It's Skin Cancer Awareness Week on OnMilwaukee.com, dedicated to the memory of our colleague, Tim Cuprisin, who died of melanoma last fall. Melanoma kills 9,100 Americans each year, but together, we can beat it. All week long, we're bringing you survivor stories, prevention plans and breakthroughs to make skin cancer a disease of the past. We've also set up a fund in memory of Tim and urge you to donate here. Skin Cancer Awareness Week is sponsored by the Dermatology Associates of Wisconsin. Enjoy the Milwaukee summer, but be safe and smart in the sun!
Times have changed. Gone are the days, in large part, when folks slathered themselves in oil and set up shop on the beach for a few hours. We've still got a long way to go, but as a society, we've begun to recognize the dangers of overexposure to the sun's UV rays, which can cause skin cancer.
But, most of us remember the more carefree days when we'd come indoors to find our skin the color of a lobster's. Here are some of our own memories of growing up in the sun.
Now, we know better, however, and if you want to know more about skin cancer and how to protect yourself from the sun read this story from earlier in the week.
When I was 11 my parents took my brother and I to Florida, and among the various souvenirs we brought back were two pretty nasty cases of sunstroke. I don't know if I was emotionally scarred for life or my pasty-white self is just naturally programmed for self-preservation, but my teenage and adult years have been almost entirely slathered in sunscreen during the summer months. The times I do forget (or the times when the sunscreen wears/washes off), however, have resulted in pretty good tomato-ification and some pretty silly-looking farmer's tans. Thankfully, my lessons have been pretty well learned by this point – and hopefully, my missteps have only been minor.
The only "burn" I can remember is from a summer or two ago when I was on a golf course and I didn't put suntan lotion on my knees – so when sitting in the cart and my knees became exposed, they got really red. But it wasn't a "burn" in the sense of causing serious pain or peeling after ... I don't know if my mom was a lotion mom before it became the thing to do, or I'm just fortunate that I've never had sunburn to the point that I remember one.
My summers as a tween and teen were spent, primarily, at Bradford and Atwater beaches. If I wasn't putting Sun In or lemon juice in my hair to lighten it, I was applying suntan oil on my arms, legs and midriff. As a fair-skinned person, I burned often, but thought if I put aloe on the burn, all was fine. I remember seeing iconic, year-round sunbather Dick Bacon at Bradford and thinking he was overdoing it, but looking back, I was just as negligent with my skin.
For a long string of Sundays each summer while growing up we'd join the neighbors for a day trip to the beach. We'd play in the water, build sandcastles, traipse up for a stroll on the boardwalk. I can still hear Wings' "Listen to the What the Man Said" and Mets and Yankees broadcasts blaring from transistor radios. I can also remember, once back at home, putting cold wet towels on my blaze red shoulders to soothe a sunburn. And I remember the peeling skin. In the '70s, if people knew about sunburns and skin cancer, they didn't tell folks in Brooklyn. It was probably the same in Milwaukee, too. At Bradford Beach, as at Brighton Beach, folks surely slathered themselves with oil – yes, oil! – while sitting in the sun. Just the idea of it now makes me cringe, much like I do when I see the "Seinfeld" episode in which Kramer gets himself an accidental butter sunburn.
My parents were diligent in liberally applying sunscreen all over me as a kid, so if I received a blistering sunburn in the '70s or '80s, I sure don't remember it. My only horrible sunburn came much later, actually, after spending an afternoon at the pool in Las Vegas. By age 26, I knew enough to apply sunscreen on the areas where I'd turn a little red (knees, feet, ears, back of the neck and forehead), but somehow on that steamy day at the Mirage, I completely ignored my chest. Immersed in a good book I just couldn't put down, I came home with one of those horrible, blistering, untouchable sunburns. Never before ... and never again. Because I don't burn easily and drive a convertible in the summer, I do get browner than I should, but when I know I'll be out in the sun, the sunscreen is rarely far from hand.