The gentle breeze wafted the delicious aroma of grilled steak and chicken toward me, making me rethink our dinner plans.
My neighbors were outside enjoying the warmer weather, sitting in lawn chairs while their food cooked.
I noted another neighbor working in her garden. Other people were walking their dogs, and some were wearing shorts during the unseasonably warm weather. I also noted people loading golf clubs in their trunks.
What do all of these activities have in common?
Yes, they are fun activities. All of these activities also take place outdoors, usually in the sun.
I do not want to ruin anyone’s fun. However, I do have some “fun in the sun” reminders.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Too much sun can cause skin damage, including dark patches, wrinkles and premature aging. Too much sun exposure also is responsible for most skin cancers.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and it coincides with the launch of spring and summer activities for good reason. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer.
In 2020, 100,300 people were estimated to be diagnosed with melanoma and 6,850 people were estimated to die from melanoma, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program.
More than 5 million people are diagnosed each year with nonmelanoma cancer such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These forms of cancer rarely spread to other parts of the body but require prompt medical treatment.
Our skin is our largest organ, and we need to protect our skin in all seasons, not just during the summer.
Have you had skin cancer or know someone who has? If you have a fair complexion and are male, you are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma. If you are a frequent user of tanning beds, you also are more likely to get skin cancer.
Many men and women like to wear “ball caps” with a “bill” on the front. These types of caps offer no protection for your ears or back of your neck.
Be a trend setter and protect your face, ears and neck with a hat with a wide brim.
How about sunless tanning? Remember that tanning beds are considered a carcinogen, especially linked to melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and cancer of the eyes (ocular melanoma).
However, sunless tanning lotions are considered safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North Dakota Cancer Coalition recommend that we all take steps to protect our skin:
- Seek shade. Limit sun exposure during midday hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear clothing that protects your arms and legs.
- Wear a hat with a broad brim.
- Wear sunglasses with UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) ray protection.
- Wear sunscreen. The North Dakota Cancer Coalition recommends sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.
- Avoid indoor tanning.
Be sure to check your skin regularly for spots or lesions. Look for the “ABCDEs” of melanoma:
- Asymmetry (the two halves of the spot are not the same)
- Border is irregular (the spot may have ragged or notched edges)
- Color variation (brown, black, pink, white or blue)
- A diameter larger than a pencil eraser
- Note if the spot or mole is “evolving” (changing size, shape or color)
Recently, as part of my involvement with the North Dakota Cancer Coalition, I participated in a webinar with health professionals and a survivor of skin cancer.
This acronym is based on the first letters of “melanoma” and comes from Cheryl Smith, a social worker at Sanford Health. She gave me permission to share these insightful words for coping with, or helping others cope with, cancer.
- M: Keep “me” in mind. Keep doing activities and hobbies you enjoy.
- E: Everyone is affected and you are responsible for your emotions.
- L: Learn strategies to cope with stress.
- A: Ask others to help and allow them to help.
- N: Nourish your soul. Do things you love to do.
- O: Observe how you feel and observe things around you.
- M: Meet with others who understand.
- A: Just like sailing, we will encounter calm times and rough patches.
Take care of your skin. As outdoor cooking season heats up, enjoy a wide variety of foods, including fish, chicken, steak and/or burgers on the grill. Try grilling fruits and vegetables, too. Healthful foods and beverages provide nutrition and hydration to nourish our skin and the rest of our body.
Check out the NDSU Extension publication “Grill Something Different” (available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/quick-facts-grill-something-different).
This is one of the tasty recipes included in the publication.
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound salmon steaks
About 4 teaspoons honey
Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly over the salmon. Grill for five minutes per side, drizzling lightly with a squeeze from the honey container (about 1 tsp. per steak) just before they’re done.
Makes four servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 23 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fat, less than 1 gram fiber and 630 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.)