I had a lung transplant in 2019 and have been extra cautious about sun exposure. I was born with Cystic Fibrosis which causes a thick, sticky mucus to form on the inner lining of my lungs. Over the years, my lung tissue was damaged beyond repair, and I was no longer getting enough oxygen to breathe. Now that I have new lungs, I am living my life to the fullest, hiking with my partner, and eating as much food as possible. You can follow my journey @mary.eats.stl on Instagram.
Organ transplant recipients are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer compared to an average person. The higher risk is caused by immunosuppressive medications. These are necessary medications taken to prevent the body from rejecting the “foreign” tissue (in my case, my new lungs). Because the body is suppressed from fighting off the new organ, it is also suppressed in fighting skin cancer cells.
The way I fight against developing skin cancer is two-fold, starting with regular dermatologist appointments. I had a dermatologist appointment just a few months after transplant and they found basal cell carcinoma on my upper arm. After the initial biopsy, I came back a few weeks later and had the remaining cancerous tissue burned off. I was given the option of a surgical procedure to make the scar less obvious. I'll just be left with another pink scar (what's another scar at this point) and appointments every 6 months.
The second part is being vigilant in protecting my body from the sun’s harmful rays. I usually start by applying a sunscreen like Silky Foam SPF 30 Non-Tinted to the exposed parts of my arms and legs. I never forget to apply to the tops of my feet, especially if I am wearing sandals. Once you have a bad sunburn on your feet, it’s a place you’ll never forget to apply sunscreen to in the future. Daily facial sunscreen such as Flawless Complexion SPF 50 Tinted or Face Prime & Protect SPF 40 Tinted is a must whenever I leave the house. The best part about these sunscreens is that they double as a foundation since they are both lightly tinted.
The face and body are pretty common places to apply sunscreen (we can all still feel our mothers applying white sunscreen before heading out to the pool when we were younger). And don’t forget your ears either! More recently, I have started applying sunscreen to my scalp near my center part. I use regular sunscreen and apply using my finger directly to my scalp. I would rather have a slightly greasy streak in my hair than a surgical scar from where the doctors had to chop off a chunk of scalp.
So here's my PSA: anyone can get skin cancer. You should be having full body cancer checks annually. The earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat. You should be wearing sunscreen all the time. To get into a good dermatologist, you might have to wait a few months. My first appointment had to be scheduled 4 months in advance because they are in such demand. Make an appointment today and stock up on some sunscreen for use all year round.