Together We Will

Together We Will… Cure Ocular Melanoma

We often think of melanoma as a cancer of the skin, but ocular melanoma, a lesser known form of melanoma, can develop in the eye. There are only a small number of physicians in the US who specialize in ophthalmic oncology. One of those specialists is Dr. David Abramson, Chief of Ophthalmic Oncology Service, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and Professor of Ophthalmology at Weill-Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Abramson will be honored with the CURE OM Vision of Hope Award at the Melanoma Research Foundation’s 17th Annual Wings of Hope for Melanoma gala in New York City this October.

Founded in 2011, CURE OM (the Community United for Research and Education of Ocular Melanoma) is the MRF’s initiative to increase awareness, education, treatment and research funding for ocular melanoma, while improving the lives of people affected by this disease.

 

As Chief of Ophthalmic Oncology Service, Dr. Abramson utilizes the Center’s close associations with specialists in pediatrics, radiation oncology, and medicine, to offer coordinated, state-of-the-art care with access to novel therapies and clinical trials not available anywhere else in the country. We had the honor of speaking with Dr. Abramson about his specialized path:

COOLIBAR: How did you find your way into the specialization of ophthalmic oncology?

ABRAMSON: I was fortunate to train in Ophthalmology at Columbia Presbyterian in New York which-at the time-had the world leaders in ophthalmic oncology (Algernon Reese MD and Robert Ellsworth, MD). I love the field of Ophthalmology but wanted to do something that made use of my scientific background, surgical training (I have performed more than 7,500 surgeries), research skills (I have published more than 700 papers), desire to help women and men, adults and children. I did a fellowship in ophthalmic oncology and did additional specialized training in pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and Radiation Oncology. I am the only physician at MSK tenured in Surgery, Pediatrics and Radiation Oncology.

C: Have you seen a significant increase in the number of melanoma in the eye diagnosis year after year?

A: No but these cases are handled by only a small number of physicians in the US so we are quite busy seeing patients at MSK.

C: How does the MRF help you do the work you do?

A: Research doesn’t just happen any more than a car drives without gas. Money and awareness are the fuel for research and without that our car doesn’t go. MRF does both.

C: What inspires you to continue to pursue your work each day.

A: I am inspired by my failures, not my success. I try to understand why we failed, what we can do to be more successful and commit myself to those patients who have lost their battle with cancer. I will stop when I cure 100% of patients with no side effects.

C: Is there anything else you would like to share about the work you do?

A: I am the quarterback of a team and while it helps for me to call good plays our success is a result of that team. My nurses, researchers, colleagues, technicians and even the people who maintain our instruments are critical to success. Without the commitment of a special place like MSK and the support of organizations like the MRF, I would be throwing passes to an empty field.

 

Ocular Melanoma is the most common eye cancer in adults and the second most common location for melanoma. Approximately 2,000 Americans are diagnosed with ocular melanoma each year, and about half of these cases spread to other parts of the body, most commonly to the liver. When this occurs, it is most often fatal. There are treatments to help alleviate symptoms and extend life, but there is no known cure for ocular melanoma.

Ocular melanomas develop between ages 55 and 65 most often and usually are detected on an ophthalmic examination without symptoms. They are a disease of people whose families emigrated from Europe and rare in Asia and Africa. The more north in Europe your family is from the higher the incidence of ocular melanoma. Unlike cutaneous melanomas, sunlight plays no role in their development. Ocular melanoma should be treated by an ophthalmologist who specializes in treating eye cancers as most Ophthalmologists have limited experience in managing these tumors. Dr. Abramson combined his love of Ophthalmology with his scientific background, surgical training, research skills and desire to help people of all ages to become one of the few specialists qualified to treat ocular melanoma. He has trained with pioneers and world leaders in ophthalmic oncology, including Algernon Reese, MD and Robert Ellsworth, MD.

The CURE OM Vision of Hope Award will be formally presented to Dr. Abramson at the Wings of Hope Gala in New York this October. If you would like to attend the Wings of Hope Gala or learn more ways to support the Melanoma Research Foundation, visit: www.melanoma.org/get-involved/signature-events/wings-of-hope-galas.

