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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Vanessa

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories with us in their own words. Hope, determination and drive to educate others play a major role in these individuals’ lives. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone. Prevention and early detection can be life saving! We hope you share these stories with your friends, family and colleagues. Be SunAWARE. Read Vanessa’s story.

I grew up in small town Idaho where life revolved around nature and the Great Outdoors. Any and all free time our family had was spent outside: camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, riding horses, and playing sports. I naturally excelled at athletics, and my family was amazingly supportive as I bounced around from court to court trying out the newest sport that inspired me. But eventually I picked up a volleyball, and it stuck.

Volleyball has guided me through life. I played DI collegiate volleyball, I coached DII collegiate volleyball, and within the last few years, I learned to love a new format of the game that was introduced to me while living on the east coast – beach volleyball. I quickly discovered that beach was a perfect match for my game as it enhances my speed, agility, smarts and well-roundedness on the court. So I threw myself into training and competing against the best beach athletes in the region, and nation. My career yielded great results and in summer 2012. I competed in18 tournaments in seven different states. I was, and am completely addicted to the game, so at the end of the year I decided to further pursue my dream and passion of playing professional beach volleyball at the top level. In January 2013 I relocated to Hermosa Beach, California – the hub of professional beach volleyball in the US – to start a new life. I am happy to be much closer to family, much closer to the mountains, and much closer to the best in beach volleyball athletes where I can train and continue to build upon a new and exciting career.

Summer 2011, I was enjoying a day of waterskiing with my family when my older sister (who is a doctor), noticed a mole on my stomach that she thought looked questionable. For precautionary purposes, she suggested that I have it removed. It was a mole I had seen every day of my life and I hadn’t ever thought twice about it; but trusting my sister’s advice, I agreed to do so. Within the next week we had removed the mole, sent it off to the labs, and returned to our normal lives. At the time, I was living across the nation from my family, so when the lab results came back, I received a phone call from my older sister with startling news – that small mole was in fact melanoma.

I have always been an active, outdoorsy person, and on top of that I am the perfect candidate for skin cancer as a pale, freckled, red head. But I had never in my life gone in for a skin check, and I most certainly did not have a doctor lined up in Washington D.C. where I was living when I received this news. It was a frightening moment, but I had comfort in talking with my sister and together we researched reputable doctors in the area and I was able to get an appointment not too long after.

The first day I visited Dr. Ali Hendi’s office was eye opening. I was alarmed to see the impact melanoma had on so many patients as they came and went from the office. Most of them were decades older than myself, and walked out of the operating room having lost parts of their face, their ears, their nose, and more. It was a huge reality check on how sun exposure adds up over time.

I was informed that my case of melanoma would require Moh’s surgery, which I knew nothing about, but I was quickly acquainted. Moh’s surgery involves cutting out layer upon layer of skin, and testing each layer, until the Doctors determine that they have gone deep enough and the Melanoma is no longer present in that part of the body. Assuming the Melanoma is caught early enough, Moh’s is the final step in removing the skin cancer.

In my first Moh’s appointment, I left with 21 stitches that went two layers deep into my stomach, and a precautionary removal of 2 other moles. But not too long after, I received another phone call with news that one of those moles came back positive with Melanoma as well. So I schedule to have my second round of Moh’s surgery and thankfully this one wasn’t as deep. I was lucky enough to have caught mine early and never had to undergo radiation or further treatments, but I witnessed hundreds of others that weren’t as fortunate as myself, and I immediately made substantial life changes.

I am the perfect candidate for Melanoma – a fair skinned red head. But unlike most red heads, I tan very well. Throughout my life, I’ve been told many times that I am lucky that I get color. But having had this experience, I would argue the opposite. Because I tanned more than your average red-head, growing up, I likely didn’t pay as much attention to sun exposure than most carrot tops that burn like crazy. But I am just as susceptible. In years past, I wore sunscreen if I was outside for long lengths at a time. But I also liked how I looked with a tan. I liked to get color. And like most young females, I went through a stage where I would visit tanning salons.

