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Skin Diaries

Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Brian McKenna

Chal·lenge

“A call to fight, as in a battle, a duel, etc.“

It was the spring of 2014. I remember my doctor escorted me past the examining room, straight back to his office, where he closed the door behind me. I may not be a card-carrying member of Mensa International, but I knew something was up. He opened his laptop and started explaining the results from the biopsy he’d taken from my body three weeks prior. Unfortunately, I read three paragraphs ahead of my doctor, and scanned two words that took my breath away, “malignant melanoma”.

I didn’t hear anything he said after reading that.

Fast forward to February 2017. I was diagnosed with a very rare, infiltrating, aggressive basal cell cancer, whose “fingers” wrapped around the nerves in my face and were headed towards my brain. To make matters worse, it metastasized over my entire body. In addition to the aggressive basal cell cancer, melanoma was found on my back. Cancer had challenged me to a fight.

I accepted the challenge.  I wasn’t going to fight cancer, cancer was going to fight me! Instead of “why me,” I embraced “try me” and braced myself for the fight of a lifetime.

In life, you can be the bug or the windshield. I challenged myself to be the windshield. I also challenged myself to share my cancer journey openly, utilizing my public image as a former radio/tv personality, to help bring awareness to skin cancer prevention. I challenged myself to be a loud voice in St. Louis, Missouri, to raise money for skin cancer research with the hope that one day we find a cure.

After nine surgeries in the last 13 months (including a 9+ hour facial reconstruction), over 400 stitches, radiation, chemo, physical therapy and occupational therapy, I’m here to tell you that I am on the road to recovery.

I challenge all of you to be kind, stay humble, do more than is expected, give more than you take, dream big, make a difference in this world and GET REGULAR SKIN CHECK-UPS! Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe!

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Cindy Brodie

My journey began with a very small, brown spot on my nose that looked like an age/sun spot.  My “spot” did not itch or burn and was asymptomatic, other than the fact that it would not go away. As a former sun-worshiper, I was no stranger to these “spots”, but I put off seeing my dermatologist until AFTER a holiday trip to Mexico because I didn’t want a small scar on my nose for the trip.

My biopsy indicated the presence of melanoma, but early stage 1. Within a couple of Weeks, Dr. Jerome Potozkin performed the surgical procedure to ensure all margins were clear. Looking at my face right after the procedure made me feel scared and anxious, and wondering if I would ever look the same. The procedures the doctors were discussing for reconstruction sounded barbaric, and I found myself wondering how such a small spot could cause such major surgical procedures to repair.  But I knew the journey had just begun.

Seven days later, I went under general anesthesia for the 1st of several surgeries. Dr. Jonathan Sykes, my plastic surgeon, utilized cartilage from my ear and a skin graft flap from my forehead to rebuild my nostril.  My “trunk” provided a live feed to help regrow my nose and allow the cartilage to settle into the open space. This “trunk” remained on my face for 3 weeks, which was painful and humiliating. I went back to my doctor every 2-3 days to ensure there was no infection and to clean the wounds. I was terrified to leave the house during this time. After the removal of my “trunk” and 9 months of healing, I went back to see Dr. Sykes for another reconstruction.

 

The entire process, from the “sun spot” on my nose to the photo you see here, took one year. I am grateful to Dr. Potozkin for the early detection. It could have been so much worse. I am grateful to my plastic surgeon, Dr. Sykes for reconstructing my face. I am grateful to be sharing my story with you today. If my story motivates you to call your board-certified dermatologist today to make your annual skin exam appointment, then my heart is full.

Cindy has been cancer free for 2 years and continues to have her skin checked every three months, as early detection is key.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Beth Allgaier

It takes some time to settle into a melanoma diagnosis.

In early 2016, my father had extensive melanoma surgery, which prompted me to schedule a second full body skin exam within the year.  During my exam, the doctor froze a few “spots”, decided to biopsy a few others, and advised me to keep an eye on a small freckle he discovered on my abdomen.  Something about this “small freckle”, and my dad’s diagnosis, alerted me to do more than keep an eye on it.  I urged my doctor to do a biopsy of this “small freckle”.

