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 Tim’s story.
Like the day my wife and I were married, and the days our children were born, Thursday, August 18, 2011 will forever be burned into my memory. We were on vacation in Maine. My wife, son and I were leaving to sneak in nine holes of golf before the day was over when I got the call from my doctor. He confirmed that the suspicious looking mole on my arm was melanoma. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, was on the top of my right forearm. Wow. The prognosis was good, the melanoma was .62mm in depth (generally if the melanoma is thicker than 1mm it is more likely to have spread) and therefore was considered an “early stage” and would require an excision surgery to remove surrounding tissue to check for spreading. I was scheduled for this surgery just five days later and although the surgery showed that all of the melanoma was removed, the pathologist suggested another surgery to obtain the proper margins; 1 cm of clean tissue around the melanoma is required to be removed and be clear of cancerous cells for a pathologist to consider it a clean excision. A month later, I had another excision surgery and this time the margins were met. My doctors determined that with these successful surgeries, no further treatment would be necessary at the time.
The physical healing is progressing well; the mental and emotional healing will take a bit more time. A cancer diagnosis is a very scary. This disease can strike at any time, to anybody without prejudice. It can take your world and turn it upside down. Support of friends and family is critical.
I am currently scheduled for full-skin examinations every three months for the next three years. If I am fortunate enough to not have a re-occurrence of melanoma, then I will move to six month examinations and eventually annual examinations.
My diagnosis not only came as a shock to me, but because melanoma can be hereditary, my family was impacted. They scheduled skin exams since their risk was now elevated. As a result, my older brother recently had a procedure to successfully remove a squamous cell carcinoma, a non-lethal form of skin cancer but alarming just the same. With a new outlook on skin protection for my family and myself, I am very thankful for my early detection and now am focused on keeping us all sun safe. There is an acronym being used now concerning the prevention and detection of skin cancers, SunAWARE. A=avoid unprotected exposure to the sun, W=wear protective clothing and hats, A=apply broad-spectrum sunscreens year-round, R=routinely check for changes in your skin and E=educate yourself and family about sun protection.
I have been working on farms and in the construction industry since I was 13 years old. The days of my youth were as many others, careless and carefree. I was never a lay around in sun kind of person but kind of lived my life with the motto “no shoes, no shirt, no problem”. Always outdoors and rarely protected! Eight years ago, with the passing of my friends father from cancer, a group of friends and I signed up for the Pan Mass Challenge to raise money and awareness for the fight against cancer. This event, which is the most successful cancer fundraiser in the nation, was started by a gentleman named Billy Starr after losing his mother to melanoma back in 1980. It is this event that had brought so much good in my life. It became an annual tradition my whole family took part in. The event was most likely caused the damage to those skin cells on my arm. The top of your forearm is 100% exposed while riding a bike. I am on my bike hundreds of hours a year riding over 2000 miles in preparation and before 2010 was completely unprotected from the sun. I have included a picture with my family form the 2012 ride (pictured above) and for the record; I removed my Coolibar Full Zip Bike Jacket a mile from the finish so I could cross the finish line with my team jersey.
Now, as a 42-year-old father of two and an outdoor enthusiast with activities that take me through all 12 months of the year, the protection of my family and myself has become a daily occurrence. Our leading defense against the suns damaging rays is with UV protective clothing and sun protective lotions for the exposed skin. I am similar to most, once I received my diagnosis I enveloped myself with what melanoma is, every aspect of it’s being and mostly how to prevent a re-occurrence, or in my families case an occurrence! That is how I found Coolibar — my leading defense against re-occurrence. I cannot be found outdoors with out a piece of clothing with that distinct logo on it. My other line of defense is sun protection lotion and I have found another ally in that battle, the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG is the nation’s leading environmental health research and advocacy organization. Their mission is to serve as a watchdog to see that Americans get straight facts, unfiltered and unspun, so we can make healthier choices and enjoy a cleaner environment. I research different products on this site for me and my children, and then can usually find those products on the Coolibar website.
As previously mentioned, my diagnosis has rippled through my family and friends. My brother successfully had squamous cell carcinoma removed and is currently on a yearly check up. My children’s pediatrician is on heightened alert to anything that might be remotely suspicious. Most of my friends have gone to a dermatologist for a skin check and have also increased their protection levels. I am not one to soap box, but when it comes to skin cancer awareness, I will stump all day. So many cancers are not preventable and although melanoma might fall into this category we can all greatly diminish our risk. It is becoming increasingly easier in this country to protect yourself, your friends and loved ones, so why wouldn’t we? Awareness over the last five years has significantly skyrocketed. In 2011 the FDA issued new requirements for over-the-counter sunscreens concerning their labeling with regard to their protection levels, what type of UV protection they offer, the terminology used like “sunblock” and “waterproof”. The ability to be protected is ever-present. My hope is that everyone absorbs as much information as they can and use it to protect themselves and their families.
This year I will be adding another acronym to my list, the ABCDE’s of skin cancer. This acronym is concerning moles on your skin and what to look for: Asymmetry (each of the mole’s halves should be identical. Is the mole flat or raised) ; Border (an irregular border is abnormal) ; Color (dark and/or multiple colors signify a potentially dangerous change) ; Diameter (if the mole is larger than a pencil eraser, it may need evaluation) ; Evolution (a sudden change in the mole can indicate a problem).
“I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.” …. Terry Fox, October 1979, in a letter requesting support for his run