Since then my life and views on sun protection have taken a 180. My participation on the professional beach volleyball circuit, and my passion for the game, make sun an inevitable factor in my life; however I have made substantial changes to my training routines to ensure I am being as safe as possible. Not only am I paying more attention to my skin, and taking steps to stay protected, but I have also made skin care awareness my main mission for the 2013 season I have coming up. I am thankful to have incredible Sponsors that believe in me as an athlete, believe in me as a person, and believe in my mission as well which falls in line with what they do as well. KINeSYS Performance Sunscreen keeps me protected in the sun. They produce a variety of sun protection products including a Zinc based ointment, spray on sunblock, facial sunblock sticks, and more that I wear religiously. I will be incorporating Coolibar sun protection clothing to my volleyball wardrobe for a physical block. And the Dermatology team of Moy-Fincher-Chipps in the South Bay of California, also encourage me to be as proactive as possible with their medical support. Since my diagnoses, I have had regular skin checks in 3-month increments, and I have had two other pre-cancerous spots removed. I don’t plan on having any more issues with Melanoma and I will do everything I can to keep my skin cancer free, and educate others on what they can do as well.

I still love the outdoors, and I still love beach volleyball, so being in the sun is an inevitable for me. But if I am not willing to compromise time spent outside, then I have to be, and AM more cognizant of how I prepare to do so. I am a freak about sunscreen, I always have protective layers with me, and I wear a hat nearly everywhere I go. I have two substantial scars of my stomach that act as a reminder of what I went through, and what could easily happen again if I am not careful. Those scars not only act as a reminder for myself, but they act as a conversation starter for other beach volleyball players who spend too much time in the sun. Hopefully my stories inspire them to be more proactive as well.

My advice for everyone is get a skin check – even if you are dark skinned, or barely spend any time in the sun, or think you are fine. It is better to be safe than sorry and a quick skin check will give you peace of mind.

Know the characteristics of irregular moles, and pay attention to those that you have. It is too easy to not pay attention, and not all of us have Doctor sisters looking out for us on the ski boat. If something looks funny, or starts to change, see a Doctor immediately. Wear sunscreen, hats, UPF shirts, and be safe. It doesn’t matter what your skin tone, it isn’t worth the risk.

Photo credit: Scott Allison Photography

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Success Stories SunAWARE Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Capt. Harry

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories with us in their own words. Hope, determination and drive to educate others play a major role in these individuals’ lives. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone. Prevention and early detection can be life saving! We hope you share these stories with your friends, family and colleagues. Be SunAWARE this month and all year long. Read Capt. Harry’s story below.

I am fifty years old and run a saltwater charter fishing business out of O’Neill’s Marina in St. Pete, Florida. I had always spent a lot of time on the water, but not like this. In 2005, I started going to the dermatologist two times a year. In March of 2012, the dermatologist told me to keep an eye on a spot in the upper middle of my back, not to worry about it, but just watch it. This spot was in a place that I could barely see, even with two mirrors. I made the mistake of forgetting to tell my wife what the doctor said about keeping an eye on that spot.

While on a vacation in October, my wife noticed that spot on my back and said it did not look right. I went to the dermatologist in early November and the doctor said it was great that my wife noticed the spot. It did not look right to him and a biopsy was done.

I was on a fishing charter just off St. Pete beach when the doctor’s office called and told me that I had a Clark Level 3 Melanoma and to schedule an appointment with Moffitt Cancer Center. I didn’t know what to think. I was scared, angry, nervous and just wanted to get off the boat. As much as I tried not to let my clients know what that phone call was about, I’m sure they noticed a change in my attitude. I was so mad and angry that I told my wife that evening, “I don’t want to tell anyone about this, that it was my business, and it stays between us.”

We were reading everything we could about Melanoma and Clark Level 3 diagnosis. All this information was making the both of us more anxious, nervous, scared, angry and upset. Knowing and keeping this a secret was not the right thing to do. After a week or so, we agreed to tell two of her brothers that live close to us and my dad, and at some point my brother and sister who live in other states.

After Thanksgiving, we met with our team at Moffitt Cancer Center, and they told us what the procedure would be and scheduled the surgery for December 13th. While in a tree stand hunting one morning, I finally came to grips with what was going on and decided it was fine to talk about it, and totally changed my attitude. It took me three weeks to get to that point, but the anger was gone. I was still anxious and nervous, but not mad and angry.