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Skin Diaries

Betty Hall: “Sunburn after sunburn, I never learned my lesson.”

As far back in my childhood and adult life as I can remember, I have had countless sunburns. I have had some so severe that it hurt to wear clothes or lay down. One time, when I was a teenager living in Midland, Texas, I put on shorts and a backless halter top and thought I would surprise my parents while they were at work by trimming the edge of the lawn. We didn’t own an edger to trim the yard, so I did the entire front lawn with a pair of sheers while on my knees all day and my back and head uncovered. My back later that day was covered in huge water blisters from being so sunburned! From vacations to family outings, there have been numerous times that I burned in the sun and ruined the entire occasion. None of those times did I put on sunscreen or cover my head with a hat. Heck no, that would look stupid, I sadly thought. Later as an adult, I would visit the tanning beds in the summertime so that when we went on vacations, I would have my body use to the rays and I thought that would keep me from burning as bad. It would work sometimes, but little did I know that all the past UV exposure would soon come back to haunt me.

1997 was the year it all started, my beautician found a tiny red spot on the top center crown of my head. It was merely a small, red spot! No itching, no bleeding, no scabbing. My MD referred me to a Dermatologist whom I saw for a biopsy. Two long weeks later, he called me at work to tell me he found cancer cells. Just that word alone was upsetting. I went back to that same Dermatologist to have a larger biopsy on the same area done with even more stitches. He sent it off to the lab and sure enough, another two weeks passed again and he called to let me know the cancer cells were still present. I was scheduled to see him a third time when right before my office visit, word had travelled to my husband’s boss, who happened to be head of surgery in El Dorado, Arkansas. They quickly prepped me for surgery as soon as I arrived. They did a scalp sweep and did a skin graft off my right thigh to cover the bone. Over a hundred stitches and a metal cap later, the surgery was finally over.

The procure may have been done, but nothing could’ve prepared me for what I would see in the mirror. To be fair, how could you ever tell someone they had a 2-centimeter-deep hole on the top of their head and explain to them that the hair would never grow back. It’s a tough pill to swallow to know that this was the result of my careless past. But, my surgeons said they were hopeful they got it all and at the end of the day, I was lucky this tiny, red spot was caught.

Over 20 years have passed since then and I’ve dealt with numerous other surgeries along with hundreds of appointments. I cannot blame anyone but myself for what I have done by being unprotected all those times in the sun. Sunburn after sunburn, I never learned my lesson. How foolish! I wish I could go back and undo the wrong but I can’t because the damage has already been done. But if you’re reading my story, it’s not too late for you. Educate yourself on the dangers of UV exposure. Take time to put on sunscreen or a hat. Don’t lay out in the sun to get a tan or in a tanning bed just to look good to your peers. Check your body whenever you get a chance.

Learn more about Betty’s story.

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Together We Will

Together We Will… Inspire Action

Susan Reynolds, Auction Chair for the Melanoma Research Foundation, along with her kids.

I was sitting next to my son Ryan’s bed in the Pediatric ICU and in walked my sister, Paula, with the guy she had recently started dating. His name was Michael. I had this really cool mobile in all different primary-colored geometric shapes that I wanted to hang above Ryan’s hospital bed but couldn’t figure out how to do it. So Michael took control and got it done right then and there.  At the time, Ryan was in a paralytic, sedated state, so Michael knew that hanging the mobile was really more for my benefit than for his, so that I could feel like I was doing something to help my very sick son. That day, I witnessed true kindness and had my first real glimpse of Michael’s gentle heart and spirit. That was 22 years ago.

Michael had been diagnosed with melanoma when he was in his early 20’s.  When he and Paula got married, we knew that he was managing each new melanoma occurrence with courage and determination. There was never an ounce of self-pity… he just did what needed to be done. He became a dad to two beautiful boys, Jack and Andrew who, along with my sister, were the lights of his life. He was an amazingly loving and involved father, and when he died six years ago, we all lost one of the best people to ever come into our lives and our hearts.

Paula and Michael along with their boys, Jack and Andrew.

