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Guest Post: A Call to Action from a Skin Cancer Survivor

Megan Ramey

NOTE: This post by Megan Ramey first appeared July 29 on Cancer Candor, a blog from Chris Hanson, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). It appeared on the same day that the US Surgeon General released a call to action to prevent skin cancer in which he called the disease a major public health problem. “I wanted impress upon my readers why it is so important that our nation has an action plan for dealing with this devastating cancer by sharing Megan’s powerful story,” Mr. Hanson said.

My name is Megan Ramey and I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in 2010, just weeks before my 21st birthday. With blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin I am the walking definition of someone who should take extra precautions when it comes to UV exposure. Four years post diagnosis I look back on the choices I made and feel a large amount of regret for not being cautious enough. Melanoma is a unique cancer in that most cases directly results from our behavior. We can choose to protect ourselves in the sun and we can choose to stay away from tanning beds. I admit I did not take the risks seriously.

Growing up in Minnesota my family and I cherished our beautiful summers.  Whether we were at the lake or by my family pool we were outside from sun up to sun down. I used sunscreen here and there but not nearly enough to prevent several painful sunburns over the years. When I reached high school, I began using tanning beds before school dances, vacations and figure skating competitions. I thought that tanning beds were a safer way to obtain a tan. In college, going to the tanning salon was a common activity amongst my friends. Being tan was considered attractive.  Everyone was doing it. When you are young, you don’t think about the consequences of your actions and how they can impact your future. Had I been better educated about skin cancer (specifically melanoma) and taken the warnings seriously, my life could very well be entirely different from what is today.

When I was first diagnosed with melanoma, the summer between my junior and senior year of college became a whirlwind of scans, surgeries, oncology visits and one month of high dose immune building chemotherapy (interferon). Luckily all scans since my initial diagnosis have come back NED (or no evidence of disease), meaning I have no active cancer cells to worry about at the moment. Melanoma is tricky. Even if you are lucky enough to be labeled NED, it could reoccur at any moment. Knowing this, I made a choice to complete two years of low dose interferon in hopes that the medication will continue to help my immune system ward off active melanoma cells. Currently, I live my life in 6 month increments never knowing when the next scan will show trouble. A recurrence of melanoma is never far from my mind, and one of my biggest fears. My life at 25 is unlike anything that I could have imagined.

Melanoma awareness is an important part of my life. I am part of a local non-profit group called Melanoma Awareness Minnesota. This group is active in the community, participating in health fairs, expos and presenting to local high school students the dangers of melanoma. I recently had the opportunity to work with the ACS CAN here in Minnesota to pass the tanning legislation prohibiting minors from using commercial tanning beds. I enjoy sharing my story with anyone who will listen. When it comes to melanoma, education is key! Knowledge saves lives. The CDC and Surgeon General released today a call to action on skin cancer. Their support and assistance sends a strong message to the general public about just how dangerous and prevalent skin cancer can be. The numbers are staggering; millions of people every year are being diagnosed with melanoma. Something needs to change and I think this call to action is going to be a significant step in the right direction!

Megan Ramey is a courageous ACS CAN volunteer from Minnesota. At age 21, after several years of indoor tanning, Megan was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Megan bravely shares her story with teens with the hope that they will avoid indoor tanning salons and protect their skin from ultraviolet (UV) exposure. 

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Expert Rx Sun Protection Clothing Sunscreens and Lotions Wear Sun Protection

Concluding African American History Month – Or Not

All this month we’ve been reminding people that African Americans (and others with naturally dark skin) can get skin cancer, too. And, as African American History Month concludes, we at Coolibar would like to ensure that the flow of information about cancer and skin of color does not.

Skin cancer – particularly melanoma – has been shown to be much deadlier to African Americans than for Caucasians. The Skin Cancer Foundation points out that 52 percent of non-Hispanic black patients receive an initial diagnosis of advanced stage melanoma, compared to 16 percent of non-Hispanic white patients.

There are several reasons for this, including that squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the most common skin cancer in African Americans, tends to be more aggressive and can carry up to a 40% chance of spreading.

But many of us also still believe that African American skin, with its higher melanin content, is just highly resistant to developing cancer caused by the sun. African Americans simply tend to seek treatment much later because skin cancer isn’t top of mind.

In fact, typical African American skin protects at the equivalent of a 13.4 SPF sunscreen. (SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it mostly measures UVB radiation that causes darkening or burning on the surface of the skin). UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, measures UVB and UVA radiation. UVA penetrates deeply into the skin and is, by far, the most prevalent of the sun’s radiation.

Effective sun protection starts at UPF 30, and should ideally be UPF 50 or higher.

There is more to be repeated, remembered and learned; for example, the Skin Cancer Foundation has some excellent facts about ethnicity and the dangers of the sun.

