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Wellness Warriors

Book: Help Me Live… As I Die, Cancer vs. the Power of Love

Joe Peterson, author of “Help Me Live… As I Die / Cancer vs. the Power of Love” shares his story about the creation of a book that demonstrates the true power of love versus melanoma. Kelly, Joe’s partner, passed away from cancer, but his story lives on through Joe.

From Joe:

I am the youngest of twelve and have always been creatively ambitious. Throughout the course of my life I dealt with suicidal thoughts, came to terms with my sexuality, built self-esteem through body and mind improvement, and always believed in love. Exercise, nutrition and creativity have been passions of mine for many years, and when Kelly was diagnosed they were very much a part of our daily life.

Only after writing daily updates on CaringBridge and receiving positive feedback from the readers (while building a united support system) did I consider sharing our journey via a book. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I never suspected it would be inspired by a tragic circumstance. I contacted a publishing company months before Kelly passed away, and I believed it would be his and my success story against cancer… specifically, melanoma.

In October of 2011, I realized our physical time together was coming to an end and the story I had wanted to write was going to have an unthinkable ending. Kelly and I moved forth with the same amount of positivity and hope, despite the reality we faced.

Our journey, captured in “Help Me Live… As I Die / Cancer vs. the Power of Love” was completed and released almost one year after Kelly moved on. Reliving, over and over, the trials and tribulations we encountered during Kelly’s final nine months became a source of therapy I had not predicted.

Through my own personal growth, from rereading our united travels in 2011, and through the positive encouragement from others, I felt and still believe Kelly’s positivity will still impact others and potentially teach a better way to live, by living positively. Kelly and I also became aware that the relationship we had was very much respected by our straight loved ones, and our CB entries opened their eyes to the prejudices and safety fears we continually lived with. Our journey was as much about sharing as it was about learning.

–Joe

Joe Peterson, Author of “Help Me Live As I Die…Cancer vs. the Power of Love”

About the book:

This is not a story about death. It is a story about one couple’s journey of acceptance, love, and internal awakenings. Kelly and Joe met by chance, but were bound by fate. One morning in the summer of 2010, Kelly Boedigheimer, a thirty-nine year old man in good health, discovered what he thought was yet another ingrown hair on his chin. That was the first step on the life-changing journey he would share with Joe Peterson, his life partner since 1998.

Months later – following three surgical procedures, where each was more aggressive than the last – Kelly and Joe faced the inconceivable: Kelly was diagnosed with melanoma. In early 2011, Kelly met with a team of specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Another surgery, this one more wide-ranging than the others, removed a section of skin from his chin and a portion of his cheek. A graft from his arm provided new skin for those areas. Highly concerned about this aggressive melanoma, doctor’s proceeded quickly to save and protect Kelly.

Here, Joe lovingly and painfully recreates Kelly’s final nine months through journal entries, e-mails, blog posts, texts, and more. Their relationship was tested as too many are; in this visit back to those days, Joe unfolds an inspiring telling of the power of love, optimism, and hope. This is not a story about death. This is a story about love.

Enter to win a free book signed by the author. Share this story with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest and tag @Coolibar or comment below. (We will only use your email to contact you for purposes of this contest. One entry per person please. We’ll choose a winner via random drawing on December 6, 2012 at noon CST.)

Purchase “Help Me Live… As I Die / Cancer vs. the Power of Love” at HelpmeliveasIdie.com, www.Amazon.com, www.BarnesandNoble.com.

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Events SunAWARE

The Stars Come Out to Support Melanoma Research Foundation

Celebrity Kevin Nealon, star of Showtime’s hit series Weeds and long time Saturday Night Live actor hosted the first annual Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) Celebrity Golf Classic on Monday, November 12 at Lakeside Golf Club in Los Angeles. The golf tournament helped raise funds for the MRF, helping further cancer research with the goal of one day finding a cure.

Kevin became involved with the MRF after his old college friend pasted away from skin cancer. Kevin says, “I never realized that skin cancer can be deadly. Since then, I’ve learned that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, kills someone in this country every hour of every day. Alarmingly, it is not only the fastest growing cancer in young adults but the fastest growing cancer in the world.” Now, he’s working to spread the word about melanoma and skin cancer prevention.

