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Hayden + Team Coolibar

Live Wisely

Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?

ANSWER: Sadly, yes.

We were as disappointed as you are to find this out. In fact, the common forms we develop are what also affect them – melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Although most dog breeds are at risk, Jill Abraham, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist in New York City, told the Skin Cancer Foundation that the ones with “light-colored, short coats and less hair on the belly” are the most vulnerable. Before you start slathering sunscreen on your dog (Yes, you can put sunscreen on a dog), there are a few tips to help your furry companion live a safer life in the sun.

Limit Sun Exposure

Like us, dogs can get sunburned. Ever notice when a dog’s skin looks a little red after coming back inside? Sunburn. We all know how much they love laying out in the backyard sunbathing in the grass, but limiting the amount of time they have in direct sunlight during the strongest hours (between 10am and 4pm) is crucial. Helping encourage them to shady areas is a very good compromise to beating the sun.

Sunscreen

We weren’t kidding! Dogs 100% can wear sunscreen and it is actually strongly recommended by Richard Goldstein, DVM and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City.

A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.

Richard Goldstein, DVM and Chief Medical Officer of the Animal Medical Center (PetMD)

Here’s a video from Banfield Pet Hospital to cover the rest of the important basics to know about sunscreen and dogs:

Video created by Banfield Pet Hospital
Sun Protective Clothing

Hear us out on this one. For the pets with no escape from the sun, you could use some of your older UPF 50+ tops and wrap it around them or even see if it fits without too much struggle. It might sound a little ridiculous, but even Dr. Abraham thinks it’s a viable option. And to be honest, it is always cute to see a dog running around in a t-shirt.

When it comes to our loyal buddies, keeping them safe is a no brainer! One of the biggest final tips on dog skincare is just building up the consciousness of knowing when your dog is receiving too much sun. Now get out there, grab a Frisbee and enjoy a sun-safe life with your loving, furry best friend.

Resources:

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Behind The Design Inside Coolibar

Coolibar Employee Holiday Gift Guide

The Holiday season is here, and you know what that means… trying to find the perfect gift. To get inspired for what you may want to get your loved ones, we caught up with some of the Team to find out what they are gifting!

SPOILER ALERT:

If you know anyone from Coolibar, read at your own risk because you may find out your present!

Brandyn (For Dad)

Director, Marketplaces & Digital Marketing

For the several years I have worked at Coolibar, it has always been special to gift family members and friends product from where I work. When you start working at Coolibar, you work for the mission as well, and that means really learning about the importance of protecting your skin.

Jumping ahead to the story, my dad is your typical, stubborn father that refuses to go see a doctor until he is seriously ill. He had a few blemishes on his skin that I constantly bugged him about it until he finally caved this year and saw a dermatologist. Luckily, it ended up being nothing, but he shouldn’t be too surprised by my gifts under the tree for him!

GIFTING:

Raymond (For Mom)

Inventory Assistant

For everyone here, the mission is very important, but for me, it’s a little more personal. My mother has a history of melanoma, so when I started working here, I already had a strong understanding of the importance of covering up.

During the holidays, my mom expects nothing but Coolibar from me! She sends me a wish list every year of what she would love from her “favorite kid” after browsing through the gift guide. It is very fulfilling to gift my mother with something that she wants and needs that the company that I work for makes.

GIFTING:

Kelly (For Sister-in-law)

eCommerce Data Lead

I love this time of year! Every holiday season, we do a secret gift exchange for my boyfriend’s side of the family and this year I drew his sister out of the hat – Hopefully, she does not see this…

It’s been exciting to see the innovative, yet trendy features of our new collections, so saying I’ve had fun surfing through our site for the perfect gift is an understatement! Hopefully, she doesn’t mind me wearing her gift when we show up. Oops.

GIFTING:

Hayden (For Dad)

Social Media Specialist

Eat. Sleep. Golf. That is my dad’s life.

The man has been a golf professional for 35+ years and has spent 6-8 hours a day in direct sunlight EVERY DAY in that span of time. Before working here, my dad was always conscious to wear sunscreen, but that was the extent of his skincare.

Now, after a little convincing, he always wears long sleeves on the course and never forgets his hat! Receiving a gift is always nice (That’s for my dad if he didn’t read the spoiler alert up top…) but getting my father something that helps his quality of life and he loves is an even better feeling.

