Charlotte’s Blog

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Lessons from Margaritaville

Jimmy Buffet has left a multi-faceted legacy…his distinctive musical style and lyrics, his upbeat and his laid back lifestyle his entrepreneurial success pursuing the life that a lot of “parrot heads” wanted.  He had become an iconic representative of the Caribbean lifestyle and the joy of sunshine.  Mr. Buffet had a very full and successful life, and his experience is a learning opportunity to us all.  It was the sun that finally caught up to him, and there is a lesson in that for us all.

Most of us have had a chance to go to the places during the cold of winter where “they don’t have to shovel sunshine.”  But the sun can be not just damaging to one’s skin, it can fuel at least a couple forms of skin cancer that can lead to death as the cancers spread.  The number one cause of death is melanoma that many of you may know about and know what to look for on your or your partner’s skin.  It was number two, Merkel Cell Carcinoma, that finally caused Mr. Buffet’s death.

I want to share just enough to encourage you all to be more vigilant, because who doesn’t like a chance to get away from our Midwestern winter to the southern climes where the sun still warms us.  Merkel cells are part of everyone’s top layer of skin, but undue sun exposure can cause these cells to grow out of control.  The growth of these cells can ultimately find their way to lymph glands or blood vessels in the body and ultimately metastasize to the rest of the body.  This runaway cancer growth can be exacerbated by age or a weakened immune system.  The more advanced this growth becomes, the fewer good options to treat the cancer.

The good news is that it is on the skin when it starts, and it may just look like a harmless lesion or an insect bite…but it does not go away.  It may begin as a single lump less that 2 cm (3/4 of an inch) in diameter and look like a pimple or a cyst or a sore pink or purple in color.  It can be diagnosed by a dermatologist through a skin biopsy and then a more careful assessment to identify what stage the growth is can be undertaken.  The good news is that anything less than stage IV can be treated fairly effectively.

White males are more susceptible to this carcinoma.  And there are steps everyone can take to reduce the risk: sun protective clothing and hats, sun screen and limiting the amount of sun or tanning booth time.  Starting now, look to a dermatologist for annual check-ups, and if there is any suspicion of Merkel Cell growth abnormalities the doctor may schedule you for more frequent assessments.

Mr. Buffett died less than two weeks ago, but he had finished his next album release with three new songs.  The album is due to be released November 3 of this year.  He lives on for the Parrot Heads.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.


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