Skin Cancer + Suncare Update

It’s been almost a year since I’ve given an update on skin cancer in my world, and I have a lot to tell you about!

If you are wondering why on earth I’m talking about skin cancer on a food blog, you can check out the following posts for the background (note: the first post contains some fairly gruesome pictures of surgery I had done on my face, so if you are squeamish at the site of stitches, you may not want to read that post).

What Happened to My Face: Why I Ended Up with 20 Stitches

Skin Cancer Update + Suncare Favorites 2016

It seems a little crazy that it has been over two years, December 2015, that I started down this road of skin cancer.

I feel very blessed and grateful that I’ve only had to deal with pre-melanoma and basal cell thus far. Basal cell is a non-fatal and very curable form of skin cancer. Melanoma is not.

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

Initially, I didn’t think I would ever talk about my skin cancer issues on here (hello, food blog!), but I felt strongly like I needed to do so, and I feel like a small part of that push to share has been so that others might have the courage and impetus to see a dermatologist or doctor for any concerning skin spots or issues.

Hundreds of you have acted on that (hundreds!), and many of you have found that those innocent-looking spots on your face, arms, legs, tummy ended up being skin cancer (while many of you found that you were in the clear – yay!), and you’ve been able to get the early intervention needed.

I’ve been beyond humbled as you have emailed and commented and told me of skin cancer situations in your own lives and in the lives of those you love.

You’ve sent me pictures and shared stories that have made me laugh…and made me cry, cry, cry.

So I guess this continued journey and story is important for me to share – even if it only helps one or two more people.

As for me and my own skin cancer experience, well, I’m doing pretty well.

I had shared in a newsletter in March that I had another suspicious spot on my nose (in the exact same spot as my first basal cell cancer spot!), and I was very worried.

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

After seeing my dermatologist several times, that spot has NOT continued to grow, and while my doctor will continue to monitor that area diligently, right now I’m in the clear in terms of new basal cell skin cancer spots.

I continue to go into the dermatologist every three months (and more often if I notice a concerning spot).

I also have some areas on my scalp my doc is keeping an eye on – apparently scalp melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of melanoma and can often be overlooked, so I’m grateful for his diligence (and if you happen to be someone that consistently gets sunburned in the same part line of your hair over and over, you should keep an eye on this area, too).

These days, this is what my nose looks like.

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

A little spotty. Still red and blotchy where the stitches were a couple years ago (and the white patch of skin the doctor pulled down from my eye area to mask the hole doesn’t really match my nose, but you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, right?).

But overall, not too shabby, especially when I look at pictures from a year ago (like the one below; don’t worry, the parakeet didn’t eat me, like I was worried it would) and realize how well it has healed…or for a more drastic comparison, looking at the original surgery/stitches pictures. Wow.

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

When I happen to wear makeup, like powder (in addition to my minimal mascara and eye shadow), the scar is masked pretty well. Admittedly, I’m a very low-maintenance makeup wearer, and more often than not, I just sport my splotchy nose and cover it with sunscreen only.

But in pictures like the one below with my kids, you can hardly tell my nose and I had such a traumatic experience together, other than how it lifts and puckers slightly when I smile (which in all honesty DOES bother me a bit, but knowing how much scarring COULD be on my face, I’m willing to accept this very, very small lasting effect).

Granted, it’s not a closeup selfie, but considering I rarely take closeup selfies, I feel pretty good about things.

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

The area of my life that has significantly changed since finding out about the basal cell spot on my face is how I now live and manage my life (and my family’s lives) in the sun.

I know and understand that the skin cancer I’ve experienced (and will probably experience in the future) is largely due to sun damage in my youth, however, there are other studies (and advice from my doctor) that lead me to believe that sun damage even now (in my late 30’s) could cause an increase of skin cancer…and at the very least, damage like wrinkles and sun spots.