One week later, I received the call and it was Stage 1A melanoma.  We caught it early.  With the news of my diagnosis, I was instantly overcome with emotion.  I felt totally out-of-control and paralyzed with fear of the known and the unknown.   Thoughts whirled in my head, “I know melanoma is dangerous, and yet, I don’t know how bad mine is? Will it keep coming back?  Will it become something I cannot stop?  Can I still be outside when it’s sunny?” Anxiety and fear suddenly controlled my life.

I learned everything I could about skin cancer and melanoma for comfort and my own peace of mind.  It was my way of controlling a path I had not chosen.  Educating myself with information and accepting the care and advice of skilled and experienced healthcare professionals, like Dr. Atkins at Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center, empowered me.  I felt armed and ready to embrace my diagnosis.

Melanoma is not a choice, but living with a positive attitude is.  I parlayed my diagnosis into a career with the Melanoma Research Foundation, where I am passionate about the work we do and as a patient, I know first-hand the difference this organization makes.  In addition, every morning I journal the 3 things I am grateful for and the 3 things that will make my day great. It’s amazing how much this simple routine launches my day in a good direction and reinforces my mind set on gratitude.

I will continue to research melanoma, but it will never consume me or compromise my positivity. I will always rely on the best specialists available to support my treatment and continue to be proactive with my frequent skin exams and sun protection practices.  Being positive makes me who I am, not melanoma.

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Experts Say Skin Diaries

Ian Leonard – Let’s Get Gross

As someone in the public eye, I have never been one to shy away from the camera.  I feel very blessed to be doing work that I love. I feel obligated and truly rewarded when I know I can make a positive difference in our community. I am not being compensated for this but I know this is so vitally important. If we can empower one person and inspire one family to practice better sun safety then my cancer journey will have changed lives for the better. I hope my story, as gross as it may be, will encourage everyone to have their skin checked this year, practice a sun-safe lifestyle and share their own story so we may all unite to fight this ugly battle.

It started with a small pimple on my bottom lip. Almost imperceptible unless you are a manscaping Metro like me. A small pimple that caused inordinate amounts of pain when touched. The dermatologist knew right away. The biopsy confirmed it. Squamous cell skin cancer. Wait, what? It’s just a pimple. It was actually the tip of the tumor buried in my bottom lip. MOHS surgery came two weeks later. Seven MOHS procedures in 6 hours. Then home for the night. Home with a gaping wound where my bottom lip was supposed to be. That was Monday, Plastic surgery was Tuesday. Two days of surgery, 42 stitches and the loss of a third of my bottom lip.

For more on Ian’s skin cancer journey please check out his blog at:  https://ianmn.wordpress.com/

 

This May, we are getting gross. The ugly truth is that skin cancer is not fun or glamorous. We want to share the not-so-wonderful side of what happens after a skin cancer diagnosis. Coolibar’s mission is to keep the world safe from sun damage and we thank each selfless warrior for boldly sharing their story. We hope you bear with us as we share stories to provide awareness, education and spur prevention. We’re among friends–now let’s get gross.

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Experts Say Skin Diaries

Judy Cloud – Let’s Get Gross

I never intended to share my skin cancer journey with anyone outside of my Facebook friend group. Like everyone else, most of my posts depicted a happy moment in time – an event forever captured to share with family and friends to stay “connected.” My skin cancer was so invasive, time-consuming and emotional, I posted it as a warning for the people I love most.  I never wanted anyone to experience what I endured, and continue to live with, from over-exposure to UV rays through tanning bed use and sunburns.  My doctors have told me my skin cancer was largely preventable.  While I have risk factors (blonde hair, blue eyes, freckles, light skin) that I can’t change, over-exposure to the sun and the use of a tanning bed are things that I could change.

Even today, pictures of my stitches, scabs, and scars are very difficult for me to look at and I cannot believe the response they have had across the globe.  Almost daily I have a message on Facebook from someone who has been touched by my story.  Most people want to know if I am doing “ok” and how my life has changed since my skin cancer diagnosis.  The truth is that although I am feeling fine, my life has changed fairly significantly.  Every morning I look in the mirror and self-check my skin for new spots or visible changes.  Given my history and knowing early detection is key for effective treatment, this routine puts me more at ease and reminds me that I am responsible for my own health.  It’s not paranoia that causes me to do frequent skin checks; it’s now a part of my daily routine out of necessity.

