I never dreamt I'd be out here - weeding - and it not even 9 a.m. yet. Life's changed a lot since the doctor diagnosed melanoma.
What did I know of cancer? What do I know now - except that it will be years, if not a lifetime, before I'm comfortable in short-sleeved clothes. The incision left an ugly scar.
Before this, I always sought the sun, even took pride in being brown by this time of the summer. Weeding was great - in halter and bikini bottoms (it's blessedly private here) - and only at the highest hours. Now it's out early - or late, slathered in sunscreen (a product that had never been in my home before), special hats, long-sleeved shirts, the works.
I resented the diagnosis early on and see now it was a blessing it came in mid-winter. Who was to deprive me of what I enjoyed most? How unnatural to tell any creature that the healing warmth of sun could also kill. How unnatural indeed.
Now I've grown aware that other animals from dogs and cats to the smallest mouse enjoy the sun but show their god-given sense and seek shade, if not shelter, during our hottest hours. Even the retriever keeps an eye on my digging from the depths of the garage. The concrete there makes for a cool bed.
But not him. Mowing now, bare-chested, bare-backed (the doctor can still freeze off all the funny little growths his body manufactures), wearing a cap to dim my protests, shorts and high boots to offer protection from rocks and snakes if not the rays. Sunscreen? Some new habits simply can't be quickly acquired in one's seventh decade.
Perhaps if I were guaranteed x-number of months, no more but no less, I might join the ranks of sun worshippers again. I think not.
I've returned from the Caribbean with a one-week orange-brownness, which disappeared as quickly as it came. I won't miss the burning sensation, the sleeplessness - or the peeling. I no longer find the older brown ladies with their striated faces as attractive as I once did. Looking athletic no longer seems a true reflection of health.
Besides, I find now I can honestly say the heat is quite uncomfortable. So was much of the sacrifice I felt necessary for that healthy tan.
I pass the campus, seeing the girls, their unblemished smooth young bodies, as scantily covered as the law permits. I don't believe modesty is a quality found among today's youth - but that's another topic altogether. I wish I could warn them, let them see the extent of the ugliness that disfigures my arm.
No. I know. It can't happen to them. And maybe it won't. The odds are very low. And even if they are among the unlucky ones, they will probably have many decades to enjoy first.
And who knows what can happen in those tens of years? Something worse perhaps. Or maybe the cure.
I wrote a column on the dangers of the sun last July and may well keep the "tradition" going. I received many comments - those who have had similar experiences to mine and, sadly, one friend who refuses to give up her time basking out there.
My buddy, the Internet, listed a bunch of facts worth remembering: a base tan does NOT protect against sunburn, there is no daylight hour when sunscreen should NOT be applied, and even a SPF of 70 is not true protection, a hat is not enough for your head and face, and there are other, far safer, ways to get your needed vitamin D.
While melanoma remains the most deadly skin cancer, it can be cured if discovered early.
Not sure about that thing you're seeing now? Here's one easy check for starters: a mole has smooth sides while a melanoma is irregular; a mole's side will "match" while a melanoma lacks symmetry, a melanoma will grow to be larger than the size of a pencil eraser, and changes color and shape as it grows.
If you're not sure get thee to a doctor fast. Please.
And, while you're at it, check those hard-to-see spots on your closest friends too. Who knows? You might enjoy that little added intimacy!