Speaking of the importance of providing consistent, accurate, and specially-tailored sun safety educational messages, here is another wonderful example that reminded me that it really does make a difference.
Last summer, a neighbor of ours named Joe would come over to our apartment quite frequently. Joe is a special guy. He is developmentally challenged, but has a great laugh, and a great spirit. In the beginning, Joe would come over to our apartment because he had a crush on my best friend (who, obviously, was one of my room-mates). He would always ask her to go on walks together around the block in the warm summer afternoons just before dusk.
Joe simply adored my best friend,. He would always mention her "long blond hair, blue eyes, and pretty skin." It is true. My buddy has the most lovely cornsilk blond hair, amazingly big and beautiful aquamarine eyes, and the most perfect milky fair skin. (That's because she always protects her radiant skin with ample amounts of sunscreen).
Eventually, Joe developed a fondness of all five of us girls in apartment #12 (not just my best friend). He would come over frequently. Though, he never asked me to go on walks with him, he always asked me about sun safety. It all started because Joe works outside, and I made mention to him about how concerned I was with how much sun exposure he was receiving each day. And thus a daily tradition of sun safety education began...
Joe would come over each day to show me how well he was protecting himself from the sun. It first started with the sunscreen application. (You could tell he had put it on because it wasn't quite rubbed in hence leaving a white film on his arms and face that provided proof). Then it was his growing collection of wide-brimmed hats and selection of sunglasses. Joe would often ask me the same question multiple times. "How does sunscreen work again? How often do I need to put it on? It says UV 400 on my sunglasses, is that good? Is this thing on my skin a skin cancer?"
At first, the five of us thought that, perhaps, that Joe needed reminding. One day; however, when I was coming home early from work to take care of my buddy/room-mate who was sick, I saw him talking to one of our other neighbors about sunscreen application, etc. He could have easily qualified to be my co-host for the Conversations with Cancer show and talking about skin cancer prevention. Nevertheless, Joe would still come over to our apartment and ask me questions - many of the same questions - about skin cancer and sun safety.
To encourage Joe for his sun safety behavior, we would take pictures of him in his different wide-brimmed hats and reward him by inviting him to watch movies with us (though, he would usually want to talk about sun safety midway through the movie. I discovered that saying my roomies and I would go for walks or bring him tasty treats usually worked better). We did this not to bribe him, but rather reward him for his efforts. He would get so excited to come over and show us how well he was doing at being SunSavvy. These positive affirmations were to merely reinforce that "good behavior" so to speak.
Alas, the sweet summer days ended and the craziness fall semester kicked in high gear. We never saw Joe again.
That is, until this past Sunday.
I was taking a plate of treats over to my best friend's sister and brother, when I ran into Joe. He recognized me as I was crossing the street and yelled "Hey! I know you!" And, as you may have guessed, he proceeded to hammer out a lengthy list of questions about skin cancer and sun safety. I asked him, "So, Joe, I guess this means you have continued to be diligent about putting on your sunscreen, right?" "Well, no." "Why not?" "Because you're not around to bring me Blue Lizard bottles anymore and I know that's the only stuff that's good. If you were around still to give me Blue Lizard, I would know to put it on a half hour before I leave my house. And I would know to put it on again all the time." "What's all the time - do you remember how often you should reapply it? Remember, you work outside all day, so how often should you reapply that sunscreen?" "Each hour," he said. "That's right, Joe! Very good! You remember!"
Needless to say, talking with Joe on Sunday was a special little treat for me.
He remembered, though many months have passed (seven to be exact), everything he learned about sun safety and skin cancer prevention from the five silly room-mates who lived in apartment 12.
Now, if only I can get everyone I know to not only remember what they have learned but to put it into practice - all day, every day, all year round. ;)
Hope you all have SunSavvy day,