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Kathy with DadMy Father’s Parting Words by Kathy Howie

My father grew up in South Boston playing and boating at the local beaches and harbor. When I was a child he took us for walks on Castle Island every Sunday. My brother developed a bone disease when he was six years old involving his hip. The doctor suggested that he swim for physical therapy and get lots of sunshine (vitamin D) so his bones would grow.

That began my dad’s obsession with exercising outside. He put in a swimming pool so my brother could swim – and of course a salt water swimming pool so we could get a really good tan in the process. As a family, we rented a cottage on a lake each summer, took weekend trips to the ocean and winter trips to the Caribbean. The goal was to be healthy and get a nice tan in the process. We never used sunscreen as it was practically unheard of in the 60s and 70s. We used baby oil to get that good tan. My mother would constantly throw us outside to “go get some sun”. They believed that a tan was a sign of good health. As my parents aged they spent their winters in Florida soaking up the rays and getting the darkest tan that was evidence of a good vacation and looking healthy.

In 2005, my father became concerned about his moles and became faithful about seeing his GP and a skin doctor. He had a few moles removed. One that was on his forehead was removed a few times but always turned out to be benign. However, it always grew back. Because it was not cancer the doctor wasn’t too pushy about having additional surgery.

After seeing a new doctor in 2011 he had the mole biopsied again and this time the diagnosis was melanoma. He then had additional surgery including removal of lymph nodes that were clear. Five years later, a spot appeared on his lower hip. Somewhere the sun had never seen and we knew it was not good. It was in fact a melanoma – a metastatic melanoma. It had spread throughout his entire body. He was dead in 3 months.

I believe the lack of knowledge that the sun’s rays can be deadly and the sun worshiping culture of my parents’ generation contributed to my father’s death. Since that diagnosis, I have changed my lifestyle but I know for me it may be too late. The damage may already have been done. My dad regretted his lack of knowledge and choices regarding the sun. One of my father’s last words to me were to “stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen”.

I remember his words and have decided to pass this warning on to a new generation. My Dad was a good man and loved mentoring others. I believe educating kids about sun safety is something my dad would be proud to be a part of. I want sun protection to become something each child does without thinking – like bike helmets and seat belts. No one deserves to have their life cut short because they didn’t know that the suns rays could cause cancer and that sunscreen could prevent it.

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