GIFTING:

Michelle (For Kids)

Manager, PR & Strategic Partnerships

Since their grandmother was diagnosed with Melanoma, my son Oliver and daughter Eloise have become mini skin cancer prevention advocates. They LOVE to wear Coolibar gear when it’s hot out, wait for other kids to ask about their long sleeves, then tell everyone who will listen about the “Coolibar science our mommy makes”. It’s fantastic!

I brought home one of the catalogs and as soon as I knew it, the kiddos just started circling everything they loved. I can’t wait for them to hit up the playground scene with their new gear!

GIFTING:

Bonus: Oliver and Eloise wouldn’t be the sun-safe advocates they claim to be if they didn’t take care of the people they love! Every year they pick a UPF 50+ hat for ALL of their teachers. They know that one of the best ways to tell someone you appreciate them is by giving a gift that will keep them safe.

GIFTING:

There’s nothing quite like giving the gift of sun protection. Whether it be for protecting someone with a sun-related condition or preventing another from developing one, choosing to gift UPF 50+ products is always a sun-safe bet.

Looking for more motivation? Check out our Holiday Gift Guide.

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Skin Diaries Together We Will

The Inspiration Behind the Enright Melanoma Foundation

By: Mark I. Zimmerman, MD, Founding President Enright Melanoma Foundation

On the 20th anniversary of the Enright Melanoma Foundation, I’m retelling the story of a friend I lost over 20 years ago to rekindle the passion of a foundation that continues to work in his name.

It started with four of us…

Rich Nelson and Peter Colucio were young physicians at the Summit Medical Group (NJ) when Joe Enright and I joined them in 1991. The four of us quickly became friends. Pete was a confirmed bachelor (and scratch golfer), and Rich, Joe and I were married with growing families. We ate lunch together, we played golf, and we often met up at Joe and his wife Kathy’s house for birthdays and barbecues. While Joe coordinated what he fondly called “male bonding weekends”, our wives often took a “spa” vacation together. Life was good.

Shelley, Joe’s 3-year-old daughter, scratched a mole on Joe, which bled. He saw his physician and the biopsy revealed melanoma. Joe went back for the “wide and deep” surgery that was hopefully going to remove all of the melanoma. It didn’t. Over time, while life continued and little Shelley got a new brother Nicholas, we learned the melanoma had metastasized.

Joe and Kathy went to MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston for what was the most promising treatment option at that time – interferon. To support him, I collected the signatures of close to 500 coworkers on a “get well soon” banner and Rich and I flew to Houston to be with our friend. While he went through a brutal interferon treatment, we watched the Superbowl together. Even as physicians, it was painful for us to see what this treatment was doing to our friend.

When Joe came home, it was clear that he only had a short time left. The four of us played a final round of golf even though Joe could barely hold a club, but he never complained. I arranged for a “make-a-wish” type of event and we met one of Joe’s favorite teams, the New York Rangers. Joe took pictures with his favorite players (including Mark Messier!) and got a hockey stick signed by the players. It was great to see a moment of joy on the face of my friend who was rapidly losing weight, and his battle.

Through it all, Joe maintained his courage and what appeared to be an inner peace. He never gave up, and he would not let the melanoma define him. My last memory of Joe was of him lying on his couch and apologizing to me for “not getting up and seeing me to the door” when it was time for me to leave. We lost Joe in 1996. Joe’s death was devastating to me. I had experience dealing with death as a physician, but I had never lost someone as close to me as a brother.

I thought about the things I learned from Joe – his loyalty, courage, dedication, calm demeanor, his love of family and friends, stoicism, and his love of life. But it was the quirky things that have stuck with me. Joe taught me…

  1. It is okay not to shave every day. 
  2. You don’t have to wear a tie all the time.
  3. It’s okay to leave your wallet in the car and let your friends pay for lunch!

Joe was loved by his family, friends and patients and I wanted the world to remember him. I wanted his children to grow up and learn about who their father was and what he meant to his friends and coworkers. And most of all, I wanted to do something so that no one else would lose someone in the prime of their life from something that is both preventable and curable if caught early enough.

Rich and I, along with co-workers at the Summit Medical Group, started the Joseph E. Enright Foundation in 1999 to raise funds to contribute to worthy causes in Joe’s name. Over the past 20 years, our passionate Board of Trustees has evolved and we have narrowed our focus and the redefined Enright Melanoma Foundation’s vision—to live in a world free of melanoma. Our mission is to raise sun-safety awareness and help prevent melanoma through education and early detection.

Over the years, the Foundation has held a variety of fund-raising events including golf outings and bike treks. Joe’s mom, Catherine, has always been at these events and was my “walking” partner. She could not have been prouder of the work the Foundation had done which in some way, had eased the pain of losing her son.

