Mrs. Karen Goldthwaite
Multiple Skin Cancer Survivor
I am a woman of the outdoors. My childhood was spent outside for hours on end playing, swimming and sailing. Sunblock did not occur to me. It was a nuisance, burned my eyes and my hair would stick in the zinc oxide my mother attempted to apply. As a teen, my lifestyle incorporated lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons in addition to my regular outside pleasures. Sun protection? Iodine in baby oil was my jam. This redhead was determined to have that California tan all the girls dreamed of having. My love affair with the sun continued as a young adult, doing everything possible outside with my family.
At age 35, the toll for my many years of unprotected fun in the sun began with a melanoma on the back of my thigh. Payment was a wide excision of tissue around the lesion. A softball sized chunk out of my leg was physically painful, but psychologically, it was devastating for one who lived in a swimsuit. Finally, the notion of using a bit of sunscreen once a day crept into my mind. A little sunscreen dabbed on my body became part of my morning routine, but it certainly was not adequate to protect from further damage. Nor did this adventure spur me to begin seeing a dermatologist on a regular basis. One and done — or so I thought.
Fast forward another 25 years as an array of basal and squamous cell skin cancers sprinkled on my hands and face began to surface one by one. This time, I had the wisdom to seek help from a board certified dermatologist, and Mohs procedures became part of my life. Certainly less disfiguring than wide excisions, Mohs gave me relief that the lesions were completely gone with minimal scarring. The procedure still entailed time and money that could have been saved had I worn decent sunscreen correctly applied. Nonetheless, the small band-aid protecting my wound attracted attention. Rather than being embarrassed, I discovered I could share the consequences of sun damage and express the need for checkups with a dermatologist, proper sun prevention, and the importance of early detection. Prevention was now my mantra to friends and family.
The final payment of my sun debts came with the loss of an ear due to skin cancer. I have a dynamite prosthetic that I pop off regularly to explain the dangers of cumulative sun damage. I do not hesitate to tell anyone I encounter about the perils of time in the sun unprotected. With my students, we have a discussion of the benefits of colorful zinc oxide artfully applied, coupled with a demonstration of how to properly apply sunscreen to save them from skin cancer in their future. Minimizing sun exposure, using sun protection, and faithfully scheduling and going to my amazing dermatologist for skin checks has changed and lengthened my life — and allows me to continue to do the outdoor activities I love.