I am rigid (no better word) about suncare for my family. Sadly, I wasn’t quite as diligent before I had skin cancer myself.

I mean, we applied sunscreen every time we went swimming or were at the lake, but when we were outdoors doing yard work or playing, I didn’t always think about it.

Now, though? Sunscreen and suncare is at the forefront of my thoughts every day, and I’m training my kids to think about it as well, so they can be proactive at putting on their own sunscreen or recognizing if their skin feels like it is getting too hot and/or burning.

My kids all have wide-brimmed cowboy hats (got them at our local D&B supply store) for working outside (which is a nonstop occurrence in the warmer months as we manage our small piece of property and do yard work).

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

And I still wear and love my floppy hat that I talked about last year (links below). I wear it for working outside and even wore it all over Disneyland last year (and it accompanies me to the pool and the lake).

Mel Skin Cancer Update + Skin Cancer Recommendations

After being diagnosed with skin cancer, I developed an intense fear about being in the sun. It was impacting my mental health and my desire to spend time with my family outside.

It seems a little irrational stating it out loud. I shed a lot of tears about it as I tried to figure out how I could still operate like a normal human in public in the sun without compromising my health….and without stressing out to the point of making everyone miserable.

It’s been a process, but I’ve realized that as long as I’m armed with the right tools (good sunscreen, coverups, hats, UPF swimwear), it gives me a great deal of peace of mind and allows me to (kind of) be a fun mom and wife again, particularly because our family is very outdoor-driven in terms of work and play.

I’m sharing what products are working for us below, and I’m also giving an update on my super sexy (haha) but extremely comfortable, durable, and protective swimwear that I still use and love (and another newer brand find that is awesome, too).

There are affiliate links to products I’ve actually bought from Amazon below, but most of these products are available at local stores (sporting goods stores, or Target-, Walmart-type stores). Shop around, shop around! 

Favorite Sunscreens

I feel like I have tried almost every sunscreen product on the market. The 100% zinc oxide sunscreens haven’t worked well for us (too greasy, pasty white residue, kids refuse) but I’m also leery of the all-chemical sunscreens.

My kids’ most oft-used, all-purpose sunscreen is Blue Lizard (thanks to those of you who recommended it last year; it’s replaced all the others for us!).

They use the Blue Lizard SPF 30+ FACE and the Blue Lizard SPF 30+ SPORT (waterproof).

As with all sunscreen, we reapply often if the kids are in the water or we are outside for an extended period of time.

Brian also uses the Blue Lizard brand.  It’s non-greasy, super lightweight, and definitely our best all-purpose sunscreen for the whole family.

I use the Blue Lizard if it’s all we’ve grabbed to take out with us, but I’m super particular about what I put on my face in terms of sunscreen.

These are my favorites for outdoor use:

EltaMD SPF50 UV Sport (I use this on my arms, neck and legs) – I love this stuff; it’s spendier than other sunscreens but I’m still on my first bottle I ever purchased, so it lasts a long time.

{There’s also an EltaMD SPF 30+ which I haven’t purchased (and the ship time is delayed, it looks like), but the reviews are really good on that one if you want a lower SPF.}

EltaMD UV Daily SPF 40 (I use this on my face if spending a long time outside in addition to the daily moisturizer with sunscreen I use day in and day out as part of my morning routine); this is super lightweight and non-greasy and the perfect facial sunscreen, in my opinion (I have the non-tinted one).

There’s also this EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen, which I love equally and is great for acne-prone skin.

I’ve also had good luck with this mineral redness relief from Paula’s Choice, but I like the higher SPF of the Elta products.

Want to know our coolest find so far?

This powdered sunscreen! It is amazing and has been a lifesaver for one of my boys who has some sensory issues with sunscreen on his face (read: he completely freaks out).

I’m probably the last to know about powdered sunscreen – where has it been all my life??

