During the summer I always put sunscreen on my arms, face, ears, neck and nose. But that’s a rather recent habit. For most of my running career before taking up cycling fifteen years ago, the thought of putting on sunscreen was a non-starter. We just didn’t do it in the Old School Days.
I do recall that a teammate from college went to South Padre Island one spring break. He slathered sunscreen on most of his body but could not reach his back except with the back of his hand. In a rush, he smack the middle of his back with sunscreen and went about the business of teenaged frolic in the sun. That left a big hand print surrounded by sunburn on his lower back.
My father dealt with skin cancer on his head for the latter years of his life. I don’t recall him wearing hats much during his lifetime, even while golfing. Instead he wore dark shades over his eyeglasses. Thus his bald head was exposed to countless hours of sunlight. The cancer treatment that resulted from his skin exposure was not a pretty sight. The physicians operated and burned away patches from this scalp that his caregiver Leo tended with great kindness.
Thus I don’t take the issue of skin cancer lightly. Yet where my father never wore hats much, I have covered my noggin’ with hats of various kinds most of my life, especially since I began losing my hair during my 20s. There is small hope in that, but no guarantee.
I figure I’ll still get the treat of dealing with some sort of skin cancer up there, or on my face. This summer I had a small nib of squamous cell skin cancer taken off my right arm. I keep a close eye on my skin and noticed a 1/8″ spot that needed checking. Sure enough, it was worth the notice.
As I departed the doctor’s office after the stitches were removed a few weeks later, the physician had the simplest advice of all for me: Stay Pale.
Part of me really wants to do that. Another part of me loves the sight of tan lines during the summer months. I know that’s stupid, but the look of brown legs shining with sweat in the summer sun is something I associate with hard days in the saddle and becoming a Hard Man. Shaved legs, tan lines and a battle-hardened body just go together.
But time and age have different plans anyway. The final weird component of this skin journey is the onset of crepey skin that comes with being in my early 60s. That freaked me out at first. That’s a body change I perhaps should have seen coming, but it came about fast, almost overnight it seemed.
I think we all imagine ourselves traveling toward the grave or cremation without the real effects of age ever catching up with us. I admit that’s probably why I still like tan lines. They speak to the long candle of youth burning slowly and not worrying about skin cancer or time or mortality. But the wax of time is not eternal.
When winter rolls around and the tan lines fade, the leg hair grows out and our bodies are covered by layers of warm clothes, it is much easier to think in terms of common sense. Last Saturday, I bundled up and rode 21 miles in forty degree temps and enjoyed the experience without seeing the skin on my legs shine in the summer sun. There’s a lesson in that. We shouldn’t run and ride for ego’s sake or for vanity, but for health purposes. It’s a little boring that way, but a much better strategy for the long run.