Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Hat is Not as Ugly as SKIN CANCER

Ever have one of those moments when you just want to smack someone? And I mean with a backhand, not with a kiss. Thankfully I have a good dose of self-control in my character. But the expression on my face probably said it all.

The other day I was at the nursery, one of my favorite places. There I feel inspired and happy surrounded by all those colorful flowers. As usually is the case when I go to the nursery, I was wearing gardening clothes, definitely not looking fashionable. Who needs fashionable when you are spreading compost, right? Now my gardening attire is all about function. And the hat is about sun protection. Not cute, but neither is skin cancer.

So there I am, waiting in line to buy my marigolds, and an elderly man approaches me and says, "Mind if I make an observation?" In my mind I am thinking, "Only if it's something uplifting because my mood is light and I want it to stay that way." But seriously, could I say no? Not really, that would be impolite which I am not.

Then this man, who by the way is wearing a 1970's pimp hat made of two tone denim, makes the following statement. "I find that when women go shopping in the mall they dress up. They wear makeup and try to look nice. But at the nursery you all wear these weird hats. Why do you wear such ugly hats?"

That's when the self-control kicked in to prevent that backhand to the face. Really? Are we women here for your visual pleasure? You can't figure that one out on your own, buddy? Are you aware we live in southern California and have you noticed that sun? Have you heard of skin cancer? And do you really think that denim pimp hat is cute??

My response was quick. "We wear hats for sun protection. And we're not here to impress anyone." The expression on my face must have been one of shock, confusion, disgust, dismissal.

My eyes met another woman, similarly adorned with wide brimmed hat. Overhearing our little chat, she looked at me and him, and shook her head. He saw her reaction and seemed confused we weren't amused.

It was one of those times I should have let down my polite veneer and said what was on my mind. I left there and thought of the twenty things I should have said.

My hat is staying firmly on my head, regardless of how I look in it. My goal is to prevent skin cancer. I know a thing or two about it, and it's not pretty.

My childhood was spent soaking up the sun. Think desert living, beach camping in Mexico, sports fishing on the ocean, water skiing, and enough sunbathing to bake my skin to that deep golden tan that was so popular in the 80's.

My mother lost part of her nose to skin cancer.

My dad now has metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. Also known as skin cancer. His started on his temple. Now he has a 3 inch square of skin transferred from his thigh onto his head where the cancer was removed. That process took 2 surgeries and 3 months of open wounds, dressing changes, doctor visits, worry.

Then the cancer spread to lymph nodes in his neck. Another surgery resulting in nerve damage and pain.

Then came 7 weeks of intense high dose radiation. 35 visits with his head strapped to a table while beams tried to undo the sun damage and prevent this beast from spreading. Now he can't taste his food. Eating is hard when everything tastes like cardboard.

People, skin cancer is no joke. Being tan may look nice, but cancer is not pretty. Wrinkles aren't pretty either and we all know sun damage leads to wrinkles. But wrinkles aren't life threatening. Cancer is.

So now, ask me why I wear a funny garden hat to the nursery.


  1. Michelle CourtoisJune 5, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    It's one of the few things my daughter and I argue about, her wearing a hat and using sunscreen. Being a fair Ginger her facial skin is so sensitive she has to use baby sunscreen, she's allergic to everything else, her face swells up. I'm rarely without my Sun Bum Stick in my purse or pocket for my nose at least but still get too much sun myself. You're right, a hat or visor is best. I tell Sammy continuously about the cumulative effect over a lifetime. Thanks for your story. Btw I wouldn't have been at all polite to that dude.

  2. There is so much fun to be had out in the sun. I get too much too, but I wear my sunscreen and hat, search for shade, and see my dermatologist every 6 months. Skin cancer is probably in my future but I hope it's not in my children's. In my youth, the only sunscreen we used was zinc oxide which we only put on our noses once they started to peel. Let's hope our kids take our words of wisdom to heart.

  3. I love your last article. I hear you loud and clear. Thank goodness I stopped that nonsense of tanning years ago.

  4. BTW, my first skin cancer was on my WRIST, so bring sunscreen sticks out with you to replace after washing hands.

    1. Thanks for that idea. I can see that happening as there is that gap between the glove and the sleeve. Hope all is well with you.