocks from the municipal pool, so each afternoon I was in and out of the water—well, each day that I could convince Mom or Dad to give me the ten cents admission fee. Usually, after telling me all the reasons I couldn't go, the dime was forthcoming, along with numerous warnings to stay safe. And I got darker.

        That's not to say it was play all the time. I had chores. We had an old push mower and it was my job to cut the grass. Note I didn't say mow the lawn. First, that mower was so inefficient and cranky, it only cut sporadically, and second, we didn't really have a lawn. But we did have open areas around the house where wild grass and weeds survived. So there I went, pushing that rotary lawn mower back and forth, using some rather expressive language to let the mower and the weeds know how I felt their existence. And I got darker.

        During those years, I discovered the local library. So on the days I wasn't swimming or playing cowboys and Indians, I'd jump on my bike, race to the library, check out a book, and soon be stretched out on a towel reading. And I got darker.

        The years rolled forward, and I became a teenager. Everyone said the girls went for the outdoorsy-looking, macho guys so at every opportunity I worked to tan. Shorts and flip-flops. That was standard attire most of the time. And I got darker.

        The rest of my life pretty much followed that pattern. Soak up as much sun as possible. I measured my "healthiness" by how dark I could get during the summer months, no matter where I was.

        Until about ten years ago. That's when my doctor first noticed a spot he didn't like. He suggested I go to a dermatologist, and I've been going at least every six months since. The dermatologists have changed as I've moved around, but the procedures have remained constant—freezing and slicing. My latest doctor is an energetic young woman (everyone is young from my vantage point) who always has a canister of frozen nitrogen in one hand and a double-edged razor blade in the other when she comes into the room. And she's adept at using both of them—and gets lots of practice.

        Recent developments in treating pre-cancers have produced something called the Blue-U treatment. I had forearms and scalp done last year, and on June 6th, they blasted the forearms again with a stronger approach.

        It's an interesting treatment. They "paint" the affected area with a special acid then send you away for three to four hours. My latest was four hours. Then I sat with my arms in the "light housing" for an exact amount of time—sixteen minutes and 40 seconds. This produces the equivalent of a bad sunburn. The doctor has explained how the approach targets the pre-cancerous cells and zaps them, but all I feel is the burn.

        Hopefully, this treatment will be my last for a while. However, I have little expectation it will end my visits to my dermatologist. I'm sure I'll see her armed with her liquid nitrogen and double-edged razor blade many more times—at least every six months.

        I remember all those glorious tans and ask myself it they were worth it. Sun, sweat, swimming pools, beaches, gardening, convertibles with the top down . . . It was all fun. Would I do it again?

        Something to ponder.


Terry said...

Hi Randy,
We really didn't know better. And then the damage was done. Not like people who smoked young, and then quit when they learned of the danger. Their lungs start clearing up immediately and make great improvement in the course of a few years. No such luck with sun damage. It lurks beneath the top layer, waiting.
Melanoma is not treated with freezing and slicing. It's done with cutting, biopsy, more cutting, another biopsy, more, and more, and then many many sutures to close the baseball sized hole. And then, you go back for more.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I was a sun worshiper when I was young and into adulthood too and my skin has suffered from it.

Earl Staggs said...

Randy, I think we all have something from way back when and wish we had known better. For me, it was smoking. For both of us, I can only say it coulda been worse.

I hope your new dermatologist is cute.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Randy, the question on my mind is, then why did you move to the sunshine state?

Guess that gives you reason to stay inside near the cute doctors.

Enjoyed the tale!

Morgan Mandel said...

In those days, I don't think any of us heard anything about skin cancer. I used to lay in the sun for hours.

Now, I can't handle it for long, and seek air conditioning instead.

Morgan Mandel