Runners talk often about injuries, and how to prevent, treat, or manage them, but rarely do I see or hear of conversations that make reference to the dangers of sun exposure. It’s odd really, given that runners spend significantly more time outdoors than the average person. In fact, if I hadn’t just had a very real encounter with a melanoma threat, I may never have brought this topic up at all.
A few months ago I wound up in my doctor’s office with a skin lesion that had broken open and started bleeding. I left that appointment with a referral to see a skin specialist, and it was at that secondary appointment that I was told that I had either basal cell cancer or melanoma; either way the mole in question needed to be removed immediately.
As a not-so-fair-skinned woman who has never really had any problems with sunburn, I never worried too much about skin cancer. That’s not to say that I didn’t apply sunblock when I went outdoors; in fact I was quite diligent about doing so. I even took sunblock in my car to early morning group runs and offered it to others, knowing that most would not think to apply it so early in the morning. Needless to say, I was not prepared to hear that a spot on my skin was cancerous.
I can’t really express the depth of what I felt when I was told I might have melanoma, and here’s the thing: when you’re waiting for potentially life-changing news, it’s much harder to reckon with than one might imagine. It’s very easy to say positive affirmations and practice mind-control techniques, but the real challenge is in lining up what is said and done with what is actually believed.
In addition to having to wait for my biopsy results, I developed a nasty virus after the surgery which resulted in several days of sick leave. As much as I resisted, I constantly entertained the type of thoughts that I was trying so hard to dispel. When I finally received the news that I had basal cell cancer and not melanoma, only then was I able to relax and breathe a sigh of relief.
My point is this: runners are more susceptible to skin cancer, and while skin colour may determine your level of risk it but won’t rule you out as a candidate. Runners know this of course, yet they’re more inclined to focus on essentials such as gels, electrolytes, recovery fuels, and running accessories; sunblock is often an after-thought.
If you can relate, and the threat of skin cancer has been something you’re guilty of being blasé about, then I urge you to start treating it seriously. Start by getting yourself a full-body skin check, and make it a priority to routinely apply sunblock as you’re changing into your running clothes. Take preventative measures now so that hopefully you’ll avoid being the recipient of news you don’t want to hear.
[FYI, skin cancer is most prevalent in New Zealand and Australia, and cases of melanoma in the United States have doubled in the past 30 years! Some skin cancers can spread very quickly, so don’t delay in seeing your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin; early detection and taking preventative measures can save your life. See the chart below for images of what different skin cancers look like]