Several years ago, I was staffing a booth at a corporate health and wellness fair. Throughout the morning, I heard rumors from the other volunteers that there was a "real live melanoma patient" in one of the booths on the other side of the tent. They encouraged me to swing by and check it out.
A cancer patient? I just had to sneak over there and ogle like she was an animal at the zoo. I can't remember how old she was, but she was deliberately covered by a hat, sitting in the shade, flanked by posters with up-close shots of clearly malignant moles.
If I ever got skin cancer like her, I remember thinking to myself, I would never go outside in the sun again.
After my melanoma diagnosis, of course I've been more diligent with the sunscreen. I haven't touched a tanning bed in years. But I still make mistakes. This weekend, we had sun in Portland for the first time in months (I'm not exaggerating). My girlfriends and I had planned a tour of Oregon wine country back in March, so we were elated with the 75 degree weather. When I was ready to head out of my apartment, I purposely tossed a bottle of designer SPF in my bag. I even contemplated sending out an obnoxious "Don't forget your sunscreen" tweet.
Somehow, over the course of the afternoon, I ended up forgetting to actually put on my sunscreen. Maybe it was the fact that we were inside and out, we sat mostly in the shade, the pinot went to my head.... or maybe I was just having fun with my friends and didn't want to be "that girl" who always lectures everyone on sun safety.
Whatever the reason, when we stumbled into my friend's house at around 6 p.m., my arms were bright pink. So there it was: the girl who spends hours writing about the dangers of UV radiation had given herself a good old fashioned sunburn. Immediately, I felt guilty. Stolen moments outside sans the SPF really are sort of a guilty pleasure. I'm like a recovering alcoholic relishing a sip of ice-cold vodka, but then regretting it when I wake up with a hangover in the morning.
I think the point I'm trying to make is that melanoma patients and survivors--we're humans, too. We screw up sometimes and we want to go to the beach just as much as you do. I understand why you want to be tan, so please understand why I have to be a total nerd with my SPF 50. And just remember: we all used to think, that would never happen to me.