My Dad is gone now. He did everything they tell you to do for a healthy life. He exercised as an avid cyclist, ate well, did not smoke or do drugs, and didn’t engage in any crazy lifestyles. He was an extremely active and healthy man. At 66, he rode in three 200 mile “Double Century” events to earn a California Triple Crown Jersey. He was doing all the things one is supposed to do.
He died at 73. His doctor said he died of metastatic lung cancer. Lung cancer? My father didn’t smoke. It was explained that his lung cancer was brought on by the usually treatable from of skin cancer known as Squamous Cell Carcinoma or SCC. My father’s SCC spread rapidly to his lymph nodes and finally to his lungs. It’s difficult for me to get my mind around the idea that he died of lung cancer due to a usually treatable form of skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma is mainly caused by cumulative UV exposure over the course of a lifetime. SCC’s detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage. But as I said, my Dad’s case progressed away from the easily treatable SCC. Worse, his SCC might have been preventable.
My Dad lived an active outdoor lifestyle. I don’t ever recall him putting on sunscreen. In the 70’s, all the kids had white zinc oxide on our noses and cheeks, but I don’t remember Dad doing the same. He drove our boat, and was our swim team’s “stroke and turn” judge back in the day, spending long days out on the exposed pool deck. He was usually hatless and I don’t think his white polo shirt offered great sun protection. And I know he did not wear sunscreen underneath his shirt back then.
Based on my dad’s general health and activities he should have lived longer. I wanted him to live longer. While skin cancer wasn’t a big known threat years ago, scientific research shows that consistent sunscreen use might have prevented his skin cancer… and his death.
On July 24, 2014, the U.S. surgeon general released a Skin Cancer ‘Call to Action‘, that addresses skin cancer as a major public health problem…. citing, an alarming “200 percent jump in deadly melanoma cases since 1973”
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with 5 MILLION PEOPLE treated each year.
The scary thing is that something he could have done when he was younger might have paid huge dividends later in life. My Dad didn’t know that not wearing sunscreen could have the effects they did later in life. The key is to make sure people are aware of the hidden risks they are taking with UV exposure now, since the effects and potential skin cancer may not show up until years later.
My dad loved being outside, biking, golfing, waterskiing, snow skiing, etc. He always wore a helmet for safety, but I am sure he rarely wore sunscreen until it was too late. He is greatly missed.