This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

February 2nd, 2004

Got Cancer? Yet?

This past week was painful but absolutely necessary. I had a tumor on my face removed. It is a very common form of cancer, called a basel cell carcinoma. Cause? Too much exposure to sunlight. This particular tumor is one which today can be avoided - not so when folks my age were growing up and spending most of their time outdoors. There were no sunblock/sunscreens much less clothing which blocked the harmful rays from the sun. We just didn't know any better!

I suspect since I grew up and matured in a time when a computer wasn't in every home (heck, television was brand new!) I did spend more time outdoors. It was a mark of achievement to have a dark tan. And trust me, I had one about as dark as walnut furniture, complimented with a sun-bleached streak in my long tennis court ponytail.

The basel cell looks somewhat like a white head, except it is very hard and pearly looking. Along the right side of my nose, it appeared about the size of the end of an eraser. When it was removed however, it was considerably larger and went deeper than we had anticipated. It was supposed to be fixed about three months ago, but the hot-shot plastic surgeon neglected to read my chart and missed the fact that I am intolerant of the anesthetic he was going to use. At $175 for an office call to take my history, you might think someone would pay attention. They didn't and even though I had been 'prepped' and was on the table in my skimpy little gown the surgery was canceled. I didn't go back, but made an appointment with our family doctor who is also a surgeon. He actually knows what is on my chart and made arrangements to have the proper anesthetic.

Which brings me to several points.

There are other forms of cancer which are caused by over-exposure to the sun. A really common one is a melanoma. This looks like a dark mole or even birthmark. The surface of it is usually rough and the outside edges uneven. Usually found on areas which receive a lot of sun; faces, arms, necks are the likely spots, although my dad had them on his head with his blond hair growing through them. He spent years on the water which of course magnifies the sun's rays.

The melanomas are probably more serious than the basel cell I had. The basel cell tumors are very slow growing - while the dark melanomas grow faster and multiply. Neither are anything to fool with. If you have either, call, make an appointment with your doctor and have them removed. NOW!

This is directed especially at the males reading this: Knock it off! Stop doing the macho stuff and make sure you have an annual physical exam. Don't lie to the doctor. If you think you can't tell your doctor the truth, you've got two problems. One, you are scared that what you think might be wrong is, or you don't trust your doctor. If the later is the case, ask around, find a new doctor!

Most forms of cancer can be treated with very good results if you catch them early. There are several Fly Anglers OnLine readers who waited a very long time. One had a rotten cough for as long as I've known him, 6 or 7 years. He is being treated for lung cancer. Another was having lower gastro-intestinal problems and took everything he could find in over the counter 'fixes.' After about a year his wife put her foot down and got him to the doctor. He has been operated on for colon cancer. I won't go through the whole list, but they are much more common than you might think.

The answer to most of these medical problems is; see the doctor! Guys, you just have to have an annual physical. If you have been experiencing any problems, write down everything. Make a list and take it with you to the doctor. Don't leave until you have answers for all the questions - what you don't know CAN hurt you.

If you have not gotten one of the sun-exposure caused tumors yet, count your blessings AND make sure you have and USE a good sunscreen. There are a ton on the market, we use BullFrog, made in Australia, because it doesn't wash off while doing the stuff we do when fishing. Whatever you use, USE it. Make sure you get the places which are easily missed; top of ears, ear lobs and the back of the neck. While you are at it, get the back of your hands! (You should wipe off the palms of your hands to avoid destroying fly lines.)

The good news is the tumor like I had, and the melanomas are removable! Once gone, your system does not have to continually try and fight them and can build a reserve again. You may not even be aware that you haven't been feeling exactly 'well' until the invaders are gone.

I've told my little story for a couple of reasons - I am fully aware that the "C" word, Cancer is very scarey to a lot of folks. I know some who have had it and don't want that fact public. It isn't like having like having some awful sexually transmitted disease like syphilis. Most folks my age who have the sun-exposure kinds simply didn't have anything to do with it at all. Many intestinal cancers can be avoided by proper diet. More veggies, more fruits, more fiber, less fats. Again, all things which were not commonly known 40 or 50 years ago. The word Cancer does not need to be a death sentence.

Younger folks should be aware of sunscreen/sunblockers and need to use them. Today there is NO excuse for getting these types of cancers. It is truly something which could be entirely eliminated in your generation! Be especially aware little kids are very susceptible to over exposure to sunlight, even if it doesn't look like they are getting a sunburn.

Protect yourself - and those you love! ~ The LadyFisher

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