When I was a young boy, my grandfather walked around the farm wearing long pants, a white, long-sleeved shirt and broad-brimmed hat—in the middle of July. You would even see his generation driving tractors in what looked like “Sunday go-to-meeting clothes.”
What to me was a peculiar and unseasonable type of dress was not peculiar to them at all. They weren’t interested in suntans—just the opposite. They were trying to avoid sun exposure. Folks born in the late 19th century and early 20th century were smarter than those of us who came of age in the 1970s.
We were the generation of sun-worshipers, trying to burn and tan often because we thought it made us look healthier. Little did we know the cumulative damage that was occurring.
In my decades outdoors, I wore a hat and long pants quite often, but paid no attention to my arms. Recently, I noticed a strange bump on my right forearm. Thinking it was an insect bite or small wart, I really didn’t give it another thought until about three weeks later when I saw that the bump had grown slightly.
It turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common kind of skin cancer. SCC cases have increased a whopping 200% over the last 30 years. The good news: it’s almost totally curable if caught early, which mine was. But you don’t want to let an SCC go untreated, as it could become dangerous over time. The other two common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, are also highly treatable if caught early.
Sunscreen is a critical tool for sun protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone “under the sun” apply a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher to all exposed skin before going outdoors year-round. Reapply every two hours. And don’t think an overcast sky will protect you. According to the Foundation, up to 80% of the sun’s UV radiation reaches Earth on cloudy days.
The Foundation also recommends doing skin self-examinations once a month from head to toe. Look for atypical moles or bumps that change in shape and size over time. See a doctor at least once annually for a professional skin examination, especially if you’re over 40.
Outdoors folks can’t afford to ignore the sun’s radiation. I found this out the hard way. Now I’ve adopted my grandfather’s way of dressing while outdoors: a light-colored, long-sleeved shirt, long pants or “britches” as he called them and a fedora on my head. Grandpa and Indiana Jones would be proud of me.
DAVE SHUFFETT is an outdoorsman, public speaker, television host, writer and author of My Kentucky Life.