After sitting in that tree for three hours, I got down and took a walk through the woods. I came upon a guy who was spraying invasive plant species to get rid of them. We talked for four hours and while talking he tells me that his wife went through breast cancer and Moffitt Cancer Center helped her beat it. She was cancer free and doing great. After about three hours, I told him I had just come to grips with my diagnosis, and I told him about it. He asked if it was alright with me if I would join him in a prayer for me. I told him it can’t hurt, so we prayed. It really was something that I ran into this man just after coming to grips with my situation.

I went in for the surgery on the 13th, and the first step was to inject a dye around the biopsy area to determine where and if the cancer had gone to any lymph nodes. The dye showed that it had gone to one lymph node in my left armpit and three in my right armpit. The surgery went well and they removed one under my left arm and three under my right. They also removed a large area around the biopsy. They scheduled my follow-up visit for December 31st. It was going to be an anxious two and a half weeks waiting for the lab results. After about ten days, my wife said let’s call and get the lab results. This was an anxious call but a great one. The nurse told me that all the lymph nodes came back negative and all of the area around the biopsy was also negative. Hallelujah! Christmas was so much better.

Words to the wise:

I had never heard of Coolibar before having to research melanoma and UPF clothing. Living and boating in Florida, you are going to be in the sun. I think, like myself, a lot of people have never heard of Coolibar. I spend over 200 days on the water, and clients as well as others in my industry, pay attention to what others are wearing. Regular cotton tee shirts just will not hold up, so people need to see others wearing sun protective apparel. Lead by example.

Capt. Harry

Capt. Harry’s Website: Hook Em Harry

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

75 time skin cancer patient urges sunscreen use

You’ve heard the advice about wearing sunscreen over and over. But would it mean a little more coming from someone who’s survived skin cancer at least 75 times?

Dennis Hassel enrolled in the U.S. Navy when he was in his 20s. Between work and play, he spent about half of every day outside, often without a shirt and always without sunscreen.

Hassel, now 81, estimates he’s had basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer, 75 to 100 times. The cancerous growths appear on his face, side, neck, arms, back and chest and often look like small red spots that bleed and don’t heal.

Hassel has an appointment every three months with a dermatologist at the University of Virginia Health System, where any new spots are evaluated. Treatment usually requires cutting out the suspicious spot and sending it to a lab to ensure the doctor removed all the cancer. Sometimes his dermatologist freezes off the spot or gives him a cream to use.

Hassel thinks the x-ray acne treatments he used to get contributed to his recurring cancer, but, “it was mostly the sun,” he says. “I can’t say enough about getting the word out to people who think they’re immune to the sun. They’re not.”

Beyond just remembering to wear sunscreen (Hassel now wears 100 SPF), what can you do to avoid skin cancer? UVA dermatologist Mark Russell recommends you:

– Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outside.
– Reapply every 1-2 hours. Sunscreen can break down, wear off, wash off or sweat off.
– Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and make sure it hasn’t expired.
– Use about an ounce of sunscreen ­— the amount it takes to fill a shot glass — to cover your whole body.
– Stay in the shade when possible and avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
– Wear a wide-brimmed hat — not a baseball cap — that protects your neck and ears.

The Skin Cancer Foundation has images and warning signs of each kind of skin cancer. If you find a suspicious spot, get it checked by a dermatologist immediately.

UVA dermatologists offer a free skin cancer screening every year. Currently, they’re also providing Coolibar hats to people who attend the screening and bring a less protective hat, like a baseball cap, to trade. Coolibar hats have the wide brims Dr. Russell recommends.

Photo: UVA Employee Kat modeling Coolibar hat used in hat swap program.

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Unborn Daughter Saves Mother From Melanoma

Have you heard of a mom’s unborn child saving her life? Erica’s daughter Caroline did just that (both pictured to left). Read Erica’s story and how her daughter may just have saved her from Melanoma.

My name is Erica. I am a daughter, granddaughter, wife and mother.  Although having my child at the age of 22 was not in my immediate plans, I often say that if it wasn’t for my strong-willed, red-headed little girl I may not have been here to make plans.  I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and am at complete peace with the bumpy ride I am still on regarding my skin.  This is a short version of my journey with melanoma thus far. 