African American History Month may come to an end. But the effort to defeat skin cancer continues year round!

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SunAWARE

Three More States Ban Tanning Beds for Minors

Because skin cancer rates continue to rise among young adults – a group previously unlikely to be diagnosed – states are acting on convincing evidence that indoor tanning is a significant factor.  In 2013, following a number of other states, Illinois, Nevada, and Texas enacted legislation to block access to indoor tanning for minors. This is a trend we hope will eventually be rolled out across all states.

In June, Texas and Nevada became the fourth and fifth U.S. states to pass laws prohibiting anyone under 18 from indoor tanning; in August, Illinois became the sixth.

These new laws take effect as significant scientific evidence links indoor tanning with melanoma and other skin cancers. According to figures compiled by the Skin Cancer Foundation, of melanoma cases among 18-to-29-year-olds who had tanned indoors, 76 percent were attributable to tanning bed use. And more than 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the U.S. each year are associated with indoor tanning.

Along with the three states to entirely ban indoor tanning among minors in 2013, three others passed legislation regulating the use of indoor tanning equipment. In Oregon, anyone under 18 is prohibited from indoor tanning without a prescription, and in Connecticut and New Jersey indoor tanning is prohibited for anyone under age 17,  This is in addition to other states that require parental consent, or prohibit indoor tanning for those under 14.

The American Academy of Dermatology cites studies showing nearly 28 million Americans – including 2.3 million teens—use indoor tanning beds each year. However, six states have now banned indoor tanning for minors since the beginning of 2012, and some 29 additional states have at least one legislative bill under consideration regarding the regulation or prohibition of indoor tanning for minors in 2014. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed that the classification for sunlamps and tanning beds be raised to a Class II level, which institutes stricter regulations to protect public health.

Make your voice heard.

If you believe indoor tanning devices should receive the maximum amount of regulation, which more closely matches the health risks of these harmful devices, write a letter of support to your state elected officials urging the FDA to regulate tanning beds and ban those under 18 from using them. You can also email The Skin Cancer Foundation at advocacy@skincancer.org. The Foundation will compile all emails of support and send them to the FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s office.

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SunAWARE Wellness Warriors

SavageMan Competitors Brave the Ultimate Triathlon Course for Melanoma Awareness

The 7th annual “Win-The-Fight” SavageMan Triathlon Festival at the Deep Creek Lake State Park in western Maryland attracted nearly 1100 elite athletes from 30 states and several countries including Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand on September 14, 2013. Athletes competed for more than a medal as the event raised vital funds for the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation, a voice for melanoma prevention, detection, care and cure.

According to the Foundation’s President, Greg Safko, “The ‘Win-The-Fight’ SavageMan Triathlon Festival has garnered much international attention as arguably the world’s toughest and most savage triathlon at the half Ironman distance.” Besides attracting the world’s most accomplished triathletes to test themselves and compete in the “#1 Hardest Race on Earth!” as rated by Triathlete magazine, the event also informed athletes, spectators and donors that melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer among young adults ages 25 to 29, and if not prevented or detected early, is extremely formidable. “We’re very proud that our signature “Win-The-Fight” fundraising event for the Foundation is supported by a multitude of athletes, team members and sponsors such as Coolibar, to further the JMNMF mission of melanoma education, advocacy and research,” said Safko.

JMNMF President, Greg Safko (right, in blue) cheers on fundraiser and Team Win-The-Fight member, Mark Himelfarb of Lititz, PA, up the Westernport “Wall”.

The SavageMan 70.0 race features a 1.2-mile swim in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland’s largest freshwater lake, followed by the crown jewel bike stage featuring an over 6,000 foot vertical climb including the most savage ascent in all of triathlon – the Westernport “Wall”. After a 55.6 mile bike-ride, competitors run 13.1 miles on a lakeside trail and end the race with a panoramic lake finish.

Is SavageMan in your future?

U.S. Olympian Susan Williams (pictured) and 6x Ironman World Champion Dave Scott are notable finishers under the SavageMan banner – with D. Scott autographing all 1st place awards for each of seven years of the race’s history to support the JMNMF.
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Expert Rx

Getting Proactive about Breast Cancer Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Remembering this famous quote by Benjamin Franklin is a great way to head into October, which is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, but it can be successfully treated when found early. While this month is dedicated to raising funds for lifesaving research, it’s also furthering awareness so more women (and men) can detect breast cancer early on, and even better, lead a healthy, preventative lifestyle .

Know your risk. Being a woman, the older you get, the more your risk increases. Genetics also play a role as about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary according to the American Cancer Society. The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. You can learn more about your risk by speaking with your family about medical histories along with your physician. Genetic testing is also an option, but should carefully be considered.