Everyone involved with the Enright Melanoma Foundation has been touched by this devastating illness in some way.  We understand the need to be vigilant, both in terms of sun protection and skin checks. Since starting this foundation, my own father has had four separate melanomas removed simply because of my insistence on a skin exam.

Our ask is that you become an advocate for your friends, family, teammates and coworkers – become a free member of our foundation, take our sun safety course, do business with our sponsors and business partners, donate time and money, network and spread our message.  Help prevent this from happening to someone you know and love.

To learn more about the Enright Melanoma Foundation, please watch the 20th anniversary video below, then visit: www.enrightmelanomafoundation.org/.

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Live Wisely

Skin Care Musts in the Fall & Winter

Even though the sun may not feel as warm in the fall, UV rays do not end at Labor Day. Sun protection and nurturing skin is no longer a regimen solely for summertime. In fact, doctors warn that cooler months are more dangerous because the sunshine of summer, that serves as a reminder to reach for sunscreen, is gone. So, here’s your nudge to take care of skin as fall gets into full swing. No matter how cool the temperature feels, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can still cause damage to the DNA in our skin within just a few minutes. While UVB rays (burning rays) lessen as the earth rotates away from the sun, UVA rays (aging rays) remain strong with the same intensity year-round. UVA rays powerfully beam through office windows, car windows, clouds, and fog. And UV damage to our DNA is cumulative. Here are some tips for fall and winter skincare and sun protection:

Do Not Stop Wearing Sunscreen

Use broad-spectrum sunscreen daily on all exposed skin, neck, ears, back of hands and your face daily. In locations where snow flies, UV rays reflect off glistening surfaces like snow, and in warmer locations, UV rays bounce off grass, sand, water, and cement back at your face. Be proactive and protect your face daily with an excellent sunscreen of SPF 30 or more. In fact, dermatologists explain the use of sunscreen, when it starts to really cool down, as a “must”. For women, consider using sunscreen as a base layer before applying cosmetics. Many mineral-based sunscreens are moisturizing and protecting at the same time. Apply, rub vigorously so they are fully absorbed, then apply any cosmetics. For men, apply a mineral-based sunscreen as a daily moisturizer and keep a tube handy in the car for reapplications. Don’t stop at your face, cover your neck, chest, and tops of hands.

Use an SPF Lip Balm

Most people are unaware that lips do not contain melanin, our skin’s natural defense against ultraviolet radiation. Lips are particularly vulnerable year-round, but in months when the air is drier, they are also susceptible to drying and cracking.

Consider Cosmetics with Built-in SPF

According to Paula’s Choice Skincare, after a layer of broad-spectrum SPF 30, women can use a makeup primer of SPF 20 and a foundation with SPF 15. While the layers of protection don’t aggregate and add up to SPF 65, the layering approach has the benefit of better overall coverage of sunscreen. In general, most people do not apply sunscreen thickly enough. By layering these products one upon the other, this technique provides a “thicker” layer of protection against sun damage.

Reconsider Your Cleanser

When humidity drops in cooler weather, you may want to compensate by switching up your cleanser to a moisturizing cleanser. Look for hydrating ingredients that don’t strip your skin of moisture. Or, if you love your skincare program and don’t want to risk skin irritation by trying a new cleanser or moisturizer, there are ways to keep your routine and just boost it for the winter.

Moisturize Nightly

Follow nightly cleansing with a moisturizer made for nighttime. The right nighttime moisturizer will help protect against the red chafed skin in winter and help nourish your skin. If you have sensitive skin, or you’ve experienced reactions to various products, we recommend you meet with your dermatologist. They can evaluate your skin health and offer suggestions on a regimen for sensitive skin that won’t cause irritation before switching.

Wear UPF 50+ Clothing in the Car

UPF 50+ sun sleeves or sun gloves are ideal for days driving. UVA rays (aging rays) penetrate car windows and office windows. The Skin Cancer Foundation cites nearly 53 percent of skin cancers in the U.S. occur on the left, or the side receiving rays while driving. UVA rays are hitting your skin on a road trip, while running errands or driving kids to soccer. In fact, they are reaching your kids too. The Skin Cancer Foundation says clothing is the first line of defense against the sun. Having UPF 50+ clothing in the car or at the office – coverage for arms, hands, necks, and chests, like a long sleeve hoodie or wrap, a neck bandana, sun sleeves and sun gloves – make sun protection effortless. The more you’re covered, the more you’re protected.

