It was time for my annual dermatology appointment.  I go once a year to have my skin checked to make sure all my spots and moles are cancer free.  It’s especially important to have my body checked since my mom had melanoma on her lower leg many years ago.  At close to 90 years old, she still has her skin checked all the time.

“I want to have one mole removed from my face,” I said to the doctor.  I don’t like the way it looks near my eye.

“Okay,” said doctor W.  “We should also check the spots on your body.  Pull down your pants and pull up your shirt and let’s take a look.”

She examined my face.  Then she turned to look at my back and my arms.  She examined my legs, first the left and then the right.  And then she stopped and stared more closely at a small spot that was an unusual shape.  It was so tiny, but it caught her eye.

“I don’t like the looks of that spot there,” she said as she pointed to a spot on the front of my right thigh.  “I think that spot should come off.”  And so it did.

I left the doctor’s office, thinking things were fine and went on my way.

“Hi, it’s Doctor W” said the friendly female voice on my cell phone a week later. “The mole on your face is fine, but the biopsy for the spot on your leg came back with signs of pre-melanoma.  I think we have to go in a little deeper with some minor surgery and you will need a few stitches.”

“Oh, wow,” I said a little scared.  I had forgotten all about my dermatologist and really didn’t think I would be seeing her again so soon.

When I got back from vacation, I went for my surgery.  It was a simple procedure, a small incision on my thigh, three stitches and that was it.” Keep the leg dry for two weeks until the stitches are removed,” said doctor W.  The worst part was that I was not allowed to exercise with stitches in my leg.

The following week, doctor W removed the stitches. “Be careful in the sun this summer,” she said as I walked out of the office.  “Wear lots of sunscreen and protect your skin.”

“Oh, I will,” I replied, “Yes, I will.”  I made an appointment for another checkup in six months.  I don’t want to take any chances, since at fifty-plus, I have so many spots all over my body and they just seem to keep multiplying.  Spots on my arms, spots on my legs, spots on my face, spots on my feet, spots on my back and spots on my neck.  Soon I will look like a giraffe.

I never really thought much about melanoma, until I read the diagnosis on the biopsy report for my leg: right thigh – Clark Nevus, compound, with unusual features (associated melanoma in-situ cannot be excluded)  This lesion should be removed completely because early melanoma in-situ in association with a nevus cannot be excluded.

Ouch.  I didn’t like what that diagnosis said.  I don’t think my super-duper beach chair with the awning is going to be enough protection for me at the beach this summer or future summers to come.  I am going to have to make sure my fifty-plus legs are as protected as my fifty-plus face.  I do wear sunscreen on my legs, but I am going to have to up the ante and make sure I spray my legs more often.

What else can I do to protect my skin from the sun? Here’s what the Skin Cancer Foundation has to say about being “Beach Chic and Sun Smart”:

Clothing: When choosing outfits, consider color and cloth: Dark or bright colors absorb more UV than paler shades and denser fabrics, like denim or canvas, are more protective than sheer or loosely woven cloth. Try long-sleeved shirts, long pants, sarongs. Avoid bleached cottons, silks and polo shirts. (I have a black and bright aqua colored bathing suit.  Will I have to get a new bathing suit that will  better protect my body? I prefer to get a sarong and not have to wear long pants to the beach.)

Hats: Basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which comprise over 90 percent of skin cancers, most often appear on the head and neck.  Protect yourself with a hat, ideally one with a brim extending at least three inches all the way around to shade not just the face and scalp but the neck, shoulders, and upper back. (In addition to a stylish beach umbrella, I will have to add an appropriate hat to my summer wardrobe.  The Skin Cancer Foundation says that bucket, outback and tightly woven straw hats are better than baseball caps and sun visors. I may check out the hats and clothing at Coolibar.  They look real cool.)

Sunglasses: Certain surfaces reflect UV radiation, so that it hits the skin and eyes twice, adding to your exposure.  Sand reflects 15 percent of UV light, water, up to 10 percent and sea foam, about 25 percent according to the World Health Organization.  (I need a new pair of progressive sunglasses for my fifty-plus eyes.  I will be sure to ask my optometrist for sunglasses with polarized lenses to reduce glare, UV protection, a pair that filters out 99-100 percent of UV radiation, and I’ll look for over sized frames too. I’ll also get brown lenses which create greater color contrast, improving visibility on solid-color surfaces like sand and grass.)

Sunscreen: Apply a full ounce (two tablespoons) to the body, including a nickel-sized amount to the face, 30 minutes before heading outdoors.  Reapply every two hours outside, and immediately after swimming, towel-drying, or heavy sweating. For extended beach stays, SPF 30 or higher may be advisable and some combination of UVA-blocking ingredients. (I promise to put on my sunscreen this summer.  I do prefer the spray sunscreens, they are so much easier to use. There is so much to remember, I may have to print out this blog post and take it along to the drugstore when I buy my sunscreen.)

Ooh, ooh, there’s more news about being really stylish.  What does it say?

Ooh, ooh, it says to be really stylish that I not follow the crowd. (I can do that.)

Ooh, ooh, ugh.  It says to head to the beach before 10 am or after 4 pm, when the sun is weaker, to minimize exposure and avoid the hordes. (I don’t want to do that.)

I will try my best to adhere to these new rules for preparing my skin for the 2011 summer sun.  I promise. I do. I do. And I’ll buy a beach umbrella too.  I found some nice umbrellas at shade usa.

But, how am I going to carry all my beach gear to the beach this summer?  Oh, cabana boy L, where are you? I love you. I love you. I do. I do.