Jack is now 19 and Andrew 17. Jack has been an amazing big brother to Andrew, who has Down Syndrome, and my sister has been an extraordinary mom! Jack and Andrew are gifts that Michael left with us. At a young age, they faced the worst kind of loss, yet they have embraced life and challenges just like their dad did. They inspire me every single day. Both Jack and Andrew are genetically predisposed to developing melanoma, so when Michael lost his battle with this horrible cancer, I became determined to help in some way. This is what led me to the Melanoma Research Foundation.

I took on the role of Auction Chair this year for the first time because I wanted to do more to help with fundraising. My dear friends here in Summit, Tom and Cathie Westdyk, are dealing with their own personal story with melanoma, as their son, Christopher, was diagnosed with melanoma five years ago at the age of 16. He now is a stage four survivor at the age of 21. He is going to be a senior at Notre Dame, is studying for his MCAT’s and is training to run the NYC marathon this November. Talk about an inspiration! While I was nervous about committing to taking on chairing the auction because I didn’t want to fail or disappoint (I can be a bit of a perfectionist), all I needed to do was envision the faces of all of the people I love who have faced melanoma in some way and thought how could I NOT try to do more? I knew it would be challenging and I didn’t know what to expect, but the majority of people and businesses to whom I have reached out have been so incredibly generous and supportive!  To know that there are so many kind, caring and compassionate people in this world has lifted my spirit and makes me smile every single day.

To close the circle on the beginning of my story, I knew Michael for only about four months when my son, Ryan, died. Yet, his presence probably had the greatest impact on me. My sister loved Ryan as if he was her own and was as broken-hearted as I was when Ryan passed. Michael, with his strength and love, held onto Paula from that day forward and never let her go. In fact, he held onto all of us in some way. For that and for my nephews, I will always be grateful and will always try to do something that makes a difference. Thankfully, the MRF has given me the opportunity to do it.

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Together We Will

Together We Will: Kendra Reichenau

Kendra Reichenau, Coolibar CEO

Kendra Reichenau, Coolibar CEO

At Coolibar, we take our mission to heart. We know our customers depend on the quality of our UPF 50+ hats and apparel, and we work tirelessly to ensure we are doing our best to offer the finest sun protective products on the market. True to our mission, we champion skin cancer awareness and prevention, and we encourage everyone to enjoy the outdoors with sun safe practices. Rigorous 3rd party UV testing of our fabric samples, adhering to high-quality standards, and working with medical professionals to better understand preventative measures related to UV exposure, are just a few of the ways we strive to be the leaders in the industry.

Last May, we partnered with the Melanoma Research Foundation on a campaign entitled, This is Brave, to further our mission reach. Determined to change melanoma and skin cancer statistics, This is Brave shared real-life stories of skin cancer and melanoma warriors. During the campaign, Coolibar unveiled a limited-edition “Be Brave” shirt inspired by the pediatric melanoma community and we donated 100% of the net profits to support the MRF’s pediatric melanoma programs.

I am very proud to announce Coolibar has been honored by the Melanoma Research Foundation as the recipient of the 2018 Corporate Leadership Award. We humbly share this award with each, and every one of you, for helping us champion our mission every day. Without your stories, passion, and dedication, our mission might be impossible to accomplish. With your help, we know Together We Will change the skin cancer statistics.

The award will be formally presented to Coolibar at the Wings of Hope Gala in New York. If you would like to attend the Wings of Hope Gala or learn more ways to support the Melanoma Research Foundation, visit here.

I thank you for sharing the MRF Corporate Leadership Award with all of us at Coolibar!

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Together We Will

Together We Will: Kyleigh LiPira

Kyleigh LiPira (Left), Melanoma Research Foundation CEO, with Norah O’Donnell, co-anchor of CBS This Morning

The New York Wings of Hope for Melanoma gala started off 17 years ago as a small dinner among friends. It was an opportunity to bring together a group of people who were passionate about finding a cure for melanoma and recognize a medical expert in the field who would bring us closer to this goal. Even in the humble beginnings of that first year, we raised $100,000! The physician honoree shared with the group the most recent updates on research and encouraged them to continue their support of the MRF until we have better treatment outcomes for ALL patients.