Keep the Sun Off Your Face with a UPF 50+ Hat

UV rays impact the tops of heads as much as any other exposed part of our bodies. So, while you’re out walking the dog to keep her healthy, wear a hat with at least a 3” brim and apply SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen to other exposed areas.

When seasons change, people forget there’s still sun and sun damage. Get fall-winter ready and stay sun safe with tips above. It’s also an ideal time to check in with your dermatologist and get their recommendations for cool weather skincare.

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Skin Diaries

Born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome and Thriving

By: Julia Terrell, Community Relations Director for The Sturge-Weber Foundation

It was the start of our 10th year of marriage and my husband and I were going to be a family of three! We were enjoying every moment of our perfect pregnancy and preparing for our first baby to arrive. I had just turned 37 and I remember the doctor asking me about testing. My response was, “No worries! If we find that our baby girl needs treatment, we will do our homework, get the right specialists and it will be okay.”

On March 23rd, 2009, I got up, got dressed and went to work. I was sitting at my desk when my water broke. Then, 20 hours of labor and a c-section later, Marissa arrived! The first thing I remember was everyone’s facial expressions while I waited on the other side of the curtain to see my daughter. In a conversation with my mother and husband, the doctor said, “No, the redness won’t go away. We will talk more tomorrow.”

What did that mean? I wanted to see Marissa even more to figure out what they meant. When I looked at her and saw the port wine birthmark and her swollen eye I thought, “She can’t go to school like this. We are going to need help.” I knew our world was going to be different than other new parents, I just didn’t know yet how different.

The next morning at the crack of dawn, our hospital room became a revolving door. Doctor after doctor arrived. Every doctor that came by left me with the feeling that more was coming, and I needed to prepare. When a dermatologist arrived, I thought, “Wow! They’re taking Marissa’s ‘birthmark’ pretty seriously to send a specialist so soon!” Finally, the pediatrician explained what could, should, or might happen with Marissa… starting with a CAT scan. I was screaming on the inside. “What does all this mean? Yesterday, they said it was just a birthmark and bruising, now my day-old baby needs a CAT scan!”

The results came back. They had been looking for calcifications (whatever that meant!) and luckily didn’t find any. The neurologist explained that she may have Sturge Weber Syndrome.   My head was spinning. I had no idea what that was, but we focused on the good news and started to relax and get ready to take Marissa home.

As the weeks turned into months, Marissa had check-up after check-up. I started to learn all I could about Sturge Weber Syndrome. I wanted to understand her port wine birthmark and the treatments for it, and to learn more about what I needed to look for in the future, like glaucoma and seizures.

I came across The Sturge Weber Foundation and we decided to attend a conference as a family. When we arrived, a larger-than-life lady came out of nowhere, scooped up my baby girl and loved her so tight. My shock turned to joy as she was the first person that didn’t look at Marissa with any judgment. I never felt so comfortable or free to talk about the syndrome Marissa might have and what we were going through as a family. We’d found a new home.

Thank goodness we had them because when Marissa reached 10-months our world turned upside down. Marissa cried and moaned all morning, then out of nowhere she vomited, and back-to-back seizures began. It took nearly five days to control the seizures. It was official. We had a Sturge Weber Syndrome diagnosis and we were sent home with medication.

It happened again when she was two and a half years old. These seizures were even harder to control. We were sent home again after five days with even more medications. She also developed glaucoma around this time. Everything they said could happen with Sturge-Weber was happening. Luckily, we weren’t alone.

Today, Marissa is 10 years old and is holding steady. She may have more doctors than the average 10-year-old and has a harder time doing the things her friends can do, but her life doesn’t stop every time she gets sick. She’s a champion for positivity and hope and she teaches me something new every day.

We always try to keep Marissa protected. We slow down when she’s sick to reduce the risk of seizures. We also protect Marissa’s skin, especially her birthmark from sunburn as it can burn easier, with clothes and hats from Coolibar. She needs protection all the time, so helping her develop a habit of covering up has been easier than constantly applying sunscreen. With Sturge-Weber Syndrome Marissa has still accomplished so much in her 10 years. She’s gone on vacations, advocated on the hill, participated in dance, sports and music, and she swims every week with her Special Olympics coach. Yes, she will struggle physically because of her syndrome, but she’s not afraid to tell her story and she believes in herself!

Every day, I am so proud of her.   We don’t know what tomorrow will bring for Marissa, but we’re so grateful that we have the blessing of watching the rest of her story unfold.