This is the sunscreen I keep in my purse at all times for a quick application on everyone if we are unexpectedly in the sun (and the clear powder is perfect for makeup wearers, if the thought of applying sunscreen over makeup is a deal breaker). It doesn’t leak and doesn’t get greasy and melty in the heat, which makes it a great option to leave in the car, too.

A little goes a long way, and it is refillable. My 13-year old wore it on his neck, ears and face for three hours yesterday weed-eating all along our electric fence line and didn’t get burned at all.

Favorite UPF Swimwear

I know the following swimwear is not for everyone, but it has been a lifesaver for me.

Last year, I wore this long-sleeved, ankle-length number every time at the pool or on the boat (the top, currently on sale!!, is kind of awesome because the crop top is removable if you just want to wear the tank).

Yes, I got stares. Yes, I had people ask my kids “is something wrong with your mom?” But I also was super comfortable and didn’t end up with one sunburn. And, every once in a while, I had someone come up and tell me they either were just diagnosed with skin cancer or had been in the past, and they wanted to know where I got my head-to-toe swimsuit from.

And let’s be serious, this 5-kid, nearly-40 mom bod isn’t that upset about being covered up with a bit of compression.

I love Coolibar products (totally unsponsored) and have talked about them plenty (I have several sweaters and other non-summer clothing items from them, which I love, as well).

Recently, I bought a swimsuit ensemble (this top in Beach Glass Desert Stripe and these swim shorts in teal) from UVSkinz, another UPF sunwear company (with a remarkable and bittersweet startup story). I’m planning on taking it to our family reunion at the beach next week; the top does require a swim bikini top or bra, FYI (shorts are fully lined).

Hats and Coverups

I have this coverup in white from UVSkinz and am already in love. It is well-made, yet still lightweight and breathable. I’m making no guarantees that I won’t just wear this on an average Tuesday at home instead of reserving it always for pool/beachwear.

As I mentioned in the post above, my go-to hat is from Coolibar, but unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they carry it anymore. Bummer because I wear it all the time! However, it looks very similar to this one or this one.

I also have this shapeable travel hat which can be rolled and scrunched to fit into a bag from Coolibar (haven’t had good luck with the hats from UVSkinz – WAY too small and weirdly shaped, IMO).

A couple years ago, I bought a lightweight athletic jacket from Coolibar – and when I say lightweight, I mean I can wear it in 100 degree heat without sweating to death.

I wear it ALL the time – spring, summer, fall, winter. It is cute (I have it in a gray/white geo print, which they no longer offer), and it is awesome for running out to the yard to water the garden, feed the chickens, or do some quick yard work without having to worry about putting on sunscreen.

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I obviously haven’t tested every suncare product on the market (despite what it seems from the above!), but I have been really happy with the products I’ve bought and kept (I’ve returned a lot of stuff over the years).

I hope the recommendations help anyone else who is searching for UPF clothing and great skincare.

Feel free to share any recommendations of your own in the comments below!

Mostly, thanks for your support over the last couple of years as I’ve navigated this strange, new journey of skin cancer and sun-stress and suncare for me and my family.

My call to action is simple:

Please stay safe in the sun this summer (and all year long!). So many cases of skin cancer CAN be prevented. Let’s prevent as many as we can, ok??

It might seem like a hassle to bring sunscreen along wherever you go or seek out the shade or pack a hat in the center console of your car all the time, but you know what they say…an ounce of prevention…

And, if you’ve been putting off seeing a dermatologist for a skin issue that is concerning you, don’t wait any longer! Make an appointment. Even if your doctor says it’s just a harmless vascular lesion (this just happened to Brian last week!), it’s better to go in and know for certain rather than let something harmful take root and spread.

I’ll be away from this little blog for about 10 days as we embark on an epic road trip through Utah, southern California and up to the Redwood National Forest (don’t worry, I have my hats and sunscreen all packed!), but please leave your thoughts and comments below, and I’ll respond when I can.

Love all your guts so, so much.