Today, the NYC Wings of Hope for Melanoma gala brings together more than 600 people and raises over $1,000,000 to fund melanoma research, support programs for patients and families and promote advocacy initiatives for the entire melanoma community. We honor dedicated clinicians and nurses, courageous patients and caregivers and generous corporate partners that are driving us ever closer to a cure. Together we have a shared vision — hope and a future without melanoma.

Moving us towards a cure takes a village of passionate individuals from across the United States. MRF community members raise money at bake sales and other CommUNITY Fundraising events, participate in Miles for Melanoma 5k run/walks, bring the voice of the melanoma community to Capitol Hill at our annual Advocacy Summit & Hill Day, and so much more.  We hope the more than one million Americans who are impacted by this disease realize that their dollars matter and their voice is heard. Without them, the enduring mission of the MRF would not be possible and we are immensely grateful for the generous and creative ways our community shows their support.  Together, we will cure melanoma.

 

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Parenting Skin Diaries

This 6-Year-Old With Albinism Won’t Let the Sun Slow Him Down

When our son Carter was 11 months old, we found out that he had Oculocutaneous Albinism Type 2. (Or OCA2) What that means is that he has less pigment in his eyes, hair, and skin. So basically, it’s the reason for his insanely cute blonde hair and eyelashes. But it’s also why we made protecting his skin a main priority. After the diagnosis, we soon learned that Carter’s chances of getting skin cancer were greater because of his Albinism. That word. Cancer. As parents, hearing that was terrifying, but it also made us want to do whatever we could to keep him (especially his skin) safe.

When we found out about this, we were a month away from going on our first family vacation to the Virgin Islands. We met with a dermatologist who stressed the importance of sun protection. He talked to us about sunscreen and told us not to forget areas like the scalp and the tops of Carter’s ears. I immediately began searching for the perfect hat for him to wear. We needed to know that our baby was going to be completely protected. Not only on the beach, but anytime that our family ventured outside. We didn’t want to take any chances of him getting the slightest sunburn. My mother in law was the one who discovered Coolibar, where we found so much more than a hat. We found swimwear and clothing, but most importantly we found a peace of mind.

5 years later, we are still using and loving our Coolibar gear. Not only do we have the Albinism to worry about, but our son was also later diagnosed with Autism. Due to both the Albinism and the Autism, Carter struggles a lot with light sensitivity. Being in the bright sun for too long can really shut him down and cause him to get headaches. Therefore, Coolibar’s Kids All Sport Hat is a favorite of ours. Not only does the bill of the hat help shield his eyes from the sun, but the flap protects his ears and neck from potential burning.

While we still use sunscreen, it’s hard to always remember to reapply as often as is needed. Coolibar has taken the pressure off, by providing additional UV protection. It’s nice to know that there is a product out there that meets all the needs that our boy has. When he initially got the diagnosis, we were afraid he wouldn’t get to experience the outdoors as much as we would like him to. Now, two of Carter’s very favorite things are water and adventures. Thanks, Coolibar, for allowing us to still have these experiences, worry-free.

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Experts Say

Sneaky Ways Ultraviolet Rays Reach Us

Dr. Kathryn Dempsey is a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Mobile, Alabama and spends her weekends at Orange Beach. She enjoys teaching about the importance of daily sun protection. Here she has provided some tips on the sneaky ways ultraviolet rays reach us to ensure you stay educated and protected!

Each visit, I ask each of my patients, “How are you doing with your sun protection?” and nine out of ten times I get the same answer: “I don’t go in the sun.” I always take this opportunity for education on the ways ultraviolet rays reach us outside of just tanning on the beach. Most people don’t realize that the majority of our sun exposure happens on a day to day basis, often when we least expect it.

Here are five ways UV radiation reaches us, even when most people think they are safe.