To learn more about Sturge-Weber Syndrome and hear more stories about wonderful people like Marissa, please visit sturge-weber.org.

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Skin Diaries

Julie Smith: “I may have Stage IV Melanoma, but it doesn’t have me.”

I was first diagnosed with melanoma on April 11th, 2013. I had a mole on my right shoulder blade that itched and would bleed. My family physician removed the mole, then called to let me know it was melanoma. A surgeon removed the rest of it and I was labeled “cancer-free”. At the time, I was grateful that I didn’t need to remove any lymph nodes or get a CT scan, I simply needed to visit my dermatologist every six months. I felt relief and followed the doctor’s recommendation.  

Then, in December 2017, I was experiencing pain around my stomach and had a hard time breathing. I thought I had pulled a muscle in my back. I visited a chiropractor, but I was still in pain. In March 2018, I contacted my family physician who checked me out and requested a CT Scan. He was initially checking to see if I had a blood clot in my lung, but instead, the results showed a 15cm mass on my right adrenal gland. It was pushing up against my lungs and making it hard for me to breathe.

At this point, my husband and I paused, looked back to my experience in 2013 and completely reconsidered my cancer-free diagnosis. Five years later, after meeting additional oncologists and medical professionals, we knew more and questioned everything that had happened in 2013. Had we been given the opportunity to go back to 2013, we would have taken every additional precautionary test or scan to make sure that the cancer-free diagnosis was accurate. While we had enjoyed five years with a false sense of safety, my cancer had metastasized.

That April, an oncologist biopsied the growth to see what it was and what we’d need to do next. Before the biopsy even happened, I knew I had cancer.  My faith in God has always been very important to me and I’d had a vision where God told me what my diagnosis would be and that I was going to share my story. I could see myself sitting in a room getting chemotherapy while sharing stories with other patients. God was preparing me for my upcoming journey.

I visited my neighbor down the street who was a pastor and asked him to pray with me. He asked me, “If this is cancer, what is your prayer?” I told him that I wanted to pray for the strength and the ability to help others with my story, and vice versa. I wanted to be able to make sure all of us are never alone while we go through this.

On April 9th, my husband and I saw my Oncologist and he gave us the news. He told us that I had Stage IV Melanoma that had metastasized and landed on my right adrenal gland, but it was curable and treatable. Just over a week later, I had surgery to remove the mass. I was cut from the bottom of my sternum to just past my belly button. They didn’t get all the cancer out, so I started immunotherapy and Opdivo and Yervoy at the beginning of May. I ended up in the hospital from mid-July to the beginning of August because the side effects made me severely sick. But, a PET Scan on August 6th showed that the mass that started at 15cm had been reduced by almost 6cm! We were making progress. The side effects continued to the point where I ended up having a hysterectomy in September.

A PET Scan in November showed that the mass, which had reached 6.2cm had stopped shrinking. They put me on oral target medicines called Mekinist and Tafinlar that I take daily. I’m truly blessed to be able to take this as it only works on someone with the BRAF gene. If I didn’t have that gene, I would not be sharing my story right now. By February 2019 the mass had shrunk to 4.5cm and I was officially in “partial remission”. My scan in May 2019 showed a reduction to 2.2 cm. By August of this same year, I received news that it had reduced another 24%! 

Already this year, I have been stronger and doing a lot more. I had previously lost my job because of the cancer, but I’m happy to report that I was able to go back to work in July 2019. I am working part-time and getting stronger day by day.

I have been asked numerous times what keeps me going and how I keep a smile on my face. The answer to that question is this…

Faith. Family. Friends.

We are all put on this earth for a purpose. My story helped me do something dear to my heart… glorify God by helping others along their journey. Without the support of my family and friends and knowing that God is with me always, I don’t know where I would be right now. There have been times when I’ve been so depressed that I’ve told God he could take me anytime. I didn’t want to go through anymore. But He has bigger and brighter plans for me. He’s not done with me and I’m not done fighting.

Every day, I’m amazed at how far I have come. Today, I am working, able to get outside and enjoy some of the many wonderful things God has created and enjoying time with family and friends, which absolutely means the most to me.

I may have stage IV melanoma, but it doesn’t have me.

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Live Wisely

Are you at risk for UV ray exposure at work?

By: Heather P. Lampel, MD, MPH, FAAD, FACOEM

Typically, when we think of “occupational” or on the job skin cancer risk, we think of outdoor workers. It’s true, occupations like construction and agricultural workers have a higher risk because these workers are out in the sun for extended periods of time. Public servicemen and women and military workers, including police, firefighters and the armed forces, also have a higher risk. Anyone spending a majority of their workday outdoors needs to be more mindful of the dangers of UV exposure than others.

