The other day I went to the beach with some friends and I saw something that I have to talk about.
There was a group of young boys and girls. If I had to take a guess at their age I’d say early high school. Maybe year 7 or 8.
There was a little bit of awkward flirting going on and it was kind of cute.
Then the girls brought out the tanning oil. And started lathering it on.
And it hit me harder than I thought it would.
To be fair, I’ve only just started using sunscreen and being more sunsafe. I used to be the girl that would go out for the whole day in the sun with not a scrap of suncreen on my body. Nada. I’d burn (maybe) but the red would disappear almost instanty and I’d tan straight away.
I love being in the sun and going for a swim when I feel some sweat coming on. I love spending the day with my friends at the beach. But I was always slack with sunscreen. As in, I never applied it. I would flat out refuse to.
I made up excuses. I didn’t like the feel of it on my skin. I didn’t like the smell of it. But the truth is that I couldn’t be bothered. So I just never applied it.
Then, one day, I met a woman at my gym who changed everything.
We started talking and she told me she was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. She was writing about her experience for Breast Cancer Awareness month for our gym’s newsletter. She told me her mum had cancer too. And that her father had died of melanoma when she was much younger.
Cancer had riddled her family and had caused her- evidently- enormous physical and emotional pain. Pain that I can’t even begin to imagine.
After my workout I was itching to go to the beach to tan. For hours, as I usually would.
Just as I was about to leave she reminded me to wear some sunscreen.
And that’s when it hit me and it hasn’t left me since.
I am putting myself in danger deliberately because I can’t be bothered to take two minutes to protect my skin and prevent myself from getting cancer.
And I’m sure that’s the same for most Australians. We just can’t be bothered. We forget. Or we feel like we’re invincible. The sun can’t be that bad, right? Surely. But it is. It’s deadly. It kills hundreds of Australians every single year.
And I continued to put myself in danger because I was lazy. And I was thinking of my own pleasure.
We wear a seatbelt when we get in the car. So why don’t we all wear sunscreen when we go to the beach? Why isn’t it just something we do automatically?
Whenever I go to lay in the sun now, I think of her. I think of not just what she said to me. But how she said it.
I can’t imagine facing my children one day and having to tell them I have a melanoma because even though I knew all the risks, I couldn’t be bothered to protect myself.
Sometimes we need a wake up call. That was mine. Maybe this woman and what she said to me will save my life one day. I can’t be sure. But I will do my best to protect myself. Just like I do when I put my seatbelt on in the car or when I look both ways before crossing the street.