68/365 – Sun, skin cancer and myasthenia gravis

I knew it was that dreaded time of year again when the first sunburn picture appeared on Facebook – better invest in some factor 50 sunscreen and dig out the long sleeved summer tops. Why you ask? Well, the lovely immunosuppressant that I’m about to increase my dose of is linked to giving you skin cancer so being out in the sun unprotected/covered is a no-go.

The science of why is a bit confusing but it seems that if you take aziathioprine you are more at risk of developing certain types of cancer that   start in the cells that fight infection. These include lymphoma and skin cancer. While there’s not a lot you can do to stop lymphoma, by protecting your skin from UVA rays, and probably by living in the UK, you are giving yourself a better chance of avoiding skin cancer. 

It was the first thing my consultant told me when he discussed aziathioprine and as a former sun worshipper it is the thing I find hardest about the drug. As a Scot, I’m not used to getting prolonged warm weather in the summer but May-September are mostly glorious in London. There are countless hazy days full of the kind of heat you can only get abroad when you live in Scotland. Sadly at all times when in the sun I have to be prepared to block it out. The devilish rays must not get through.

Last spring and summer were really tough. If the sun was out, each morning before work I would put sunscreen on. I would take the bottle to work and top up again if I was going out at lunch/after work. Each time I was to spend an extended period of time out in the sun, I would cover up as much as possible – this made for some incredibly sweaty summer days and nights.

As you can imagine, the 120km section of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trek across France and Spain, we walked was a challenge. Being out all day in mostly glorious sunshine was not recommended but there was no way I was setting off in the dark or waiting until the afternoon high. This year, as the walks are shorter, I may try to get out of the sun for that hot period between 11am and 1pm but we’ll see. 

Then there was the beach holiday to Argeles and Carcassone at the end of August…who doesn’t want to spend their time on the beach under a giant umbrella or?! Elaine and I had been in Malaga and Granada the year before getting that golden brown look. Everyone looks healthier with a bit of colour in their cheeks and I was desperately in need of that glow. I was conscience at the start of the 10 days, but, after a summer of covering up and being careful, by the end of my holiday I was taking risks. As you can see from the below, some days I was better than others at covering up – the urge to get a tan proved too tempting. 

This year will need to be different. Shortly I will be on triple the dose I was taking last August and that means it’s a lot more dangerous to take risks. As a treat to cheer myself up, I plan to buy a couple of light material long sleeve tops for the coming months. 

At present, I don’t have any long summer holidays like last year booked but we are taking a few days before the Camino in the south of France and a few days after in Pamplona and Bilbao. While I do love being able to properly unwind on holiday, I’m hoping to give the beaches a miss this year until I can reduce my aziathioprine dose. 

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