That said, through the course of the workday, everyone is exposed to UV to some degree. You – likely someone who is commuting on a regular basis – are at risk. Whether you’re driving in your own vehicle or riding in public transportation, protection from UV rays is inconsistent. Vehicle glass is often treated to help decrease UV rays, but this is variable depending on the vehicle and whether the glass is on the front, side or roof.

If you’re flying on a business trip, your exposure increases significantly. According to the American Medical Association, an hour of sun exposure on a plane is the equivalent of spending about 20 minutes in a tanning bed. As you climb in altitude, the thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation. Sun protection becomes even more important.

The best thing anyone can do – whether they work inside or outside, in the air or on the ground – is to be aware of their exposure, and safeguard against it.

Tips for intermittent exposure indoors:

  1. Wear sunscreen daily (rain or shine!)
  2. Wear sun protective clothing when commuting. Keep gloves and sleeves to cover overexposed hands and arms, when driving, riding or flying
  3. Wear sunglasses during your commute to protect your eyes from exposure
  4. If you sit next to a window at work, apply a window film that blocks UVA and UVB rays
  5. If your “office” is your car, invest in a window film for the front, driver and passenger side windows

Tips for consistent exposure outside:

  1. Talk to your employer about your need and options for sun protection
  2. Wear sun-protective clothing that matches the demands of your job. Not all UPF 50+ fabrics perform the same way
  3. Always have a hat with a full brim to shield your face and neck
  4. Wear sunscreen daily (rain or shine!) for all exposed areas
  5. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from exposure

Additionally, take these tips home with you. Our workplace skin protective behaviors impact our home and leisure sun behaviors and visa versa.  We need to protect our skin both at work and at home since our skin goes with us everywhere!  For everyone, no matter where you work or spend your days, it’s important that you’re aware of your skin – its baseline color, markings and blemishes. If you or a friend note any skin changes, these should be checked by a professional.

Research has shown that patients, not doctors, are most likely to spot their melanoma, reinforcing the importance of thoroughly checking your skin each month.

Melanoma Research Foundation

Additionally, schedule an annual exam with a professional. No matter your background, age, race or gender – Melanoma and other skin cancers don’t discriminate so you ARE at risk. When melanoma isn’t recognized and treated early, it can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. The prevention and early detection of skin cancer can save lives!

Dr. Lampel is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  She has an interest in occupational skin disease including skin cancer and melanoma. 

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Skin Diaries

Couple Faced with the Hardest Decision of Their Lives

Staci’s journey started back in August 2018 when she had a large mole removed from her leg. It came back positive for Melanoma. By September, we’d learned that she had a particularly aggressive type of Melanoma and her diagnosis was Stage IIC. She had the tissue around her mole removed leaving her with a hole in her leg the size of a hockey puck. They also took a lymph node from her groin to see if the cancer had spread. It had.

More melanoma moved her diagnosis to Stage IIIC. In October—two months after her initial diagnosis—the rest of her lymph nodes in her groin were removed and tested for cancer. Three out of nine had cancer.

At this point in Staci’s cancer journey, she was 20 weeks pregnant with our son Boone (about halfway to a typical full-term delivery date). We had three options:

  1. Terminate the pregnancy and begin treatment immediately
  2. Wait to start the treatment when the baby was at 32-34 weeks
  3. Start a form of treatment that is safe for pregnancy, but not necessarily effective

As you can imagine, this was an incredible decision to make. We sought the opinion of a second doctor, who specialized in Melanoma at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. We ultimately decided to wait on any treatment and induce the delivery early.

Between October and February—an incredibly short four months—we focused on preparing to be new parents as best we could. The baby was healthy and growing, although there was still a chance the Melanoma could spread to the placenta. Then on February 1st, we welcomed our son into the world. Boone Anton quickly became Staci’s greatest joy. After two weeks in the NICU, the test results came back negative for Melanoma. Knowing he was safe was a HUGE relief! After recovering from delivering Boone, Staci had another PET/CT scan on February 5th to get an updated baseline of the cancer in her body. In the short time we had waited to deliver the baby, the cancer had spread to the bones in her back, lungs, liver and spleen. Her diagnosis was Stage IV, meaning no longer curable. She started an immunotherapy treatment and went in every three weeks for about three-four hours with the hope that the treatment would shrink the cancer spots. All the while marveling in our precious little boy like a new mom.

