Coping With Skin Cancer

FIFTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD Jeremiah is an Australian of Irish descent, with flaming red hair and milk-white skin, which some refer to as the “Celtic curse.” He relates: “Like most Australians, our family was frequently outdoors, especially on weekends and summer holidays. For hours on end as a child, I would swim in our backyard pool or surf and play cricket on the Gold Coast beaches, south of Brisbane. Often, the only thing I wore was a pair of swimming trunks.”

Jeremiah continues: “Until my early teens, there were no effective sunscreens available. In those days advertising widely encouraged people to use coconut tanning oil to attain the Australian image of the bronzed lifeguard. At that time we had little understanding of the damage sun can do to the skin. It was only with the repeated pain of serious sunburn that, for self-preservation, I began to shun situations of high sun exposure.” But the damage had been done. “All those years with bare back and chest yielded a lot of moles, which were starting to darken and thicken, particularly on my chest.”

Jeremiah has since had three melanomas removed as well as many basal cell carcinomas. Because of this he has changed his routine. He says: “Daily, before I go out the door, I apply a skin moisturizer. Over that, I then apply a sunscreen. I now wear a hat or cap most days in summer from about 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.” He also goes for a check-up by a dermatologist every three months.

 Jeremiah explains what has helped him to cope with his ordeal: “Jehovah God has given me the prayerful conviction to expect to recover when others thought I might die any year. Based on the life expectancy of many melanoma sufferers as little as 20 years ago, I have been regarded by some as a dead man walking. I have personally experienced the meaning of King David’s words: ‘Jehovah himself will sustain [me] upon a divan of illness; all [my] bed you will certainly change during [my] sickness.’”​—Psalm 41:3.

Another who has had a struggle with skin cancer is Maxine. In her youth fair-skinned Maxine was sent to the Tropics as a missionary, first to the Dominican Republic and later to Puerto Rico. For 20 years her missionary work involved going house-to-house in the ministry in the sun for much of the day. Additionally, she enjoyed sunbathing in her leisure time. Then, in 1971 a basal cell carcinoma was discovered on her face. She had radium treatments and then surgery, followed by skin grafts to repair the damage. However, cancerous cells continued to appear.

Explains Maxine: “The problem was that infected cells often went undetected, so they continued to grow. It has been a long and stressful time​—about 30 years of visiting doctors, clinics, and hospitals. I have had at least ten operations on my face, in addition to several visits to a clinic to treat the cancer by other means.” Now, 80-year-old Maxine’s most recent treatment is Mohs surgery, which has been more successful in eradicating the cancerous cells.

As a result of her recurring skin cancer, Maxine has had to make changes in her manner of missionary service, doing her public ministry in the evening to avoid the sun. What has helped Maxine to cope? “One thing is keeping a positive attitude. I know that cancerous cells will continue to appear and that I will have to visit the doctor again. This I accept. I try not to feel sorry for myself or moan about my trials. These do not take away my joy in my ministry. I can still talk to others about Jehovah’s Kingdom. And I have the hope of a permanent cure in the near future in the new world. Then I will have a young, perfect face.”

Yes, skin cancer sufferers and victims of other diseases can look forward to the day when the words recorded in the book of Job are fulfilled: “Let his flesh become fresher than in youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor.” (Job 33:25) Until that time arrives, let us all beware of the danger posed by overexposure to the sun and let us make a conscious effort to safeguard our skin.

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Jeremiah has had a number of skin cancers removed, including three melanomas. Yet, he remains positive and hopeful

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“In the new world . . . , I will have a young, perfect face.”​—Maxine