Two months after my 22nd birthday I had a six month OBGYN appointment.  I always saw a midwife but on this particular day I saw the actual OB and I was wearing shorts, something I rarely did while I was pregnant.  He took one look at a spot on my thigh and suggested I see my primary care doctor immediately to have it checked out.  This mole had been on my leg for about two years and although it was ugly it was just one of those things I kept putting off getting checked.  It was not important to me, after all what could it have been?  Just an ugly, unattractive spot I could get taken off for cosmetic reasons?  My general practitioner believed it to be nothing but still removed it for further testing.  Initially, I was told that it was severely dysplastic and I was sitting on the door step of melanoma.  After further evaluation from the pathologist it was confirmed that I indeed had a .68 mm stage 1 melanoma that showed signs of regression. 

When I got the news that I had melanoma it truly didn’t hit me that this was a very serious condition.  When I got the call from the doctor that I needed to go in that morning I went by myself and was not the slightest bit nervous. I vividly remember the nurse hugging me and telling me that all would be o.k. and I would still be here for my daughter.  It was at that point that I broke down crying in the office, hugging a stranger trying to get a good grip on the fact that I not only had cancer but I had the deadliest form of skin cancer.

After that things started moving very fast.  I was scheduled immediately for a WLE (wide local excision) and a lymph node biopsy because I had some issues with them around the time the mole originally appeared. Being that I was pregnant, the lymph node biopsy had to wait until my little girl was around seven weeks old.  The WLE resulted in clear margins and there was no signs of melanoma in my lymph nodes once they were checked.  All was fine until roughly seven months later when another melanoma was found in my groin region.  Thankfully that one was an in situ which is essentially stage 0 and is not invasive.  Several other biopsies were taken as a precautionary measure which has left me with several keloids scattered around my body.  Since then I have had a nevus with pre-cancerous cells which was taken care of with a WLE.  I am also currently awaiting results on another biopsy. 

One of the biggest questions I get asked about my personal experience with melanoma is how did I get it.  When I was sixteen I began going to the tanning bed. As a teenager and even during my collage years I didn’t do the typical rebellious things such as drinking, partying, etc.  I was a homebody, an honor student, the type of person who chose to go to bed at 9 on a Friday night.  Little did I know, the one activity I was partaking in to make me feel good about myself and boost my self-confidence was the number one thing that could have very easily robbed me of my life. I would tan a couple times a week, use the hottest tanning lotions and tan for about 15-20 minutes at a time.  What I didn’t know is each and every time I would lay in a tanning bed I was engaging in risky behavior that could have been fatal. During my tanning years I heard of melanoma and even saw pictures but I always brushed it off as something that would not happen to me or happen many years down the road when I was “old”.  I have since found out that skin cancer also runs on my paternal side of the family, something I had no idea about at the time.  Unfortunately, ignorance truly is bliss.

In the past two years I have became very educated when it comes to melanoma.  I have read and reread the facts, told anyone and everyone who will listen about my story and have became very vigilant with my skin checks.  I see my dermatologist every three months and we check and reevaluate areas of concern. My little girl will forever be at a higher risk given my history so sunscreen, monitoring her skin and keeping her safe from the sun is of utmost importance to me.  I am also learning to embrace my once tan body that is now a body full of scars, keloids and regularly appearing nevi. If I was to never get another melanoma it would not mean that it is totally over.  It would simply mean that there is NED (no evidence of disease).  Melanoma education, prevention and awareness will forever play a big role in my life!

Erica Adams – Founder of Astheygrowup.com blog

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Stan

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories with us in their own words. The ins and outs of treatment can be intense and not necessarily a fun thing to read; however hope, determination and drive to educate others play a major role in these individuals’ lives. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone. Prevention and early detection can be life saving! We hope you share these stories with your friends, family and colleagues. Be SunAWARE this month the all year round.

