The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


        Joe Szyperski knew the sun would kill him.

        He joked about it as a young man, “Friends would tell me I would get cancer. I would say, ‘What a way to go. That’s how I’m going out. Solar suicide. I’m going out wrinkly with a tan’…Sure enough it happened.”

        Joe, 55, has spent a lifetime in the sun, He’s worked in the landscaping and lawncare fields for more than 30 years. He also managed a mini-golf course and ran in the sun to stay in shape for the 38 years he’s spent as an assistant wrestling coach, much of those years at Start High School. Now, he has melanoma and wants to talk about it to help others who spend too much time in the sun without proper protection.


        Joe’s infatuation with tanning began while still a student at Cardinal Stritch High School and the University of Toledo. “I just liked to tan. I liked the girls with tans. During college, I was always looking for any excuse to take my shirt off,” he said.

        Joe worked his way through college, in part by delivering a Press route in Oregon. A customer on his route asked him if he wanted to cut her lawn. He did. Shirtless. He recalled the moment, “I thought at the time I just got paid to get a tan. If I hadn’t cut the lawn I would have been home in the backyard with my shirt off listening to The Beach Boys.”

        That’s when Joe started his ideal business — lawn care, a business in which he got paid to get a tan.

        That was in 1984. Joe was a college graduate with a degree in education. He knew better. He knew he was fair skinned. He blistered and peeled three times on spring break trips to Florida.

        “I had those risk factors and I knew it. But I wanted the tan. I would turn red at first, but then I would get nice and brown.”

        Joe’s first sign that his flirtation with the sun would start him on a road no one wants to travel was in 2003 when he noticed a mole twice the size of an M&M on his back. Joe dismissed the importance of this early sign. He picked at the mole until it disappeared. When it reappeared, he would pick at it again. Then, in 2009, doctors removed the little mole which had grown to become a football-size patch.

        Being self-employed and working part-time jobs to supplement his income, Joe seldom had health insurance. His attempts to stay on top of the disease sometimes fell short due to the cost of the chemo pill — Zelboraf — some $4,000 a month, he said.

        While the patch on his back was gone, Joe started noticing bumps growing on his elbow, thigh, stomach and chest. They varied in size from a bottle cap to a baseball. They kept him awake at night. The baseball size tumor on his elbow stopped him from starting his pull mowers. Ironically, the sun that provided him the pleasure of tanning now restricted his income.

        As the melanoma grew, Joe started passing out. He knew when it would happen so he would sit, tell his co-workers not to worry, pass out and wake up a few seconds later. He first thought it was diabetes, but doctors told him he was anemic, that the cancer was pulling the blood from his system.

        Neglecting his health due to a lack of insurance and he admits — procrastination — landed him in the hospital for 10 days in 2013 when doctors discovered the cancer had spread to block 98 percent of his intestines.

        Joe’s stay in the hospital motivated him to finally read his mail, which he admits is one of his failings--procrastination. He discovered why he was dropped from Medicaid and took the steps to get reenrolled. He also received a free year’s worth of Zelboraf. Today, the cancer is in check. The tumors have shrunk. Joe works part-time, out of the sun, and coaches wrestling.

        “It’s a crazy story and it’s all my fault. I’m a procrastinator. I’ll deal with it later, I’ll deal with it later,” he said.

        Today, Joe does what the health experts recommend for the fair-skinned. He uses a sun block on his face, hands and wrists. He wears long-sleeve shirts and head and neck protection.

        His approach is a far cry from that of his youth. “I used coconut oil to get a better tan to glisten up better. I never was a suntan lotion guy… I got the stuff than made you tan better.”

        Looking back on his cavalier attitude he said, “I regret it 70 percent. Thirty percent of me would still take the tan…I did it to myself. It was all preventable to a point. Even when it started getting bad, I could have stopped it from getting worse. That’s the biggest thing I would say, if you see it early—I’m the example of the guy who let it go and it bit me in the ass. It’s not worth it letting it go.”




Universal Income

What do you think of presidential candidate Andrew Yang's proposal for a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every adult?
991659833 [{"id":"323","title":"It will help millions of people who are increasingly losing their jobs to automation.","votes":"0","pct":"0","type":"x","order":"1","resources":[]},{"id":"324","title":"No, if the proposal is paid for by tax payers.","votes":"0","pct":"0","type":"x","order":"2","resources":[]},{"id":"325","title":"Yes, if billionaires pay for it, as labor costs disappear due to automation.","votes":"0","pct":"0","type":"x","order":"3","resources":[]}] ["#194e84","#3b6b9c","#1f242a","#37414a","#60bb22","#f2babb"] sbar 160 160 /component/communitypolls/vote/118-universal-income No answer selected. Please try again. Thank you for your vote. Answers Votes ...