  1. In the Car. Every time you drive you are exposing yourself to UVA radiation. While the law requires most front windshields to block the majority of UVA and UVB, side and rear windows do not have this same requirement and UVA comes straight through. So during that short (or long) commute to work, you are getting direct UVA exposure, mainly to your left side. UVA contributes to both premature aging and skin cancer. We know that more skin cancers occur on the left than the right and this is because of driving.
  2. At Work. Many people are lucky enough to have a workspace with windows and if you are working within several feet of one, UVA is reaching you. Remember, UVA penetrates through glass and windows.
  3. In Shade. We get it when we think we are protected by shade. It reflects off of sand, water, pavement, grass and snow. Studies have shown that sunscreen and protective clothing in addition to seeking shade is significantly more beneficial than seeking shade alone.
  4. At a Nail Salon. That’s right! We get it when we have our nails done. Did you know that the lights they use to speed polish drying emit UVA? And UVA Is also what is used to set gel manicures. Protect your hands!
  5. During Rainy Days. This may be the sneakiest way it reaches us and I always see a surge of sunburns after overcast summer days. While clouds may block sunlight, they do not block ultraviolet radiation and some of them even magnify it. Scary!

Did you know that one year of 2 minutes of casual sun daily adds up to 2 weeks of a beach vacation’s worth? And now that you know the sneaky ways that UV rays are reaching you, think about how much you really get – far more than 2 minutes a day. Therefore, it is so important to protect yourself on a day to day basis and this starts with sun protective clothing. I always recommend clothing with UPF 50+, a wide-brimmed hat and a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30. If we all did this on a daily basis, I assure you there would be a lot less skin cancer in this world!

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Experts Say

Sunburned? Here’s Your Guide to Staying Protected Next Time

Dr. Jennifer T. Trent is a world-recognized dermatologist, who has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 6 chapters in various dermatologic textbooks on surgery and wound care. She is currently Medical Director of American Dermatology Associates Inc and voluntary Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami.

With summer here. It’s time to stock up on all your sun protection essentials. Follow these tips and you will be able to enjoy the outdoors without getting a sunburn, which can ruin your summer and your skin. Sunburns are a reddening and blistering of the skin from overexposure to the deadly ultraviolet (UV) radiation of the sun. Sunburns and cumulative sun exposure lead to the development of skin cancers. Every year, over 5 million Americans will be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) and over 200,00 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma (MM). One dies every hour in the United States from MM. These stats are scary but also very preventable!

If you follow these ABCD’s of sun protection, so you can stay safe and still enjoy the outdoors!

A = Avoid the sun, especially between the hours of 10am-4pm. The sun’s harmful radiation is at its peak during those times. Seek shade or the indoors to stay safe.

B = Block the sun’s radiation by using sunscreen. Here are certain tips which will help you with sunscreens.

  1. Not every sunscreen is created equal. Some sunscreens say they have SPF 50 coverage, but they actually may not! I always consult with the Consumer Report’s guide to the best sunscreens. It is a great annual report on sunscreens they have tested and if they live up to their marketing.
  2. I recommend one with SPF 50+ broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. If you are using one with chemical blockers you need to apply it 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. If you are using physical blockers, you can apply it immediately prior to sun exposure.
  3. Also, make sure you apply enough of the sunscreen. It takes 1 ounce to cover the entire body and a nickel size amount to cover just the face.
  4. Always check expiration dates on your sunscreen. If it doesn’t have one, I would discard it after 6 months.
  5. You must reapply sunscreen every 80 minutes. If you are swimming or sweating a lot, you might need to reapply every 40 minutes. The directions on the back of the bottle of sunscreen should tell you how often you need to reapply. NO sunscreen lasts all day!

C = Cover up. Sunscreen is very important, but cannot by itself protect as well as the combination of sunscreen with protective clothing.

  1. It is important to wear a wide brim hat with UPF 50+ and at least a 4-inch brim. I adore Coolibar’s Shapeable Poolside Hat which has a 7-inch brim! I never go the pool, beach or boat without it! It helps protect my face, scalp and neck.
  2. Another essential is a Neck Gaiter, which I can pull up over my cheeks and nose for the extra protection I need from the reflected sun while boating.
  3. My Costa sunglasses are a must for outdoor activities of any kind. They serve to not only protect my eyes but also the skin around my eyes.
  4. When I am outside, I always wear long sleeves and long pants. If I am at the pool or beach, I always wear my Cabana Hoodie with beach pants. They are lightweight and very protective. When I go swimming or boating, I use my Coolibar swim tights and long sleeve rash guard. They fit snuggly so it doesn’t interfere with my ability to swim. If I am working outside in the yard or attending a polo match, I love my leggings with a long sleeve tunic. They are lightweight, stylish and protective.
  5. I never leave home without my Coolibar gloves. They are great for boating and for manicures that use UV to cure the gel polish. Hands are a dead giveaway for your age. So, don’t forget to protect them.