Prior to skin cancer, I was a sun-worshiper in my younger years.  What I loved most about the sun was how relaxing the warmth felt against my skin.  And when I was young, kids (including me) played outside for hours each day, without sunscreen. Now I am much more cognizant of the sun.  I am not going to hide from it, but I am much smarter about my time in the sun. Being outdoors reading a book on my porch or working in my flowerbeds is still very relaxing to me, but I have changed my lifestyle habits to include the following:

 

  • Avoid direct sun exposure from 10 am – 2pm
  • Wear sunscreen daily; I have sunscreen in the make-up I apply every morning
  • Skin checks every 6 months by my dermatologist

 

Sometimes the Facebook message I receive is from someone who is sharing their own skin cancer story with me.  They tell me they are grateful to know they are not alone.  In all honesty, I have found skin cancer to be a lonely cancer.  We are diagnosed, the doctor treats us and we are sent on our way.  I have been unable to locate a skin cancer support group, which I believe is greatly needed.  When I was growing up, our generation was not warned about the damaging effects of tanning beds, and a sunscreen beyond 2-4 SPF was not available.  It is hurtful to hear that I (along with other skin cancer survivors) have “brought this on myself” from strangers and even family members when truly skin cancer awareness and education was unheard of when I was growing up.  My mission today is to raise awareness so people don’t have to go through what I have gone through. We now have access to better information, and as the saying goes, knowledge is power.  I would also like to create a community of support for those of us who are skin cancer survivors so nobody ever feels like they are alone.  I will continue to share my story and encourage everyone to do the same so we can save lives.

This May, we are getting gross. The ugly truth is that skin cancer is not fun or glamorous. We want to share the not-so-wonderful side of what happens after a skin cancer diagnosis. Coolibar’s mission is to keep the world safe from sun damage and we thank each selfless warrior for boldly sharing their story. We hope you bear with us as we share stories to provide awareness, education and spur prevention. We’re among friends–now let’s get gross.

 

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Experts Say Skin Diaries

Summer Sanders – Let’s Get Gross

Growing up in the California sun, I was outside every day of my life swimming. I loved the water.  Formal swimming lessons began at age 18 months and I was swimming competitively by the age of 4.  Later I swam for Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA and eventually won 2 gold medals, a silver and a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games. I never thought anything of the endless hours of the sun beating down on my skin while I practiced my sport year-round. For me, sunscreen was used for “vacation sun” because I never wore sunscreen during my daily swim practice routine. I do not recall being sunburned as a child, but I know I was very sun-tanned, especially during the summer months.

I was blindsided in 2014 by my first melanoma diagnosis from my dermatologist, which resulted from a mole that had been recently removed from my calf. Swimming was my life and my love, it was who I was. After this diagnosis, my relationship with the sun changed. I became hypersensitive to skin cancer and to the sun. Being outside and in the sun was something I loved so much, but then I would feel the sun and it bothered me.  My belief is my melanoma was attributed to prolonged and consistent exposure to the sun, specifically the harmful UV rays I’d been exposed to for many years due to my swim training.

While I am grateful for the doctors and surgeons who have helped me with my skin cancer journey, I have learned to become more vocal and grown stronger by becoming my own health advocate.  The little black dot on the back of my arm was something my doctor was not initially concerned with, but the nagging feeling in my gut told me it was something that should be biopsied and I had my doctor remove it.  That little black dot turned out to be my third melanoma.  Early detection is paramount when it comes to skin cancer treatment. My goal is to inspire friends and strangers to become their own health advocates.  Hearing that someone went their dermatologist after a self-check discovery of a suspicious mole is why I continue to share my story.  In support of skin cancer awareness month, I encourage everyone to become their own health advocate and make an annual appointment to have your skin checked by a dermatologist today. It may save your life like it did mine.

This May, we are getting gross. The ugly truth is that skin cancer is not fun or glamorous. We want to share the not-so-wonderful side of what happens after a skin cancer diagnosis. Coolibar’s mission is to keep the world safe from sun damage and we thank each selfless warrior for boldly sharing their story. We hope you bear with us as we share stories to provide awareness, education and spur prevention. We’re among friends–now let’s get gross.

