This is a public service announcement. It is one I wish I had heeded through much of my younger years. I wish I had listened to Ann Landers.
I met her, once, as a high school senior. Staff members of our student newspaper were invited to a press conference at the Chicago Sun Times, which is where Ann Landers originally wrote for. Actor Hugh O’Brian was in town promoting the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program and I was among the lucky few from our school that attended.
Mr. O’Brian was the very handsome actor many of you might remember for his television role as Wyatt Earp. Do you remember that television series? The Legend of Wyatt Earp. Sigh. The girls in our group were as giddy as teenage girls can be. The boys in our group were full of machismo, for this WAS Wyatt Earp (brave, courageous, and true).
We somehow managed to get to the event on time, found seats in a press room, chatted with each other and with students from other newspapers; then we fell silent as Hugh O’Brian came into the room. For most of us, this was a first time of seeing an actor in real life as opposed to a black and white television screen. Hugh O’Brian was as dreamy in person as he was on-screen – and he was as committed to his program for youth as anyone could be. We listened, took notes, and Janice, the editor-in-chief of our paper, raised her hand and posed a question. Somewhere, in a box, in the bowels of our basement, sits a news clipping of the event, quoting Janice’s question, with my hair showing. These things are important when one is seventeen.
As the press conference started to wind down, a side door opened and a sprightly, diminutive woman in a classy suit, high heels, and higher hair rushed in. Hugh O’Brian was “way cool”, but, this tiny woman with lots of spunk was none other than Ann Landers, the syndicated columnist who gave advice on boyfriends and marriages, mothers-in-law and nosy neighbors. She even ventured into such topics as basking in the sun. Almost everyone I knew read her columns, which were often clipped out and left on the kitchen table in case the “shoe fit” for some bit of advice.
Miss Landers has a strong voice and a stronger presence. I remember her whisking in and commanding the room as she gave us a few bites of journalistic wisdom and encouraged us to follow our dreams.
How I wished I had listened to one piece of her advice. Ann Landers wrote early, and often, of the hazards of sitting in the sun, warning that sun would age her readers and worse. It would cause cancer.
I thought about whether or not to write about my recent bout with a pre-cancerous skin condition. I’m fine, really; a month of some nasty cream on my face, a bit of discomfort and worry, but, I’m fine. Eight years ago I had a basal cell growth removed from my nose; a little cut and paste by a plastic surgeon and no one knows it was there. Since then, religiously, I go in yearly for a full body screening. This past December my dermatologist said “ah, we have something we need to take care of”. Nothing I had noticed, but, she did, it was treated, and I am grateful.
I tell you this now not for you to worry or feel badly for me. Please don’t. I tell you this as a reminder to use sunscreen and protection. Stay out of the sun. The problems I have experienced, and will likely continue to, are a direct result of worshipping the sun all those years ago, even after a tiny women with strong words wrote to all who would read to beware of what damage the sun could do. I ignored her. Several months after the press conference, I went to Chicago’s Oak Street Beach with friends and managed a very bad sun burn. My mom cut out her column and left it on the table. The “shoe fit” – and still, I sat in the sun, again and again.
Do check your skin regularly. Use sunscreen and hats. Make an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist for a skin check, especially if you have ever had a bad sun burn or have a light complexion, and if you notice anything suspicious, be proactive – and listen to Ann Landers. I sure wish I had.