Tips for Staying Sun-safe During Summer Months (This is Crucial for the Myeloma Patient!)

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BY LIZZY SMITH
The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology’s recent study shows that a majority of Americans do not know how to properly apply sunscreen. You can read it hereEven those with a history of skin cancer are not as savvy as one might think. And we myeloma patients must be extra vigilant in protecting ourselves from the sun—yes, year-round but particularly during hotter temps when we wear less clothing and are typically outdoors a lot more. Many myeloma drugs that we take can interact with the sun and can cause severe and dangerous side effects. Those drugs (particular chemo) can also leave us even more prone to sunburn than the regular guy. So applying sunscreen properly is essential in staying as healthy as possible.

If you are doing chemo or radiation (or are even a few months post treatment), it is best to avoid direct exposure to the sun as much as possible. Burning is a HUGE no-no. Weeks after I did my first stem cell transplant, I went on vacation to Washington, DC and it was literally 100-degrees, sunny and humid. I never left my hotel room without a hat on my head and an umbrella. I also reapplied sunscreen multiple times throughout the day. I remember one afternoon standing an hour outside on a hot sidewalk under the blazing sun waiting to get into the National Archives. I purchased a small umbrella from a street vendor and it was a lifesaver!

In summary, make sure you get outdoors and enjoy the weather (this is good for you!) but stay in the shade and perhaps do your outdoor activities in the mornings or evenings when the sun is at its weakest. Also, consider wearing protective clothing, like swimsuits with rash-guards, hats, sunglasses and tops with sleeves. And never leave the house or hotel room without properly sunscreening.

Benefits of sun exposure

There are numerous benefits to some sun exposure. First, we get fresh “real” vitamin D. The warmth and light of the sun is also a natural mood booster. Personally, I am a big fan of summer for these reasons. I love going for walks and hikes, hanging out poolside or at the beach with my kids, and reading a good book on my deck. But… I also use precautions. Gone are the days that I visit tanning salons (I cannot believe I used to do this regularly), use baby oil as a natural sun enhancer, and spend hours laying out during maximum sun intensity (typically between 11A-2P). I used to go on beach-type vacations and pretty much ruin them because my number one priority was making sure I went home with a Big Huge Impressive Tan instead of doing fun stuff. Dear Lord, how dumb. These days, I nearly always wear a hat, sit under an umbrella or in the shade, don sunglasses that block out UVA and UVB rays, and apply sunscreen liberally. I still manage to get tan but I can’t tell you the last time I burned (or even got pink). Hooray!

Tips for staying sun-safe

  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunglasses to keep your eyes safe, as well as the sensitive skin beneath your eyes protected. Buy glasses that offer maximum protection even if they cost a bit more. It’s worth it!
  • Use sunscreen lip balm and apply it throughout the day. Lips get burned, too, and it is extremely painful when this happens
  • Stay in the shade
  • Consider walking under an umbrella or pitching an umbrella at the pool or beach and sit under it
  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours (generally 11A-2P) as much as possible
  • Cover your feet. If you’re wearing flip-flops or sandals, load them up with sunscreen
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, nose, face and hands (fingers, too!)
  • Wear proper clothes. If you’re going to be in the water for a long time, you may want to put on a T-shirt or rash-guard for maximum protection

Tips for Proper Sunscreen Use

  • Personally, I choose organic or chemical-free sunscreens. They are more expensive but I think they’re worth it. I buy mine at Costco and Walmart, so know that they are easy to find. I also buy several types: spray-on (easy for reaching my back and getting it on my kids), lotion, face balms, and lip balms. Also, find one with an SPF of 15 or greater and one that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays. Waterproof sunscreens are also a good idea but know that they go on much thicker. If you have oily skin or acne, consider a water-based sunscreen. Bottom line: Not all sunscreens are the same so find one that you love and you’re willing to use often.
  • Put on sunscreen 30-minutes before sun exposure (if you forget, put it on as soon as possible!).
  • Once you’ve been in the pool or working out, sunscreen wears off fast. Reapply sunscreen after sweating a lot or, if you’re in the water, get out every 30-minutes or so and reapply.
  • Even if you’re not exercising or getting in the water, you should reapply sunscreen a few times per day regardless. It’s simply common sense.
  • Look at expiration dates on your sunscreen. Keep them out of the sun. And when in doubt, toss them and start with a new bottle. Your skin and health is too important to scrimp!
  • If possible, have someone help you apply your sunscreen so you don’t miss spots. Places that are easily forgotten are: scalp (especially down the part line), ears, nose, lips, tops of your feet, fingers and hands. Places that are hard to reach (obviously) are your back and the backs of your legs. Really, aim to sunscreen-up on every piece of skin exposure. (I typically put on sunscreen before I put on a stitch of clothing, that way I don’t get it on my clothes and it’s easier to cover my entire body. I re-apply sunscreen with clothes or a swimsuit on, however! Also, in the summer, I put sunscreen on not long after toweling off from my morning shower. It is part of my routine and I never forget.)

Enjoy your summer, my fellow myeloma warriors! It’s my favorite time of the year and I can’t wait to spend more time outdoors. But make sure we do it wisely and safely.

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About Author

Lizzy Smith was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012 at age 44. Within days, she left her job, ended her marriage, moved, and entered treatment. "To the extent I'm able, I want to prove that despite life's biggest challenges, it is possible to survive and come out stronger than ever," she says.

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