With temperatures hovering at around a gazillion degrees, it seems strange to Rant about a small spot of freeze damage, a spot which is not on my plants, but on the side of my neck.  

It happened earlier today, when the dermatologist squeezed the trigger on the Liquid Nitro gizmo and iced an area of skin the size of a No. 2 pencil eraser. She smiled, but I still felt like I’d been stung by a ticked-off paper wasp.

This was not my first brush with skin cancer and likely will not be my last.

From the Centers for Disease Control we learn that outdoor laborers (gardeners) are much more likely to get skin cancer than the average worker bees who are trapped all day within the confines of air-conditioned office cells. Eventually, when these same workers retire and head outdoors to play pickleball, most will join the rest of us in harm’s way.

 I’m not taking my fifty something youth for granted

Anyone over the age of 65 who gets sunburned, even once, is susceptible to the meanest form of skin cancer—Melanoma.  I’m setting delusions of glamour aside and embracing the floppy hat, not just when I’m in the garden, but all the time.

It could be one of the smartest things I’ll ever do since the skin damage can occur in just 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure.

Who knew?

My parents didn’t. We spent summers frying like bacon on the beach or by the pool. After three days at Disney World, my parents should have brought me to the Orlando burn unit. I spent my teens playing competitive golf in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma wearing just a flimsy visor and no sunscreen, unable to foresee the four holes the doctor would dig out of my scalp when I reached my early 20s. Every decade since, a few more spots come off.

I should be doing more to protect myself

The sun damage you experience now can come back to bite years, even decades later. I should be doing more to protect myself. I apply sunscreen, but I am less than diligent about re-applying it, which is dumb for a person who lives in a climate where heat plus humidity equals air you can wear. 

After about 90 minutes, perhaps feeling faint, I stop gardening long enough to hydrate.  While I’m chugging electrolytes and staring at the shrub that needs pruning, the need to reapply sunscreen never crosses my mind.

Fearless sun-worshipper

Stay out as long as I do and you might as well be gardening naked for all the protection sunscreen can give you, which reminds me that World Naked Gardening Day is celebrated annually on the first Saturday in May, just like the Kentucky Derby.

Have a mint julep or two, before you run naked to prune the roses.

Seriously, keep your sunscreen on, whenever and however you garden. Read the directions, so you know when to reapply it. I’ve thought about setting the alarm on my phone as a prompt, but have I done it? Nope, but for your own sake, you should.

What I have done is invest in several light weight long sleeved shirts with UV protection—shade cloth for people instead of tomatoes. These work well, but I wish they came in brown, the ultimate color of my garden wear.

How else might you protect yourself? 

  • Imagine you are a shade plant, a fern, a hosta, whatever it takes. Work where the shade is and when UV light levels are lowest, which is before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
  • Plant more trees and don’t over-prune the ones you have. Shade is a blessing.
  • Wear your sunglasses. Keep them on your face, not hanging off your shirt collar, unless you want wrinkles, cataracts or a surgeon poking about your eyelids.
  • Schedule an annual skin check, so you can get ahead of anything nasty.

 A dollop of Hosta ‘Guacamole’ pairs well with Mahonia ‘Marvel’.

A dollop of Hosta ‘Guacamole’ pairs well with Mahonia ‘Marvel’.

And, if you’re reading this and wondering why all this otherwise readily available health information is worthy of a GardenRant, consider this final fact:

Nearly 9,000 Americans die each year from Melanoma.

If you can help it, don’t be one of them.