“My name is Stan Hankins, age 76, and I live in Albert Lea, Minnesota. I discovered a lump under my jaw in the fall of 2010. The tumor was surgically removed by a Mayo surgeon in Rochester, Minnesota, in December 2010. The pathology report showed metastatic melanoma that had spread from an unknown skin mole that was never found. I had never noticed a mole that looked suspicious nor had a doctor check any moles. In March of 2011 a new tumor was discovered in the same general area as the first one. It was removed along with 110 lymph nodes in my neck and cheek. The tumor and two of the lymph nodes in the tumor were again diagnosed as metastatic melanoma.

After healing of the surgical site, I underwent five radiation treatments. Each of the five treatments was equivalent to six regular radiation treatments, because melanoma is a beast. In June of 2011 a PET scan revealed tumors on the left lung. In July my doctor started me on Leukine where I self-injected the drug that has shown some success in melanoma patients. I did this until October when I had a CT scan that showed multiple tumors had developed in both lungs as well as on my liver and peritoneum. I had another surgery in October to obtain a biopsy of the lungs to determine that it was indeed metastatic melanoma. With melanoma in my vital organs, my prognosis was rather dire. I would probably live less than a year.

In November 2011 my doctor at Mayo suggested that I join a clinical trial that was just beginning. There are eleven patients on this clinical trial. The doctor had done a similar clinical trial six years ago, and two of the ten patients are alive and show no signs of melanoma. The trial is a 28-day cycle. I take a nausea pill and chemo pills before bedtime for 5 nights and then nothing for the next 23 days. The chemo drug boosts the immune system and does not destroy good body cells, and it does not make me sick at all.

After the second cycle in January 2012, I had a CT scan that showed many of the smaller tumors had disappeared, and the larger ones were reduced by 50 percent! After the fourth cycle in March, I had another CT scan that showed further reduction of the tumors, and my liver was clear of tumors. I have just completed six cycles, and I will have my next CT scan in May. My hope is that all of the tumors have disappeared. Six people of the eleven on this clinical trial have had positive results. My doctor is excited and I am. Our hope is that this is a breakthrough for melanoma treatment. I consider this a miracle. Throughout this journey, I have had prayer covering around the world. I have no symptoms, and I am feeling great.

I used to have no worries about the sun, and for many years I wore no shirt outside during the summer. Now I wear a hat and a long-sleeved shirt when I am outside. My advice would be to have moles checked out by a doctor on a regular basis, because I obviously had a mole that was the culprit and I never noticed it.”

Photo: The picture was taken in May 2011 when I finished radiation at Mayo.  They have patients ring the bell to celebrate the completion of treatment. I had five treatments that were equivalent to 30 treatments.

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Sam

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories with us in their own words. The ins and outs of treatment can be intense and not necessarily a fun thing to read; however hope, determination and drive to educate others play a major role in these individuals’ lives. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone. Prevention and early detection can be life saving! We hope you share these stories with your friends, family and colleagues. Be SunAWARE this month the all year round.

From Samantha Hessel

Cancer- just a six letter word when looked at purely by letters means nothing. When looked at medically means a diagnosis, hope for a cure, and a battle. When looked at physically is an organism that invades your body and life. When looked at emotionally it breaks you down, tears you apart, and instills fear, sadness, anger, and betrayal in you and your loved ones. Cancer unwelcomingly entered my life two and a half years ago when I was 19 years old. The day before my diagnosis, my family and I enjoyed a nice day together touring quaint, local shops and having a delicious lunch. Little did we know at 8 am the next morning our lives would change forever. On July 24, 2009 I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer at 19 years old. On August 13, 2009 I had a minor surgery to remove the rest of the mole and 1cm of surrounding skin.

I never thought at 19 I would have heard “you have cancer”. If it wasn’t for my mom pushing me to have skin checks every year I have no idea what my life would be like right now. From this experience I have learned how truly important it is to protect yourself from the sun, especially tanning beds. I am guilty as charged for using tanning beds from 15-18 years old and truly regret it. If I would have listened to those around me I may not being writing about this experience. Now I protect myself from the sun every day by applying sunscreen regularly and wearing sun protective clothing when I know I will be outside for long periods. Hats have become my new best friend. Yes, is it hard when everyone else is at the beach and not only do I feel I can’t go because of the sun, but when I do go I am all covered in clothing, sticking out like a sore thumb or hearing comments about “how pale you are”. Does it hurt? OF COURSE! I take the looks and the comments because I know in my heart it is better than hearing “you have melanoma” again and enduring a fight for my life. I use that hurt to educate in my local community and I hope through awareness people will come to understand that getting a tan and being a bronze goddess is not worth losing your life.

