By Katie Aguilar, Team Podium
I have a beautiful, surgically straight scar on my upper left shoulder that occasionally causes people to ask, “How’d you get that scar?” My answer is “would you believe it was a bar fight?” And then I say it was a precancerous mole removed by my dermatologist. This was not my first mole removal.
Because I spend a lot of time outdoors training. Because I am fair skinned. And because for many years (since college) I had a mole on my left forearm that bothered me and I kept thinking “I need to get a skin exam” I finally went. They did remove that first mole and – winner winner chicken dinner - it came back positive as a slow growth form of skin cancer. And won me a ticket to getting my skin checked every 6 months. Fortunately, the pathology report came back that my dermatologist had removed all the cancerous cells. Therefore, there was no need to return to the office and have a second, deeper removal that included stitches.
Why do I tell this story? Because every time I do I hear “I should get my skin checked”. And I agree. As athletes we spend a lot of time outside. We take care of ourselves and watch our health. Our skin is no different. I am happy to refer my dermatologist. She is a former athlete, and understands. When I had stitches we discussed what I could and could not do. I should have done nothing but walk to keep my heart rate down and avoid pulling on my stitches. But she knew that wasn’t going to happen, and so we talked limits including maximum heart rate. The flip side was my scar is probably more noticeable than if I had followed the usual low/no activity protocols. I accept that. And she warned me.
So what do I recommend to anyone who spends time outside, but especially fellow athletes?
- Know the ABCDE’s of moles: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving
- Get a skin exam. Now. Whether you have a suspicious mole or not. Currently my dermatologist and I are watching about 5 moles. She has measurements, descriptions and pictures of these. And we watch for any evolving. If anything is removed and you need stitches, it will make you take training down a level or two. So winter/early season is a great time to do this.
- Wear sunscreen. Even on cloudy days up to 80% of the sun’s rays that can damage your skin do pass through clouds.
- Re-apply that sunscreen. Many people put sunscreen on and think once is enough. Nope. You need to reapply. While training. It is very simple to squirt a bit of sunscreen in a snack-sized baggy and carry on you when training. And not burning feels very good. In races I stop on bike out and run out and let volunteers slather sunscreen on me. I also carry sunscreen (extra squirted in a baggy) in my sports bra to re-apply as necessary. It helps. I haven’t burned in a race in a very long time, even in Iron-distance events.
- Have a sunscreen regimen and stick to it (I know this sounds like the above to again. But it’s worth saying). I put sunscreen on before driving to where ever I am going to train OR race. And re-apply before heading out or starting my race. And re-apply periodically. Especially after the swim in a race.
- Wear Arm Coolers when out riding/running. I never did until this past summer. And a friend of mine, also fair skinned, gave me a pair. I wear them now. And my dermatologist highly approves. OK – so I am the person out there wearing a tank top and arm coolers (and I admitted this to my dermatologist. She still approves as there is still more of me covered than if I didn’t wear them). I have no fashion sense.
- Wear a hat. Not a visor, but a hat, when not wearing your bike helmet (so…running. Or walking casually with friends outside even. Or to get the mail). Or put sunscreen on your scalp. I have burned the top of my head too many times. So now I wear a hat when I run. I even keep one in the closet next to the door so I throw it on when I go outside to get the mail, or walk my neighborhood.
It’s not just training. It’s every time we are outside we are exposed to the sun. So every time you go outside, protect your skin. Protect yourself.
Like with training, it’s a lifestyle. And a little prevention can go a long way to not needing a cure.