D = Dermatologist. Make sure you see your dermatologist at least every year to check your skin for cancer. Early detection and treatment is the key to surviving skin cancer. Prevention is the best, but sometimes we forget to be as conscientious about sun protection as we need to be. We are only human. If you do get a sunburn, just remember to reassess your sun protection habits so it does not happen again. Stay safe out there this summer!

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Wear to Where

Fishing the Waters of “The Kingdom of Tonga”

Beaches and waves are often enjoyed in different ways rather than hiking them with a 9-foot oversized walleye rod. However, in my opinion, this is the best way to enjoy a beach and really get to know not only about the aquatic life, but the community surrounding it.

On New Year’s Eve, some close friends of mine and I embarked on a trip halfway across the world to a small remote island, which was a three-hour detour from Fiji, called “The Kingdom of Tonga.” Prior to the trip, we had heard stories of the kingdom, but have never experienced it first hand. Luckily, Mike, one of my accomplices, had an uncle that was a local of the island that was able to show us local traditions, such as drinking cava, and how to climb a coconut tree.

The point of this trip was not to relax as much as it was to catch as many exotic species of fish as we could, but it ended up being much different than we had originally planned.  For starters, my main bag of luggage was lost with all of my clothes, majority of the fishing lures, and deodorant. It stunk, literally. Luckily for me, I had a pair of light, UPF 50+ hiking pants, and a sunhat to keep the sun off me. We had our rods and reels, but only a handful of top water baits and jigs, so we could still fish.

Enjoying the beautiful landscape of Tonga in the UPF 50+ Fishing Shirt

Another problem we learned was having the ability to fish with knowledgeable people. On the island, there seemed to be very few people that understood what we were trying to fish for and mainly fished the local way with hand-lines and nets. Not only that but everything was always delayed. We quickly learned of the term “island time”, a name for islanders generally being later than the original plans, which greatly played into factor on most of our trips. We would line up fishing guides (one of which was the prime minister) for the day, and when we went to meet them we were always postponed an hour or sometimes even three hours because of the looseness of island time.

On our first fishing outing with the minister, it was a hot scorcher of a day and it was very important to stay cool and hydrated. After an hour of fishing, we saw a white flash under the boat, shortly after followed by the squealing of line being drug out from a reel. Before I heard Mike say “There’s one!” my reel started screaming too. After a long hard fight, all three of us reeled up beautiful trevallies, which are a native fish we were targeting. The locals we were with were very happy and smiling knowing they would go home with dinner that night.

The next few trips out were a struggle, losing most lures to sharks, and still no sign of my bag. It had been five days and I had the same pair of pants I was wading in saltwater and sweating in, but somehow they didn’t smell. We caught very few fish, with some acceptations of finding more trevallies from shore, but realized that we needed to find someone that understood what we were targeting. After using some of the locals to give us leads on a guide in the area we stumbled across Steve Campbell, a true pioneer of marlin fishing. Although we didn’t particularly want to target marlin, our trip with Steve was one I will remember forever. The night before our trip, my bag showed with all of the lures, and the day that followed was filled with Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and the occasional shark catch. That night we were able to share our catch with the locals, who were more than thankful.

Mavrik Finished reeling in a shark from the beach in his UPF 50+ Long Sleeve Performance Tee and Sun Hat

The last few days, we spent our time fishing from the beach and catching more trevallies, I even caught my favorite, a six-foot-long barracuda, from shore. Quickly our trip came to an end, and I was thankful for all of the new friends I had made and the memories that will live on. It is safe to say that I have some unfinished business in Tonga, and I will be back.

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Skin Diaries

A Game She’s Not Ready to Lose

My name is Lisa Pace. I’m a college basketball coach and a licensed massage therapist. I found out I had skin cancer at 23 years old. I had just gotten my first division 1 college coaching job.