My challenge to all Coolibar Blog readers is educate your kids, yourself, friends, family, community, workplace, etc. about the dangers of the sun. I beg you because it breaks my heart when people lose their life to this horrible disease. Educate and create awareness so no one has to hear the words “you have cancer” especially at a young age.

Me dressed in all Coolibar in this past summer
In my homecoming dress (when I used to tan)
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Avoid UV & Seek Shade Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Doc Learns the Hard Way to Avoid Tanning

Some stories are so powerful they need to be retold.  This blog was written by Dr. Jessica Sparks Lilley, a pediatrician who learned the hard way that the risks of getting melanoma from using a tanning bed are real! Please do not use tanning beds.  Please do not allow your children to use tanning beds.  Help pass legislation to ban the use of tanning beds by minors.

“As a pediatrician, I have dedicated much of my life to improving the health of children—thirteen years of formal training after high school, to be exact.  I’ve worked thirty hour shifts every other day, delayed my dream of having children of my own, and moved across the country for the best learning opportunities.  Amid this grueling schedule, during my second year of residency I noticed in a bleary-eyed post-call shower that a mole on my chest had changed a little.  I recounted the “ABCDs” of skin cancer—asymmetry, borders, color, diameter—and my mole was only a little larger than a pencil eraser with more heterogeneity than I remembered (meaning that it was a mix of brown and black rather than just all brown).  When I finally made an appointment with my internist (again, post-call—can’t be choosy when you work eighty hours a week), he brushed my concerns aside and refused to even look at it, instead writing out a referral to dermatology.  Six months later, the opportunity to see a dermatologist finally arose, and I found myself standing in the specialist’s office that February morning to find that the referral had never made it.  My medical training had kicked in and caused a bad feeling in my gut about the mole, so I called my internist’s office from the waiting room and even cried on the phone to get them to help me.  After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the referral was processed and the physician’s assistant worked me into her schedule—the suspicious mole was off to pathology within fifteen minutes, and I received the call two days later that I was right to be worried—that mole represented an early-stage melanoma.

I was in my parents’ living room when I got the call.  I had traveled from Philadelphia to Mississippi for vacation.  I will never forget the way my mother cried when she overheard me asking questions about whether sentinel node mapping would need to be part of the diagnostic work-up.  I only required a wider excision, which was done that very week and (praise God!) showed no signs of metastasis.  As I sat in doctors’ waiting rooms and even as I was walking back to the operating room, I mulled over the same regrets—why did I ever step foot into a tanning salon?

The first time I went to a tanning bed, I was fifteen years old and trying to get a little “color” to look good in a dress I found to wear in a beauty pageant.  I bought eight visits, heard nothing of the risks (which were largely unknown at the time), never burned, and actually thought it was fun to have the fifteen minutes of quiet rest.  I had to beg my parents to let me go, and the owner of the tanning salon was quick to tell my mother that indoor tanning was much safer than tanning outside.  The strongest argument against the behavior in high school I heard was a bad urban legend about a girl who “fried her ovaries” by tanning.  You’d think that I would have been hesitant to step inside a device that looked like a coffin, had a dial like an oven, and was cleaned with only a dilute cleaning solution by other tanners.  Alas, I went about ten times a year after that for various reasons—prom, pageants, and even my wedding—despite being able to draw a picture of the pyrimadine dimers I was forming in my DNA as a result of UV radiation!  Strangely, I wore sunscreen and rarely went outside, especially as my training intensified.  The first time I thought seriously about never going back was after my first pathology lecture dealing with melanoma and the strong emphasis on UV radiation as a cause of skin cancer; I considered it again when a friend was caring for a patient with metastatic melanoma during our third year of medical school and lovingly warned me that I was putting my health in danger; but because I started tanning at a young age, the behavior seemed safe to me.  I rationalized tanning in every way imaginable.  After I graduated medical school, I vowed to never return lest I set a bad example as a physician.  My last tanning visit was April 24, 2007, about a week before my wedding…and two years before the cancer diagnosis that changed my life.

