This week is Sun Awareness Week, so we’ve brought you this guest post from Jen, who blogs about life after melanoma at liferightnow.co.uk.

Jen staying safe in the sun

As spring arrives and the evenings get lighter, all around people begin to get excited for summer. But what happens when you unwillingly become a part of a percentage of people that sun actually poses a threat to?

In 2013, I was diagnosed with stage III malignant melanoma. After surgery, I took part in a drug trial, and experienced side effects including hair loss, extreme fatigue, myalgia and extreme photosensitivity - five minutes in the sun and I would burn even wearing SPF50. It was a long, hard year at times. 

During the trial I always made a conscious effort to look well, so people often didn’t really know how much discomfort I was in. My hairstyle changed to cope with losing a lot of hair and my make-up concealed my eyebrows, which had almost disappeared. I spent the summer sat under wide-brimmed hats wearing factor 50-100, when I was able to enjoy it.

I love the sunshine, the feeling of warmth of your skin and summer evening sunsets and, this year, I'm determined not to let melanoma affect me any further. I have set out to prove that sun safe does not mean 'sun-less'. Being safe in the sun is something we should all take note of, but unfortunately being 'sun safe' is often considered difficult and not a priority when it comes to looking good. I certainly won’t be hiding come the summer months but I do intend to remain conscious of it.

Here are some of the ideas I’ll be using for my ‘sunshine style’:

  • Invest in a good sunscreen. It may take a while to find the right one for you. I use ‘Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sun block’ or ‘P20’, I also use a mineral foundation with built-in SPF20 on my face. Others prefer sunscreens with natural ingredients, which I am currently trying out. Re-apply your sunscreen as instructed and learn about how higher SPFs work. Avoid the sun when it is at the highest point in the sky and take note on the UV count that day. One tip - if your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s position and its UV rays are strongest.
  • Wide brimmed hats are a must for summer. Not only do they protect your scalp and face, but, depending on the height and angle of the sun they can also shade your shoulders, neck and décolletage - all these areas are prone to sun damage. Gents - go for a cap, trilby or fedora hat. Team these with a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes, as they are vulnerable to sun damage too.
  • If you have freckly skin or a lot of moles you need to be to more cautious in the sun. Don’t allow moles to become sunburnt and watch for any changes in your moles over time.
  • Consider UV protective clothing. That way you can be protected while you are out and about and only need to concentrate on applying sunscreen to smaller areas of exposed skin. Versatile, yet fashionable items such as a rash vest from ‘J Crew’, UV (unisex) clothing from ‘Uniqlo’ and a UV scarf from ‘Bloxsun’ are already on my shopping list this summer.
  • Keep a parasol handy. Take your own out with you if you need to.
  • Let people know your needs. If you are cautious of the sun through your own experience, know someone affected by melanoma, or simply just want to care for your skin going forward, make sure the people you socialise with are aware of this. That way you can always be sure you are able to find somewhere to retreat with shady trees or a even garden room. Do NOT sit outside in strong sun unprotected just to convenience others or fit in. If people are aware of your need to be sun safe they will accommodate you, meaning you can enjoy the summer as much as everyone else.

These are all things I learnt last year during my treatment and as I move forward, the idea that someone might come to me for advice based on my experience, or that an individual, even a stranger, could relate to my situation has helped me feel valid and supported, like I can turn my bad experience into a positive. It is a way to help myself as I help someone else, which is a huge achievement and feels very rewarding. 

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