I was talking to my mom one night about my job and all the responsibilities, and in conversation she told me now was a good time to see the doctors so they have a baseline of my health moving forward.

So, I made an appointment to a dermatologist. They did a skin check and found a couple places, small light brown spots, that they wanted to biopsy. They did the biopsies and told me they would call and let me know the results. I figured since I had fair skin, red hair, and freckles, this was probably common. I didn’t know. I think at my young age I was trying to rationalize and justify why I had skin cancer. Later on, I found out anyone can get skin cancer.

It was time for recruiting. I couldn’t wait! July was finally here and I got the opportunity to travel from state to state, gym to gym watching young women play basketball. I was headed to Las Vegas. This was a huge tournament. I sat beside the legendary Pat Summitt and watched some games, and went from gym to gym all day. I couldn’t believe this was my job.

Later that night when I returned to the hotel room, I checked my messages. The dermatologist had called and said they had the results. When I spoke to them they said my biopsies came back suspicious, that they were skin cancer, possibly melanoma, and that I needed to come in and let them take more out.

I remember thinking, the last time I was at the dermatologist, it was a little bit of numbing medicine, a small cut, and a band-aid. There is no way I am leaving Las Vegas to go back and let them do that again. I am recruiting. I am watching future division 1 players. It can wait. So I waited. I finished up recruiting in July and made an appointment when I got back home.

This time it was different. I went to a specialist for a second opinion. They went back in the same spots, but took a huge amount out of my leg. It was my right upper thigh and my lower calf. I had stitches, bandages, bleeding, bruising, swelling, and I had crutches. Well, that was definitely different. I knew I would have these crutches for a day or so but as a former athlete, those things had to go. I didn’t have time to be “injured.” But the good thing was, they said they got it all. This meant no more skin cancer, so I thought.

It took a while, but I healed up fine. I continued to coach, and I continued to tan. Tanning beds were popular. I had tanned a lot in college. There were all kinds of promotions with free lotions, buy 5 visits get 5 free, one month unlimited, etc. I enjoyed going. As I got older, I didn’t go as much. However, the damage had been done and those times I was still tanning was just adding to my future surgeries. I had no idea that the tanning bed was causing so much damage to my skin. I never saw any tv commercials warning about tanning bed use and skin cancer, there was no social media platforms warning me of the danger and consequences.  I don’t remember much being said about it at all in the beginning.

One morning I found this white spot on my left cheek. I watched it for a couple weeks and noticed it was getting bigger. So I went back to the dermatologist. This changed my life. They took a huge chunk out of my face. I was devastated. I couldn’t look at myself. I spoke with my doctors and after much discussion, I found out that all those times going to the tanning bed had caused me to have skin cancer. This was the first time anyone had discussed this with me. Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. I had done this to myself. I questioned every time I had ever wanted to go tan. Why did I do this? I didn’t lack self-confidence, I just wanted to have a bronze look and to “fit in.” I knew better than to “follow the crowd.” I was supposed to be a leader, to set examples for others. Now look at me. I was so angry at myself. And this was just the beginning, more and more surgeries would come.

Fortunately for me, I was coaching college athletes and we know we have a choice every day. When we wake up we choose to have a positive or negative mindset. We choose to win the day or wallow in self-pity. We outwork our competition. And skin cancer was my competition.

Fast forward almost 20 years, I have had 86 skin cancer surgeries. My skin cancers have been basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. I won’t tell you that I was positive every minute of every day. The mental aspect after surgery can be draining. I did have moments when I didn’t want to get out of bed, when I would look at all my scars and get discouraged.  I dreaded looking in the mirror because I thought I would find a new skin cancer.  But those moments didn’t last long.

I know I’m going to win this battle. I know I do all the right things as far as protecting my skin and getting skin checks so I am confident in knowing skin cancer has met its match. It’s going to be a battle with me.   And I want people to be proud of their own skin. I own my scars now. They have given me wisdom, they motivate me, and they remind me that even though I was knocked down 86 times, I got back up 87 times.

I can only hope my story will inspire someone else to make the necessary changes in their life to protect their skin, to get regular skin checks and to win the day.

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