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A Mission That Goes Beyond a Career

“Dry skin, maybe psoriasis, it’s nothing”, that’s what 3 different dermatologists told me when I asked about a small patch of skin behind my left ear. It came and went over at least 10 years and sometimes itched and felt dry. Sometimes I could barely feel it. I obviously couldn’t see it and they were the experts, so I assumed it was just my sensitive skin acting up. Maybe I didn’t wash behind my ears enough?

The itchy, dry patch behind my ear was basal cell cancer. Ironically, I was diagnosed 2 weeks after I started working at Coolibar. As VP of Brand Marketing and Creative Services at the time, I was immersing myself in the mission, sun-facts, warrior stories and education about prevention and our unique sun-protective clothing and accessories. It was kind of like Googling “skin cancer” except the knowledge I had gained in my first few weeks at Coolibar was completely factual. I had a heightened awareness of the potential consequences of my diagnosis. Although basal cell cancer is slow growing, I’d had it for over a decade. The voice inside my head immediately began cussing every derm who has ever looked at it and not taken the step to biopsy, even when I was advocating for myself. I was really angry! But that quickly turned into thankfulness for my primary care doctor who had referred me to Dr. Mary Meighan, who listened carefully, asked thoughtful questions and took her time during my annual skin check. I wasn’t even going to say anything about that itchy patch, but I did. Thank goodness.

I have practiced sun-safety for the majority of my life. During my teen years, I realized that even if I was tan, no one noticed because my skin is naturally very pale. So, while everyone else was tanning, I decided to be a rebel and achieve the palest skin possible. That said, I remember getting burned. In fact, there is a family story about me falling asleep curled up in a fishing boat and getting sunburned across the exposed strip of skin between my top and pants around age 3. I personally remember getting a brutal burn on my back as a teen, after spending the day at a surfing lesson with only SPF 30 lotion to protect me. My father got diagnosed with melanoma in his late 70’s. I knew it was in my cards. But, as they say, nothing prepares you for that diagnosis.

The suspense was killing me. How bad was it? I felt humbled by my vanity. I didn’t want a big scar. But the bigger fear was that I didn’t want cancer or any limitation from being a mother to my 10-year old daughter. Dr. Meighan referred me to her colleague at Zell Clinic, Dr. Karl Vance for Mohs surgery. I arrived for surgery and told him that I worked at Coolibar and that I was going to write a blog about my experience to help educate and support others. He was immediately all in and couldn’t have been more accommodating, narrating his every move. He even let me go behind the scenes where he was literally looking thru a microscope at the skin graft he’d just taken from behind my ear. He was making sure he got all the cancer in his first cut and wanted to see a minimum 2mm edge of clean cells all the way around the cut and he said, with some well-earned pride, that it was important for him to retain his stellar record. 99% of his Mohs surgeries got the cancer with the first cut. His record remained intact and so did my ear.

The cancer hadn’t gone very deep and only a little over an inch around. It was tiny compared to the skin cancer warrior’s I’d met on the Coolibar blog. I didn’t need to experience skin cancer to want to work at a mission-driven company like Coolibar. I already knew that tan skin is damaged skin and sun protection promotes anti-aging. My friends who worshipped the sun in their younger years now look their age and I, the eccentric pale girl, often pass for younger. But here I am, a cautionary tale, waiting for the next diagnosis. Hoping it’s not the big M. Take care of your skin! Get skin checks by a qualified dermatologist. Check your loved ones. Self-advocate with your doctors. Spread the word. That’s what I’m doing at Coolibar.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: Life Post-Viral Video with Janet KJ103

Let me catch you up on my story! One day I woke up with what I thought was a whitehead pimple on the side of my nose. My only thought was that it was going to be painful when I popped it because of its location. The worst spot ever to get a pimple! I thought I got lucky when it popped all by itself; then I realized something was different. This pimple bled a lot. Three weeks later, there was still a scab, so my husband encouraged me to visit the doctor. I was pretty sure the doctor was going to laugh at me for making an appointment for a pimple. I was wrong, he took one look at it and said he was pretty sure I had skin cancer. Two months later they removed the skin cancer which turned out to be a mixture of basal and squamous cell carcinoma; the removal left a dime size hole in the side of my nose.

Now, the reconstruction begins. The hole was too big to cover with a skin graph, so I would get the dreaded forehead flap instead! The forehead flap consists of using skin from your forehead to cover the spot on your nose. Doesn’t sound that bad at first until you find out that the flap of skin then has to be fed by a vein, that hangs across your face, for three long weeks. It’s totally a sci-fi process. I’m not sure who thought this procedure up, but something tells me people weren’t jumping at the chance to be the first one to have it done.

After the three week process, they remove the vein, re-stitch your forehead and send you on your way.

The hardest part of this process is not the vein on your face. The hardest part of this process is not knowing where the next spot will be.  That’s what no one tells you about having skin cancer.  I was told that my spot was something I’ve had since I was a child.  A majority of my sun exposure came as a teen and young adult.  Every new freckle you see, you think its skin cancer.  Every time you get a pimple, you think its skin cancer. There is a part of you that lives in fear.