Have a professional exam. If you’re at average risk, the Susan G. Komen Foundation urges women to have a professional screening every three years starting at age twenty, and every year starting at age 40. Routine professional exams are crucial in detecting breast cancers in early stages. Talking with your healthcare team will also help determine when you should be seen.

Listen to your body, perform a self-check. While the signs may differ for every woman, if something new appears: lump, swelling, warmth, redness, dimpling, chronic pain or anything out of the ordinary, see your doctor immediately. Get to know what’s normal for you.

Create good habits. Leading a healthy lifestyle is the most natural way to reduce cancer risk. The Mayo Clinic suggests limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day, and refraining from smoking. Also, work to stay within your target weight through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.

Avoid or limit exposure to chemical and environmental factors. Avoid exposure to radiation such as medical imaging and environmental pollution like gasoline fumes and vehicle exhaust. Limit sun exposure and avoiding tanning beds, as both can lead to skin cancer. If you’ve had either melanoma, or breast cancer, you’re at increased risk to developing the other according to a study cited by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Check your skin regularly for abnormal moles/spots. Wearing sun protective clothing, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses will also reduce your risk.

Get your pink on, share this message and help raise awareness!

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Events Sun Protection Clothing Wellness Warriors

The Sunscreen Squad is Out to Save Tennis Fans

Excitement is building as the Western & Southern Tennis Open in Mason, OH wraps up this weekend, making way for the US Open! This tournament is the perfect venue to call attention to the number of hours both fans and players will be spending under the sun in the next few weeks. Coolibar has teamed up with the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation Sunscreen Squad and outfitted volunteers with UPF 50+ clothing to distribute sunscreen samples to remind attendees they need sun protection.

The hours spent on the tennis court, under the sun, add up. Some of the best players on the court have dedicated themselves to promoting skin cancer awareness and sun protection, including tennis pro Andy Caress. Andy, also founder of the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation (formerly Mela-KNOW-More), had one wish before his untimely passing from skin cancer at age 24, to tell people the message of his life – “People should know more about melanoma.” Andy’s family and volunteers continue to spread the message of early detection and sun protection, especially at events Andy was passionate about.

Andy Caress, Founder of Mela-KNOW-More

Last year, ACMF Sunscreen Squad volunteers passed out 45,000 sunscreen packets and distributed 10 gallons of sunscreen to spectators, athletes, ball kids and volunteers throughout the grounds at the 2012 Western & Southern Tennis Open. They, along with Coolibar, hope to knock last year’s record out of the court!

The Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation is dedicated to the prevention of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, through awareness, education and support of research to find a cure.

The Sunscreen Squad is a program designed to distribute sunscreen at public events and tennis and swim clubs around the country. Gallon sunscreen dispensers will be installed in as many locations as possible. Donations fund this effort directly.

Young ladies playing it sun safe the the Andy Caress booth by applying sunscreen!
A glimpse of Serena Williams at the Western & Southern Tennis Open

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Success Stories Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Timna

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Coolibar invites skin cancer survivors to share their stories 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 Timna’s story.

I have been asked by many people about my story as it relates to melanoma, a disease that has changed me from the moment I got the call with my first diagnosis.

Here it is, in brief, with pictures to help…

I was born a baby with fair skin.

I grew up with hippie parents in the late 60s and early 70s. We lived in New Mexico and California, spending a LOT of time outside, dressed in minimal clothing.

I spent my time with my mom in Pacific Palisades, my dad in Venice, and my grandmother (Nonnie) in Marina Del Ray…on the beach.

Sunscreen was not a thing then…at lease that I knew of. It was all about just being outside, in nature.

(I know, weird that hippies let their kids play with toy guns…but they did)

Fast forward (but NOT to forget the 20+ years of sun loving, laying out, skin burning, beach going, roof-top pool visiting, and much more)……

At 38, I was sitting on my bed, studying the bottom of my right foot. Yes, I can see the bottom of my feet. Maybe it’s the yoga, but really I think it’s just my body…because below you will see me, at age 4, eating my foot…..

So, yeah…I was inspecting my right foot and saw a TINY black speck. I actually thought it was a baby tick, and with my fabulous surgical skills, I proceeded to remove the “tick” with a cuticle clipper…GROSS, I know. It was done. The “tick” was out and life went on….until a few weeks later while catching another good look at my foot, I noticed this black speck was back. Somewhere in the back of my head I remembered hearing the words, “If you have a freckle on the bottom of your foot, it is not a good thing.” And I knew I needed to get to my dermatologist ASAP.

I got in as soon as I could, seeing a physicians assistant, who removed the dot and told me to have a good weekend.