I am continuing to devote my life to the health of children now as an advocate to ban tanning in minors, just as we regulate other known carcinogens like tobacco.  We know that younger DNA is more vulnerable to dangerous mutations and that teens don’t yet have the cognitive skills to judge long-term ramifications of their actions.  We also understand now that any indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75%!  I am appalled that I have friends who continue to go, reasoning that tanning “isn’t that bad” and is their “only vice” and “something they do for themselves.”  I’m infuriated that some idiot doctors perpetuate the myth that sun exposure is healthy and the lie that tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D.  That’s absolute hogwash.  I’m a fellow in pediatric endocrinology and know that much better sources of vitamin D are available without the side effect of deadly cancer!

I shudder to think of what would have happened to me if I hadn’t detected my melanoma early.  Late-stage melanoma is almost always fatal.  Treatments like interferon have horrible side effects and don’t save everyone.  I no longer feel safe in my own skin and feel that the quality of my life has been impacted by the fear that my cancer will recur.  The fact that melanoma is the most common form of cancer death in my demographic (25-29 year old women) is astounding, and it is unfortunately on the rise in association with more young women with a history of indoor tanning.  It’s humiliating to recount my story—I should have known better—but I hope to teach everyone who will listen three important take-home points:

1. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever indoor (or outdoor) tan!  A tan is evidence of skin damage and potential DNA mutation that can lead to cancer.  There is no such thing as a safe tan!

2. If you are worried about something with your health, there may be a reason.  Talk to your physician, and if he or she doesn’t listen, find someone who will.

3. Finally, take time to take care of your health.  We have all made an idol/status symbol out of “busyness” to the detriment of our well-being.  If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.

As part of my crusade, at least one later stage melanoma has been diagnosed and countless friends and acquaintances have stopped tanning.  I will keep telling my story to anyone who will listen to defeat this often preventable cancer.”

Jessica Sparks Lilley, MD

A post shared by our friends at SunAWARE.

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Thankful for the Chance to Spread an Important Message

Duane Braswell is a recent skin cancer survivor whom is thankful for many things this holiday season. After being diagnosed with both basal cell carcinoma and melanoma in August 2011 and having his cancer cells successfully excised, he came to the conclusion that there is not enough awareness around the dangers of skin cancer. With the support of his family, friends and outside donors, Duane has arranged to complete a 2,500 mile bike circuit starting in Phoenix, AZ and ending in Washington, DC to raise awareness and money for skin cancer research.

Duane’s story:

I was diagnosed in August 2011 with several basal cell carcinoma cancers and melanoma. What a shock to hear the word “cancer” and your name in the same sentence! This is something everyone knows can happen, but we never expect it will happen to us.

Prior to the cancer I only wore a hat and sunscreen if I remembered or thought I would be outside for an extended period of time. When we were  kids, we just dealt with sunburns and didn’t think twice about it. After all of the cancerous cells were cut out in mid-October, I now wear my hat almost everywhere I go – plus it looks good anyway!

The biggest hit was realizing that even though I made my family a priority over my career, I still did not realize how fragile life is and how precious my time with my family is. The hardest thing was looking at my kids and thinking I might not be there for their children or even my youngest child’s graduation. I had never considered these things before my diagnosis, when I was ignoring my mole and ‘spots.’

Now, I am looking forward to spending five weeks with my son going cross country and showing him how great people are to visit and talk with. We leave May 13, 2012 from Phoenix and will arrive in Washington DC at the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) center by the end of June. We will be traveling 2,500 miles; enjoying our time together and sharing with others the importance of covering up in the sun and wearing a hat. We hope to raise $10,000 for the MRF through exposure on TV, radio as well as the internet. Both my son and I want to hear someone went and got checked for skin cancer because we talked to them.

After the ‘cancer’ scare, my oldest daughter had two moles removed when visiting the dermatologist. She told me it would be foolish to miss out on life because of something so small. Hers moles were VERY early and required no stitches. Mine were nearly too late and required over 60 stitches that we could count. It is so easy to prevent skin cancer, and so costly if we do not.

– Duane Braswell

P.S. My doctor recommended your products to me and I really love them.

Check back in May for a trip update!

