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Caring for our largest organ

Your skin is a very important part of the body as I am sure you realise. It’s the largest organ of our body. It’s true guys! Not only does it keep our blood from running all over the floor and making a mess, it keeps pesky bacteria and other annoying things like dog tongues from gaining access to our blood.
 |  Ross Liggins  | 

It also maintains body temperature and PH balance. Imagine how cold we would be without skin.

I am not sure how bad it would be if our PH got out of balance by not having any. I’ll leave you to look that up.

Many of us abuse our body organs by eating too much meat and fat-drenched food, sitting on our butts not doing exercise, drinking too much or stuffing up our brain with too many recreational drugs. Our skin doesn’t escape this corporeal punishment either, especially in a country like ours where the ozone layer is a bit on the thin side.

When I was a teenager, nobody, including doctors, seemed to know about the sun’s ferocious effect on our delicate largest organ, our skin. My dear Mum would mix up a brew of oil and vinegar, with which she smothered our bodies, before we ventured out into the sun. It baked us. There was no sunblock then, and I remember those first days of summer being quite painful as our winter-white bodies first turned bright pink or red and then started to peel or become blistered and bleeding.

We used to have peeling competitions to see whose back could yield the greatest area of skin in one piece. The peeling was especially satisfying for those of us who had a fetish for bursting pimples of picking off other various skin growths. This was great fun at the time and we didn’t think much of it. We swam and surfed without protection for years before sunblock and sun smart education finally made their way into our sun-drenched lives.

When I was in my forties, I thought I had better start having annual skin checks given my many years of unprotected activities in the sun.

So off I went to my GP every March to have bits of suspicious looking skin hacked out of my body. I started collecting quite a few scars. It was just as well I did because one day the doctor said, “I think this blackish spot could be a melanoma. I will need to send it to the lab.”

Well, as you can imagine that didn’t really make my day and I spent the next week waiting for the test results and wondering if I was on borrowed time or not. It was very stressful, and when the doc called she said, “I have good news and bad news.” “OK”, I said, “Fire away.”

“The bad news is you have melanoma. The good news is, it’s only level 2.”

So what did that mean? It meant the cancer had not yet spread to other places in the body and could be chopped out. So that’s what happened. I went to a plastic surgeon at what turned out to be a private hospital. They asked me if I had medical insurance and when I said “no” they gave me a breakdown of the cost and said I would need to pay before leaving the hospital.

I scanned the bill and noticed an item “Waiting room bed $200. “Well”, I thought, “I don’t need to lie down while I am waiting. So I told the receptionist I wouldn’t be needing the bed and a couple of other luxury items, so my bill was reduced a little, thank God.

Anyway, the surgeon extracted a 6-inch-long bit of flesh and told me I had a 95% chance of survival. I gratefully accepted those odds and left him with a large weight removed from my shoulders.

Since then, I have lost a few more bits of skin and have recently been for an appointment with a Waikato Hospital dermatologist to chop out some less dangerous but still concerning forms of skin cancer.

On seeing my tanned skin, she told me that I needed to be more vigilant when in the sun as some of the rays can get through sunblock but not through appropriate clothing.

So, in addition to smothering myself in the locally-produced reputable sunblock “Sol”, I have started covering all my body with a light-weight jacket and long pants when I am sailing.

It has been a bit of a challenge staying sun-safe but hey, I am still alive. I have been lucky so far and would highly recommend annual skin checks for everyone, even if you have brown skin and even in winter. Remember, Bob Marley died of melanoma and around 300 of us here in Aotearoa suffer the same fate every year.

Have a great, well-protected time in the sun.