A week shy of Staci’s 30th birthday on April 26th—only six months after her initial diagnosis and just short of two months after Boone’s birth—she lost her battle with Melanoma.

Since then, Boone and I have received an overwhelming amount of love and support from all the people who loved Staci. It continues every day and we’re blessed to have this community in our lives.

Right now, we are focusing on making goals each day. Some things are getting easier, some are getting a lot tougher. But I have Boone to keep me going. Many people have made an impact on his life and future already with love, donations and support. I can’t thank you all enough. He’s one special little guy and I don’t know where I’d be without him. Boone is not only our son, but he’s also a reminder of her.

Words can’t explain how much I miss Staci. I’m beyond honored to say that she was my wife. I will always miss and love her, and she will forever be in my heart. Not only because she gave me the best years of my life but she also gave me—and all of us—Boone.

I thank everyone who has taken the time to reach out and see how life is going for Boone and I. With your help and support we can continue to share Staci’s story. Boone will know his mother through all of you. He’ll also grow knowing that his mother’s battle and story helps save lives every day. In Staci’s words…

“I’m telling my story because this is a part of my life and always will be. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but I’m always doing my best to stay positive. Please remember to wear sunscreen and get any suspicious moles or marks on your body checked as soon as you notice them, don’t wait!

To keep up with Dustin and Boone and to share your support, please visit Staci’s Story on Facebook. Words of love, support and encouragement are very much appreciated.

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Skin Diaries

25-Year Battle With Melanoma Leaves Warrior ‘Fortunate’

My personal journey with melanoma began long before my first skin cancer diagnosis. I grew up near the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida in the 1960s and 1970s. A time when sun protection consisted of a floppy hat, a white t-shirt, and suntan lotion. Several trips to the beach ended with red, raw shoulders and a burned nose. I have light-brown hair, blue eyes, and a seemingly infinite number of freckles, moles, and skin blemishes. This places me in the high-risk category for skin cancer. Several years ago, a dermatologist told me that with my skin type, I should have grown up in Minnesota, not in Florida.

In the 1980s and early 90s, I continued to abuse my skin. Like many young people in those days, I worshipped the sun and spent too many weekends out by the pool baking in the early afternoon heat. I never used enough sunscreen and, when I did use it, I certainly never thought about re-application. In addition, I fell into the trap of occasionally using tanning beds to get a base tan.

In the mid-1990s, I decided to have a mole on my right shoulder checked out. A biopsy revealed that I had melanoma in situ. That decision in 1995 probably saved my life. It also started the next phase of my journey. From 1995 to today, I’ve had 8 melanomas – ranging from in situ to Stages I and II – diagnosed and removed. I also had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my upper left cheek. (You can still see the small divot in my face.) For the next ten or so years, I routinely visited dermatologists and general surgeons. I took precautions – putting on sunscreen and wearing a hat – but by then the damage to my skin was done.

A major twist in my journey occurred in 2011 when a previously biopsied lesion tested malignant, and I underwent immediate surgery to remove a Stage IIC tumor along with a tennis ball-sized area of surrounding tissue from my upper back. The surgery included an extensive skin graft and the removal of several sentinel lymph nodes from my neck (which, thankfully, were clear). I was in physical therapy for 6 months, and I still have stiffness in my back and limited range of motion. Years later, the hole in my back – as I call it – is very ugly and the scar tissue still tender. As my plastic surgeon once joked, I wasn’t going shirtless to the beach any longer.

On July 24th, 2013, another major turn in my journey happened when a PET scan revealed that melanoma had spread to my lungs. The likely source of the metastases was the malignant tumor removed in 2011. The oncologists believed that a tiny bit of melanoma escaped from the primary site via my bloodstream. I was told that if the cancer didn’t respond to treatment that I would likely die in 9 to 12 months. Naturally, I was in shock as I left the clinic that day. It was completely surreal.

Even with a metastatic melanoma diagnosis, however, I was fortunate. Following my 2011 surgery, protocol dictated that I would be scanned every three to six months for the rest of my life. So, I now have a permanent oncologist along with new dermatologists who understand my circumstances and are diligent in their skin exams. Anything in question is immediately biopsied.

A final twist to my journey is based on simple genetics. My metastatic melanoma is somewhat atypical. Following the 2013 diagnosis, two separate labs confirmed that my cancer has a c-Kit mutation, which is found in less than 7 percent of all melanoma patients. This rare mutation, however, responds well to a specific oral chemotherapy drug. Once I began taking the drug, some of my tumors actually shrank.