Duane posing in his Coolibar gear with the bike that will be accompanying him on a 2,500 mile ride to raise funds for melanoma research
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Success Stories SunAWARE Wellness Warriors

Cindy Combats Basal Cell Carcinoma

One day, out of the blue, Cindy found a suspicious spot of skin on her nose. This spot ended up being Basal Cell Carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, which affects almost two million Americans each year according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Cindy shares her story to remind us of the importance of being SunAWARE.

Cindy’s Story

I was a 48-year-old sun worshipper when I discovered a flake of skin on my nose that would not heal. It appeared to be just a piece of dry skin until I washed my face one day and the spot began to bleed.

I made an appointment with my dermatologist and she took a biopsy. I returned a week later to have the stitches taken out and told her that the spot that flaked was not exactly on the spot that she biopsied. The biopsy came back negative and she assured me that if there was cancer it would have shown up on the test results.

I returned to her a year later complaining the spot was bigger and continued to flake. This time she froze the area. I waited 6 months and returned insisting on another biopsy – in the correct spot. This time it came back positive for basal cell. She apologized admitting she had taken a biopsy the first time from a wrong area. I was scheduled for a Mohs procedure and flap repair with a plastic surgeon. I realized then I had to be my own best advocate!

I stopped sitting in the sun without sunscreen and a hat. However; five years later I was diagnosed with a second basal cell carcinoma. Again, the only indication I had was a flaky spot on the side of my nose that just would not completely heal up. And again, I was scheduled for Mohs procedure and flap repair.

My Doctor states that once diagnosed with basal cell skin cancer you are more likely to have a reoccurrence.  Now I won’t leave the house without a hat. I also wear a sunscreen of SPF 46 and make-up with sunscreen.

My younger brother was diagnosed and treated for melanoma when he was only 38-years-old. He had a mole on his back that surgeons stated were sure had been there all his life. He is now 16 years cancer free! He is very cautious about being in the sun and always wears long sleeves and sunscreen!

My advice to you is to be safe while you are in the sun, protect yourself.  Check your skin for changes and be your own best advocate.  Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.  Save yourself from having to going through what I have. 

Cindy After Mohs Surgery
Cindy after Mohs surgery
Cindy After Stitches Were Removed
Cindy after stitches removed
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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Tim

Tim Ward and Family

In 2007, Tim went to a Mayo Clinic dermatologist to have a mole on his left arm looked at. The doctor removed it right away so it could be tested. A few years prior, Tim had this same mole tested, and it was fine. But this time, the biopsy showed that the mole had turned into Melanoma.

Tim’s Story

My name is Tim Ward.  I am 39 years old and had malignant melanoma.  I was diagnosed in the summer of 2007.

I am Australian born and lived in Melbourne Australia for 25 years.  In 1996 I came to America to study at the University of Minnesota in horticulture.  I have worked in the horticulture industry my whole life, outdoors most of the time. 

Five years prior to my diagnosis I had a mole biopsied on my left arm.  The doctors took only a part of the mole and left the rest.  The biopsy came back fine and nothing more was mentioned to me at the time.  Five years later my wife Amy noticed a change of color to that particular mole.  I went to Mayo Clinic to see dermatology.  The physician who examined my body wanted a biopsy of that mole immediately.  Three to four days later I received a call back from Mayo with the diagnosis of malignant melanoma.  They scheduled me that week to remove the rest of the mole and its margins.  They took the margins around the mole and 35 stitches later sewed me up.  Five to ten days later the clinic called again to tell me that they had removed all of the cancer.  I have since had a few other moles removed which have all been cancer free. 

Since the diagnosis I have paid close attention to my entire body. My family has been very sensitive during this experience.  I have 8-year-old twin boys, one with very fair skin like myself.  My wife and I are very conscientious of sun protection for our family.  I have always worn sunscreen year round prior to cancer and since.  Unfortunately, my profession leaves me exposed all of the time.  I try to wear a hat and long sleeves when possible.  I am very careful to apply sunscreen to my children and to make sure they wear UV protection clothing especially when swimming. 

My advice to you would be to use sun protection year round and to try and limit your sun exposure if possible.  Regularly see your doctor and watch for any changes to your skin.

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