Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Approaching Others

This past weekend, I took my 4 year old to a birthday party.  It was outdoors, with a rented inflatable slip and slide, water guns, etc for the kids to play with.  The parents had set up a canopy cover on their driveway with chairs underneath, and there was also a tree near the driveway for anyone to stand under. Only a couple of the parents dropped their kids off, and the rest stayed.  The parents I knew all stayed near the tree and canopy, but the parents of his school friends moved their chairs out to sit in the sun.

After about an hour, one of the mothers asked the host if she had any sunscreen.  I offered what I had brought, it had been sitting in plain sight since we got there.  She called her son out and sprayed only his shoulders, and another mom then took the can and sprayed her child as he was in line.  I told my friend that I was so happy to have found a spray that works on my daughter.  She has eczema tendencies, according to the doctors, and the reaction is only brought on by sunscreen or insect bites.  This one is a generic store brand, and had to use it on her in a pinch when we were out of the other kind.  Thankfully she didn't break out in her usual full body rash. The bonus, it is only $3.99 a can!

It wasn't long after this that one of the parents returned.  She was super skinny, sickly so, wearing short cut off denim shorts and a tank top.  She had short brown hair, wore big reflective aviator sunglasses.  What really caught my eye, though, was that she was so tan.  Her skin and her hair matched.  It was pure leather looking stretched over her skin and bones.  I found that if I looked in that direction, I would stare.  I did my rounds in the tanning bed world, mostly just to get a base tan before the season.  I had family members that would get extremely dark, unnaturally so, but I had never seen anything like this before.  It is so unattractive.  I noticed all the other parents were pleasant towards her, but were looking at her with curiosity too.  As she left, I noticed her son was also very tan, probably had not used sunscreen all season.  I didn't know what to do. I wished that she had been there when the other parents were re-spraying their kids.  When we talked about how my daughter was "glowing white" next to all the other kids, I could have used that as an opening. I wanted to approach her, but I knew it would probably do no good and only make things uncomfortable for my friend. As she walked up the driveway, I wanted to run after to her.  All I could do was look.  I felt sad for her.

Once all the school friends had left, and it was just the personal friends, the topic of her tan came up. It was brought up by someone who has personal experience with skin cancer also.  She was talking about how unattractive it was and why anyone would want to do that to themselves. I said I just wanted to go up to her and show her my scar and tell her about the dangers of it.

I have done that before.  I was in line and a very tan lady was talking about maybe joining a tanning bed because she felt pale since she was back from vacation.  I turned around and said "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to eaves drop, but being this close I couldn't help it.  I know that joining a tanning bed is your decision, but I would like to ask you to do some research first.  It isn't safer than the sun, as a matter of fact, you will be 74% more likely to get melanoma if you use a tanning bed"  She looked at me like I had lost my mind.  She was in her 50's, at least, and here I am looking half her age saying this to her.  I just turned my arm so she could see my scar, which was still fresh and ugly at the time and said, "I was diagnosed with melanoma a few months ago, and I just had to say something because I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone else"  She looked like she was having trouble with a response, so I turned back to my items so she wouldn't have to.  A few minutes later in the parking lot, she came up to me and said "I don't know what I'll do, but thank you for saying that to me."  

I don't know why I was able to approach one person and not the other.  Maybe it was mannerisms.  Maybe it was location.  Maybe it was that one was talking about it, but I would have been "coming from nowhere" with the other. I don't know that I would ever want to approach everyone I see, I think there is a time and a place for everything.  I do wish there was a good non-confrontational way to share the message with those you aren't comfortable approaching.  Those are the ones that you cant stop thinking about.


  1. I've been in the same boat as have many others. You WANT to say something but you can't find a socially acceptable way to do so. Like you said, it's best when the subject is brought up first I suppose. But frankly, someone as tan as you described would probably not have listened anyhow. It's a tough fight to allow others to be aware...and frustrating that we really can't MAKE them aware. It's their choice and we have to make sure we're educating people properly...and at an early age. The fact that you approached one person should be embraced...and I'm sure you'll be an example for others as well. We can only do what we can do...the real decision is up to them.

    Great post!

  2. Thank you Alan! It is hard to watch people make the wrong decisions. How quickly we forget that just 18 months ago, I even thought it would never happen to me and resisted those same warnings..