Over a week later, a nurse called me. She starts talking to me….about melanoma…my oncologist (I DON’T HAVE AN ONCOLOGIST)…my appointment for blood work and chest x-rays at UNC…surgery…cancer center. I left my body at those words. And when I came back, I told the nurse she needed to stop talking because I was not hearing her, and that I needed to get a pen and paper to write all of this down. This is not real! It’s JUST SKIN! Why x-rays and surgery and new doctors, etc? I mean, it is just about skin, right?

It was then I quickly became an expert on all things melanoma. I knew that when my oncologist LOUDLY stated to me, “THIS IS SERIOUS!” that my life was changing fast and forever.

Fast forward (but NOT to forget the dermatology visits every 3 months with multiple biopsies, most of which coming back severely atypical and needing further excision, the anxiety, fear, post traumatic stress, obsession with checking my moles all day long, 3 months for the hole in my foot to close after the wide excision, and the incision in my groin to heal after the lymph node biopsy, and more fear, and more terror, and, and, and……….oh, and practicing safe sun in all ways)

Three years later (no, I didn’t reach the 5 year mark. so bummed!) I have my second melanoma. This one is on my right forearm, found at one of my regularly scheduled dermatology visits. Back to fear, back to crazy, back to wide excisions.

And then, a few months ago, I started seeing flashes of light in my left eye. So I decide to study my eye ball, something I had never done in the past (surprising!). And sure enough, I see THE TINIEST dark fleck on the white on my eye, and I sink into melanoma fear knowing that tomorrow I will be in my eye doctor’s office no matter how booked and busy she is.

My eye doctor tells me that what I had found were just a few pigmented cells. Well, after you have had melanoma, the words PIGMENTED CELLS don’t jive well, no matter how few there are. She tells me it’s nothing, but that if I want to see an eye tumor specialist because I’m “so anxious”, she would make the call. OF COURSE I WANT HER TO MAKE THE CALL!

After weeks of waiting to get in with the eye tumor guy, and after a FIVE (yes, FIVE) hour appointment of dilation, pictures, exams, different residents, I finally got to see THE specialist, who tells me this: “The reason you came in here today is actually fine, but right next to it is something called Primary Acquired Melanosis, and because of your history with melanoma, we are not going to wait and watch, we need to biopsy it and freeze around the area.”

Um…with shock having taken over, I blurted out, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” The thought of a portion of my eye ball being cut and frozen and…It’s all just too much. I break. I break down right there with this nice eye tumor specialist and his nurse. I just sob.

When I went for my 6 week post-op visit I was overflowing with joy to be given the green light on returning to contact lenses. Ready to run out of the office and home to my little, delicate, disk-shaped, polymer wonders that I have missed so much. I was told that I would need to be refitted in my left eye for lenses…because my eye is forever changed.

A new set of eyes? Hmm. Yeah, I can see that. A piece of eye taken out = shape changed forever. And it was then I realize that not only is my eye changed forever, but I am.

And so it is with these experiences, and this new life, that I hope to raise awareness and help to educate others about what might just be something they can hear about rather than experience it firsthand.

As the summer is fast approaching, I am now in planning mode for a 7 week trip to Europe (to include MANY beaches)!  Here is how I do this with melanoma on my mind…I gather up loads of sunscreens, hats, UPF clothing, parasols, etc…and GO.  You can check out my packing list on Respect the Rays!
Wherever you go, you can do it with sun safety in mind!  Whether it’s the pool, the park, the beach, an island, whatever, always practice safe sun!

-Timna
Founder of Respect the Rays

“Out of difficulties grow miracles.”
~Jean De La Bruyere

A special thank you to Jen Jones and Cynthia Hornig of Women You Should Know who introduced us to Timna and her inspirational story of survival.

 

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Avoid UV & Seek Shade SunAWARE

Oregon joins the tanning bed “ban” wagon

On May 9, 2013, lawmakers passed a bill making Oregon the third state, following California and Vermont, to restrict indoor tanning for minors less than 18 years of age. The only exception is if a minor has a doctor’s note allowing him or her to tan for medical purposes.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, said the bill was aimed at reducing melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, which studies show is linked to teen tanning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon women have the highest rate of death from melanoma in the country. “At the end of the day this is about protecting Oregon’s children. Something that we’re all committed to do,” Steiner Hayward said to Oregonian. “When 32 percent of high school girls are using tanning beds, parents aren’t doing their job.”

Tanning beds were also highlighted during Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced their support of stronger warning labels on tanning beds, including a recommendation that people under the age of 18 abstain from using the devices. The FDA also hopes to reclassify tanning beds and sunlamps from Class 1 (low risk) to Class 2 (moderate risk) devices.

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Success Stories SunAWARE Wellness Warriors

Melanoma Survivor Tim

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).

Tim

“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

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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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