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After Being Diagnosed with Skin Cancer, I’m Doing Everything I Can to Prevent it from Happening Again

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
05/20/19  8:00 AM PST
sunscreen

Last month, I was sitting in my dermatologist’s office, kicking my heels against the exam chair and wondering how I could possibly be back here for the third time in a year. The answer is fairly obvious, however, when I study myself in the mirror. I am the pale, freckled result of generations of Scots and English. We hail from the coldest, wettest, dimmest coastlines. My actual home, however, is in the sunny hills of Tennessee. Despite the floppy sunhats and triple-digit SPF, I have had three bouts of pre-cancer and one solid cancer diagnosis in the last year. This current cancer diagnosis is why I am in the office today. In moments, my doctor will come in and scrape and burn and scrape and burn a red, scaly spot on my shin until there is nothing left but a divot and a memory.

It no longer phases my parents when their own possibly cancerous lesions appear. They have so many “spots” to be treated that they leave each appointment singed and smelling​ faintly​ of burnt skin. At the age of thirty-six, I am beginning to realize that I am headed down that very same path. However, while I may have inherited their propensity for cancer-prone skin, I don’t have to surrender without a fight. 

Instead, when my dermatologist walked in with her needles and numbing cream, I said, “I love you, but we’ve got to stop meeting like this. Please tell me there’s something to slow this down.” It seemed redundant to even mention. Isn’t the answer always: wear more sunscreen, stay in the shade, buy a rash guard and live in it? But as a mother to a son with special needs whose well-being depends on me staying healthy as long as possible, I figured it was worth the ask. There is power in being your own advocate.

She smiled, still bandaging up the new hole in my shin, and directed her next comment at the nurse: “Write down the information on nicotinamide for her.”

“What’s that?” I asked, perking up and picturing the drug from “Limitless,” minus the murderous side effects.

“It’s a form of B3,” she said, tapping my leg, which hurt tremendously, but not as much as the disappointment. She was prescribing me a B vitamin. I already take a B vitamin and it clearly wasn’t doing the trick.

“This isn’t in your ordinary multivitamin,” she said, reading my mind.

She went on to say that recent studies have shown a significant decrease in occurrences of pre-cancer when this form of B3 is taken. She had seen it in her own patients who, like me, were starting to see more and more spots.

I hopped down gingerly, took the information and went home to do my own research. It turns out you can buy nicotinamide on Amazon. It’s $10 for a month’s supply. One study reported that when taken twice a day for a year, it “cut squamous-cell and basal-cell skin cancers by 23%” in high risk patients. That’s not a small percentage when 5.4 million people are treated annually for skin cancer at a rate of $8.1 billion a year. When viewed in that light, nicotinamide is a cheap over-the-counter treatment with no side effects and potentially huge benefits.

If cells remain depleted from UV radiation, the body is more susceptible to genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. The way nicotinamide works is by encouraging new cells to form, boosting the rate at which DNA is repaired. In short, it acts as a skin regenerator for those prone to skin cancer.

In a report on “Nicotinamide for Skin Cancer Chemoprevention,” Peter Paul Yu, Director of Cancer Research at the Palo Alto Medical Medical Foundation made this comment on the new treatment: “[We] have a remarkably simple and inexpensive way to help people avoid repeat diagnoses of some of the most common skin cancers. With just a [twice-]daily vitamin pill, along with sun protection and regular skin cancer screenings, people at high risk for these types of skin cancers have a good preventive plan to follow.”

I have made my fair share of impulsive and useless purchases on Amazon. However, when I consider my family history and all those hours as a teenager that I spent under the summer sun with nothing but a little zinc oxide in the shape of my current crush’s initials, I have to believe this pill can offer some measure of protection for my current self. At such a small price and risk, it certainly can’t hurt.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

Follow her on Facebook.

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