Friday, September 12, 2008

Skin Cancer

I started getting skin cancers while in my fifties. Just this week I had a biopsy done of a spot on my nose. No cancer, but it is a another growth that must be frozen. I got curious about what causes skin cancer. I found that almost all of it can be attributed to skin damage done by the sun. The ultraviolet rays damage skin cells. A sunburn is so much damage that it gets your attention. But even for those who rarely burn, a degree of damage is going on every hour they are exposed to sunlight. Some young people get skin cancer. Most people are older when it shows up. That's what is happening with me.

When I was a boy growing up near New Orleans, we had never heard of sunblock. The only thing I ever saw people put on their skin was baby oil, which supposedly helped speed up the tanning process (sort of deep frying versus roasting I guess). I had reddish hair and very fair skin. I also loved to be outside all summer long, usually with no shirt on. Every spring when the sun intensified, I got burns so bad that other kids used to torment me by sneaking up and pulling off strips of my peeling skin.

Well that's all pretty gross and I don't think many people would find it interesting. However,
my latest encounter with skin cancer got me to thinking. What other things have I been exposed to that have damaged me over time? I don't just mean carcinogens. What about drugs, alcohol, sarcasm, cynicism, anger, disdain, amusement, sadness. Those are just a few of the many, many things that have left a mark on me. Worse yet, there is a lot of damage that doesn't really show yet. Mutant skin cells can hang around for decades before producing a noticeable wound. It occurred to me that lots of soul cancer may pop up on me as the years go by. It is hard to imagine that ugly growths in my soul might be related to exposure to things over decades, just as it is hard to connect those childhood sunburns with cancers now. In a perfect world sunlight would be benign. After all, we need light to stay alive and healthy. But this is not a perfect world. So we enjoy the sun, but hope to avoid too much. We like being tan, but we hate the wrinkles and the sores that sometimes develop.

I don't think I'll reach a point where I never want to brave the sun again. But perhaps if I knew then what I know now, I would have worn a shirt more when I was a boy.

I don't think I can, or even want to, avoid all the things that damage my soul. Damage will happen. The good news is that I have a doctor that can restore my soul better than any plastic surgeon will ever repair my skin. I run to him often. I ask him to check me thoroughly and treat me promptly.
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