When you face challenges in life, the best thing you can do is share your story. Someone somewhere needs to hear that they are not alone in their fight.  My year was full of people reaching out to me who were about to have the same procedure. I loved seeing their before, during, and after photos. I love that I was able to be a light to them in their darkness because I know they will eventually be a light in someone else’s darkness.

This past year, I had the honor of working with the Stephenson Cancer Center and Miles Against Melanoma to bring free-to-the-public sunscreen dispensers to the OKC Zoo. Protecting yourself against skin cancer by using sunscreen is easy.  Sometimes we just need a simple reminder. Next time you’re out in the sun, break out some sunscreen and watch how quickly other people catch on. Sunscreen use is contagious! The only problem is… sunscreen doesn’t work if you don’t use it!

Read on to hear her STORY from last year and learn why instead of fear, Janet chose love in her journey.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: How Judy Lives the Mission Every Day

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote a blog for Coolibar’s “This is Brave” campaign. A lot has happened in the last year.  In that years’ time, an estimated 9,500 people were diagnosed every day with skin cancer.  An estimated 9,300 people died from melanoma.  And skin cancer remains the most common cancer in the United States. These are sobering statistics.

Over the last year, I’ve continued to not only be a patient but also a skin cancer awareness advocate.  I’ve had additional areas of skin cancer (squamous cell and basal cell) that needed treatment.  I know what it’s like to have the anxiety of wondering whether a suspicious area is skin cancer, and I know the feeling of wishing skin cancer would just go away. Unfortunately, for me, it won’t.

I also know the feeling that skin cancer can be a lonely cancer. That’s why I will continue to share my story, and I will continue to talk with and encourage others who are battling skin cancer or who are supporting loved ones in their battle. I continue to write articles for a skin cancer site, and I also moderate for them. In doing this, I’ve learned that far too many people don’t give much thought to skin cancer until it affects them or someone they love. We need to change this – especially given that many skin cancers can be prevented.

There’s so much work to be done. I want to do more. Indoor tanning continues to remain a big business in the United States. Insurance companies don’t yet cover an annual skin exam as preventative care. Too many people continue to not realize the consequences of tanning beds and over-exposure to the sun. I did a lot of damage to my skin when I was younger, as did many people.  My hope is that the more awareness we can raise, other people won’t make the same mistakes I did.  Now we know better, and now we can do better.

To see Judy’s story with us from last year, visit HERE.

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SunAWARE

Hugh Jackman Brings Attention to Skin Cancer

Yesterday, actor Hugh Jackman posted a photo on Instagram announcing his skin cancer diagnosis following treatment. He had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his nose. His photo comes with a warning to be SunAWARE.

“Deb said to get the mark on my nose checked. Boy was she right! I had a basil cell carcinoma. Please don’t be foolish like me. Get yourself checked. And USE sunscreen!!!”

Skin cancer is the most common cancer and Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer with an estimated 2.8 Million cases each year in the U.S. (Source: American Cancer Society) and is caused mainly by UV exposure. Good Morning America discuses the importance of getting your skin checked with dermatologist Dr. Doris Day after Hugh’s announcement. See the GMA segment below.

Hugh is recovering and expected to be just fine, his case was caught early. Hugh’s skin cancer diagnosis is a good reminder for all of us to protect our skin. Be SunAWARE and Be Safe!

*Photo source: Hugh Jackman’s Instagram Account

5 simple steps to prevent and detect skin cancers

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Expert Rx Sun Protection Clothing Videos

“The Doctors” on Basal Cell Carcinoma and Prevention

On Tuesday, October 24, 2011, “The Doctors” TV show aired a segment nationwide about a new skin cancer treatment for basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. This treatment option uses low doses of radiation on a targeted area to kill the cancer cells, going no deeper than the skin. Only a few dermatologists are offering this non-surgical treatment for basal cell carcinoma opposed to micrographic surgery, the current standard for treatment, which can take hours to perform.

Seth Forman, M.D. practices dermatology in Tampa, FL and demonstrated the procedure on his patient Betty for the show. From patient Betty’s perspective, the treatment is like having an x-ray – it’s painless and over within 45 seconds. She will need multiple treatments to destroy her cancer – 12 times over a 4 week span.  There are no shots, no blades, no bleeding, no stitches, not even a band-aid.

Watch the “Low Dose Radiation Treatment” segment from “The Doctors.”

To find out more about low dose radiation and other treatment options for basal cell carcinoma, visit http://www.skincancer.org/bcc-treatment-options.html.

Dr. Drew Ordon, an expert on “The Doctors”, also took advantage of the opportunity to talk about prevention.  His advice:

1) Try to avoid daytime sunlight, between the hours of 10-4 avoid mid-day sun.

2) Sunscreen, Sunscreen, Sunscreen – at least SPF 15, we recommend [broad-spectrum] SPF 30 and to be generous with application using a shot glass full and re-apply every two hours.

Finally what you can do is…

3) Wear protective clothing – UPF 50+, it blocks both UVA and UVB rays and is a great way to go because you can’t get sunscreen everywhere.

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