Former local lifeguard warns about skin cancer amid Central Texas heat wave

Cathy Cantrell Moak thought she had a bug bite - it was cancer
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 9:06 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The record-breaking temperatures in Central Texas could have lasting health impacts for people who don’t protect themselves early on, health experts say.

“The sun that you accumulate over the decades, particularly in your younger years before you’re 18 has a huge impact on your overall skin health,” said Dr. Katie Fiala, Chair of the Dermatology Dept. at Baylor Scott & White Health. “We cannot turn back the clock and redo what happened the first five decades of your life.”

Fiala’s words resonate strongly with Cathy Cantrell Moak, 53.

“The consequences are real,” Moak told KWTX Tuesday. “That tan’s not worth it, 20 years from now it will not be worth it.”

After growing up in McGregor, Moak recently moved back to Waco--one of he first things she did was find a dermatologist.

“My first discovery was what I thought was a bug bite on my back that didn’t heal...I finally got my mom to took a picture of it so I could look at it, and I Googled it and thought ‘this might be skin cancer.’”

And it was.

Since she was diagnosed last year, Moak has undergone three surgeries for two types of skin cancer.

“I’ve had two kinds: I’ve had basal cell carinoma, and then I’ve had really what they call a pre-melanoma or melanoma-cystic mole,” said Moak. “It’s a scale, and melanoma is the most dangerous, and I was right at the end of the scale before it turns into full melanoma, so they caught it just in time, but they had to do a very intrusive surgery for that.”

“Painful” surgery she believes was caused by her carefree actions as a young adult.

“I was a lifeguard in the Waco area for many years, and just every one of those sunburns just adds up,” said Moak.

Fiala says, although a lot of sun damage happens when we’re young, it’s never too late to start protecting yourself.

“If you’re ready to start and you haven’t done sun protection, today (Tuesday) is a great day, tomorrow (Wednesday) the UV index is going to be 12...which is the highest,” said Fiala.

She says research shows a combination of sunscreen and keeping skin covered has the the biggest impact on skin health.

“Use a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30, for people who have already started to see the changes of sun damage and have had skin cancers or pre-cancers--they need to be wearing at least an SPF of 50,” said Fiala. “If you’re hot or sweaty and at the beach, pool, or lake, that sunscreen is good for about 80 minutes, so you’ve got to reapply every 80 minutes if you’re wet, hot, or sweaty.”

Wear sun-protective clothing, she says.

“There are long-sleeve shirts that are made, fishing shirts and sun-protective shirts with UPF, those can be worn as a protective measure,” said Fiala. “Also, wear hats that have a broad rim: so what we consider broad is three-inches all the way around so it will protect your ears, your neck, and it needs to be tightly woven, baseball caps, too, they only really protect the front of your face and don’t really do anything for the back of your neck, or sides of your neck or ears, but it’s better than nothing.”

The dermatologist also recommends downloading a weather app to your phone with a UV index.

“You can have a weather app that will show you what the UV index is on your phone...I recommend to my patients that the time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. is when the UV index is really high, and so you have that high intensity UV radiation that causes genetic damage to your skin,” said Fiala. “That genetic damage, you can’t reverse it, and the more that you accumulate over the years is what leads to ultimately to having have skin cancers cut out or treated with radiation.”

There are certain people who are also more prone to skin cancer, she says.

“Your skin type makes a big difference,” said Fiala. “If you’re blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, really fair and you can’t tan for your life, you’re someone who really needs to pay attention to the UV index because those burns, blisters, those types of events that happen over the years each summer is what accumulates that sun damage that leads to skin cancer.”

Moak, who is fair-skinned, says to keep herself ahead of the cancer she now goes to the doctor every three months for full-body screens.

She’s urging Central Texans to be careful during this heat, but also throughout the year.

“It’s something I wanted all of my adolescence was to be tan, and now I just want to be safe, so I actually use sunscreen every day, even in the winter,” she said.

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