Skin cancer: The high price of being beautiful
Beauty sometimes comes at a high cost.
In 2003, Jean Walker of Red Level – now a cancer survivor – saw the proof of that in the mirror.
Called basal cell carcinoma or “skin cancer,” Walker paid little notice to the “bump” on her nose until after showers, the site wouldn’t stop bleeding.
“I was one of those people who loved to lay on the beach without sunscreen,” said Walker, now 74. “I had several skin cancers on my face, and the doctor burned those off. But that one on my nose, I had to get a biopsy and it came back as cancer.”
Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common cancers. It rarely metastasizes or kills; however, because it can cause significant destruction and disfiguring surrounding tissues, it is still considered malignant. In the U.S., approximately 3-out-of-10 may develop basal cell cancer within their lifetimes. In 80 percent of the cases, the cancers are found on the head and neck.
During Walker’s surgery, the doctor found the cancer had taken deep root and was unable to remove it all. It took 26 radiation treatments – one every day in Opp – to beat the cancer back, Walker said.
“It was something,” she said of the process. “You don’t think the sun can hurt you, but it can. When I would rub my face, it would bleed, and that was when I went to the doctor. The general answer they gave me was too many years in the sun.”
Doctors also had to perform a skin graft to Walker’s nose. When things were dark, her family and church friends helped to keep her spirit up.
“It was around Christmas when I was going through the radiation, and everyone kidded me that I was taking Rudolph’s place with my red nose,” she said. “Then, my church family kidded me real good. They said the reason why my nose was so red was because I was sticking it into other folks’ business too much.”
And while it’s easy to laugh now that the disease is behind her, Walker – and her family – take painstaking efforts to protect themselves.
“I’ve got some little red-headed and blonde-headed grandkids and we make sure they are coated in sunscreen,” she said.
It’s also advice that the general public can take to heart, she said.
When asked if being tan then was worth the health issues, Walker was quick to answer.
“You know, the sad thing is that I never tanned,” she said. “I just freckled. So, no, it wasn’t worth it.”
Today, Walker is cancer-free and content to be freckled, she said.