It sounds strange to say that I am fortunate, but I am. It is 2019 and I am still here to continue this journey. The metastases in my lungs remain relatively small and stable. In the past six years, I’ve been able to watch both of my children graduate from high school and college. My wife and I travel extensively and, yes, we go to the beach or the mountains every year. I still garden every spring. I will not let skin cancer keep from doing the things I love!

Finally, I use my circumstances to reach out to others with this dreadful disease and to advocate for more skin cancer research. In addition, I volunteer my time with national skin cancer organizations and local cancer charities. I maintain a blog that details my journey (from 2013 to the present): In Difficulty Lies Opportunity. My present journey continues with curves and bumps, but I now appreciate the small things in life that truly mean the most.

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Skin Diaries

Amy Nichole: “Love the Skin You Were Given”

My name is Amy Nichole. I’m a fine art portrait photographer specializing in children’s & teen photography. For my career, I’m always outdoors and occasionally in the studio. Since birth, I’ve always had very pale skin with freckles and a reddish tone to my hair. At the age of 8, I received an awful sunburn that actually resulted in a birthmark looking design on my right arm and parts of my back. Following the incident, my mother brought me in to see a doctor, but they just pushed it aside and chalked it up as a bad reaction to the sun.

Let’s fast forward to my teens, it was the IT thing to have tan skin. Being of British and Irish descent, my fair skin wasn’t going to tan easily. From laying out in the sun for hours covered with oil to using the tanning spray alternatives, I tried everything you could think of! With all my attempts of trying to fit in, my “birthmark” only got darker and that’s when the moles and spots started to appear.

At this point, I scheduled an appointment to have a dermatologist take a closer look at all these odd-spots, which lead to biopsies left and right. Every single extraction the doctor performed and examined came back as pre-cancerous. Although disheartened by the results, I’m thankful that this first scare educated me on the importance of constantly checking your skin and prepared me for the future I had ahead.

I’d begun getting skin checks every 3-6 months and made my skin health a top priority following my time with the dermatologist. During a personal ABCDE (Asymmetry. Border. Color. Diameter. Evolving.) in June 2016, a spot on my upper chest had drastically changed in size. I expressed my concern to my dermatologist and she agreed that biopsying would be appropriate. THANK GOODNESS I was so proactive! 4 days later, she personally called me to say that it was melanoma and was at Stage 1B and very close to transitioning to Stage 2. We scheduled my first excision quickly and successfully removed the melanoma before it worsened.

Since that day, my life revolved around taking care of myself while outdoors. I started always wearing long sleeves, hats, pants, you name it! That’s when I was introduced to Coolibar from the surgeon who performed my surgery. With my line of work and living in Nevada, I’m always outside and it gets difficult to cover up with the extreme heat, but I’ve been able to make it work.

After two years of being cancer free, I had my next scare. I began seeing a new dermatologist that was very highly recommended in the area, working with celebrities and high-profile individuals. After switching though, I just never felt like we were on the same page. For months I was still doing the 3-month check-ins to be safe but at one point he’d insisted for us to make it a checkup once a year – I declined this suggestion quickly. In February 2019, I was still with the same dermatologist and we came up to our eventually agreed upon 6-month appointment and I came in with concerns of a new spot that had randomly appeared. There was a little back-and-forth on next actions but I requested he take no chances and biopsy.  Just a few days later, he called me to let me know that “random” spot was, in fact, Stage 1A melanoma. While having my first Mohs surgery, they had to go in 3 times, so the whole operation was over 6 hours. During the visit, I requested the surgeon biopsy one other spot that had grown over a scar I had from a pre-cancerous removal. Guess what! Those results also came back as a 3rd melanoma diagnosis.

I’ve finally been upgraded to an oncologist for further testing. I’m not going to let this bring me down or define me whatsoever. I have an amazing support system and know it’s not going to be an easy road ahead. But, the scars and the love I have from everyone is what’s going to help me get through this. I even put on a special portrait session for 12 kids, that was inspired by the “This is Brave” Campaign, and we raised $900 for the Skin Cancer Foundation. You can see a lot of the images from the photoshoot within my blog! I wanted to help the younger generation be more aware about protecting their skin.

After reading my journey up to this point, I want you to take a little advice. We do need to put our faith in the doctors but also you NEED to be your biggest advocate. You are the one that sees your own skin 24/7. Protect yourself, love the life you live, scars are beautiful, and they will never define you. But most importantly, love the skin you were given.

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