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Experts Say Skin Diaries

Beth – Let’s Get Gross

A simple, light blue button-down cotton cardigan, we affectionately called my “swimming sweater,” was my parents’ best attempt at sun protecting my delicate skin as a toddler, while I played outside in and out of the water.  Fair skinned like my dad, with freckles, red hair and blue eyes, I always remembered having trouble avoiding sunburns.

At age 8 I remember my father, who at that time worked for the NIH (National Institutes of Health), often brought home some of the first chemical sunscreen, known as “PABA” (Para-aminobenzoic acid). Dad would arrive home with a plastic, ugly brown jug. It was filled with a watery liquid that splashed everywhere, leaving a bright orange stain on anything it touched.  Our family would stand in line to “splash” the watery goo on our skin before we went outside or sailed the Chesapeake Bay. (PABA would even turn the white sails of our sailboat orange.)  PABA seemed to work, except for the fact that it would stain, streak and wash off the second we hit the water!  From an early age, I was very sun aware.  This was only because I experienced the blistering pain of sunburns, but I had no idea each childhood sunburn would “reappear” on my skin later in life.

Beginning at age 30, the damage to my skin from prolonged sun exposure was becoming evident.  My dermatologist and I knew each other on a first name basis, with the frequency of visible skin spots being frozen or biopsied during each visit.   A few excisions were necessary for basal and squamous cell carcinomas to be removed from my chest, arms and face, probably attributed my love of skiing, sailing, beach volleyball and all things outdoor. This practice felt normal and expected for someone with characteristically fair skin like me. And this dermatologic routine, of skin review and spot removal, went on for 15 years. From the first skin cancer detection, throughout the subsequent removals, I was much more diligent about sunscreen, hats, and clothing, to protect me from further sun damage, but the damage had been done.  During a routine dermatologist visit, a small basal cell carcinoma turned up. This led to Moh’s surgery on my nostril, with a total reconstruction of my nose using my own ear cartilage. This was humbling, scary and changed my outdoor lifestyle habits forever.

In early 2016, my father had extensive surgery due to melanoma, which prompted me to schedule another skin check visit.  My physician scanned my skin, remarking to the nurse, “let’s biopsy these, freeze a few, watch the others.”  While seemingly a routine visit, for some reason the freckle on my abdomen seemed newer and something in my gut instructed me to ask the doctor to biopsy it, rather than just watch it. It appeared to be was just a small freckle, but after my dad’s diagnosis, I felt I should be more aggressive about my health. On a Friday, just one week later, I was told it was melanoma. Stage 1A, so we had caught it early. Just three days after my melanoma diagnosis, I was asked to interview for a position with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF).  Given the nature of my very recent melanoma news, I found the timing of this call to be odd and even wondered, “could be some sort of HPAA violation?”  Within minutes I realized this call of inquiry was astonishingly the most AMAZING and coincidental timing and I was more than intrigued.  At the time, I knew very little about the organization, but I instantly understood how critical they were to this cause that was now near and dear to my heart.

I am proud to say I have been the corporate relations director of the Melanoma Research Foundation since October 2016.  Working with this organization has provided me with so much hope for what can be done in bringing an end to this disease. I realize now that I am one of the lucky ones who caught skin cancer early.  Until I started at the MRF, I never knew someone dies from melanoma every hour of every day. Reading melanoma statistics like this one horrifies me and renews my commitment to help bring awareness through my work. The medical research being done is making progress and bringing hope.  The education around prevention will hopefully turn around the trends that are showing more and more young women and children being diagnosed with melanoma that ever.  I will continue to have bi-annual skin checks, protect myself with sunscreen, hats and UPF clothing when I am enjoying the sun outdoors and fight passionately for a cure for melanoma.

This May, we are getting gross. The ugly truth is that skin cancer is not fun or glamorous. We want to share the not-so-wonderful side of what happens after a skin cancer diagnosis. Coolibar’s mission is to keep the world safe from sun damage and we thank each selfless warrior for boldly sharing their story. We hope you bear with us as we share stories to provide awareness, education and spur prevention. We’re among friends–now let’s get gross.

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