Learn more at the Melanoma Research Foundation’s website. Also, check out photos from the event below.

Melanoma Research Foundation is the largest and oldest non-profit focusing specifically on melanoma. We are in our 14th year of funding cutting-edge medical research, and are the leading voice in providing support and education for patients. MRF is also a major source of awareness messages about melanoma, and is in its third year of a partnership with Cosmopolitan Magazine around their Practice Safe Sun program. Other strategic partners around raising awareness include a multi-national pharmaceutical company, a major motion picture studio and a team from the NFL.

We at Coolibar salute you Kevin Nealon and your fight for skin cancer prevention! P.S. You looked great in your Coolibar polo!
 

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Expert Rx

Skin Cancer in Skin of Color

Only people with light colored skin can get skin cancer—right? The truth is that anyone of any ethnic background is susceptible to all types of skin cancer including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is in fact more common in Caucasians. When caught early and treated soon after, skin cancer is almost always curable. However, it’s more likely to be fatal in people of color because it’s usually detected at later stages.

Dermatologist Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, a board-certified dermatologist specializing in ethnic skin, is also concerned that people of color oftentimes believe they’re protected from skin cancer and that if a cancerous lesion develops, it’s not as recognizable.  “Skin hue can affect the way lesions look,” Crutchfield says. “Things that appear red in white skin often look completely different in skin of color.” In the past, teachers generally demonstrated skin cancer cases on fair-skinned people, making it more challenging for physicians to recognize suspicious moles on darker skin.

People with darker skin tones do have more “natural” protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Cells in the outermost layer of skin called melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin and eyes their color. This pigmentation helps protect the skin against the sun’s ultraviolet rays that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. “In African American skin, melanin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) approximately equivalent to 13.4, compared to 3.4 in white skin,” states the SCF.

“Pigmentation doesn’t give you a free pass,” says Crutchfield. “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, anyone can get skin cancer.” Crutchfield also notes that even though pigmentation does offer some sun protection, that using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and broad-spectrum coverage is recommended for everyone. “I also recommend sun protective clothing and sun hats with a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) as it’s more effective and easier to use than sunscreen alone,” says Crutchfield. Crutchfield, along with other skin cancer prevention organizations, hope that ethnic groups will soon pick-up the message and start protecting themselves from the sun.

Resources:

http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/skin-cancer-and-skin-of-color

http://www.crutchfielddermatology.com/treatments/ethnicskin/SkinCareforPeopleofcolor.asp

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/05/29/race.skin.cancer/index.html?iref=allsearch

Photo courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield

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Expert Rx

Mayo Clinic Study Provides More Reasons to Ditch Tanning

According to recent Mayo Clinic study, the incidence of melanoma has escalated, and young women are the hardest hit. Researchers speculate that the use of indoor tanning beds is a key culprit in the rising skin cancer rate in young women.

“We anticipated we’d find rising rates, as other studies are suggesting, but we found an even higher incidence than the National Cancer Institute had reported using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result database, and in particular, a dramatic rise in women in their 20s and 30s,” says lead investigator Jerry Brewer, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist.

Researchers conducted a population-based study using records from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a decades-long database of all patient care in Olmsted County, Minn. They looked for first-time diagnoses of melanoma in patients 18 to 39 from 1970 to 2009. The study found the incidence of melanoma increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men. The lifetime risk of melanoma is higher in males than females, but the opposite is true in young adults and adolescents, Dr. Brewer says.

“A recent study reported that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and we know young women are more likely to use them than young men,” Dr. Brewer says. Despite abundant information about the dangers of tanning beds, he adds, young women continue to use them.

Dr. Jessica Sparks Lilley, a pediatrician who has dedicated her life to helping children stay healthy, learned the hard way that the risks of getting melanoma from using a tanning bed are real! “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 beauty pageant dress,” says Dr. Sparks Lilley.  “I heard nothing of the risks (which were largely unknown at the time) and never burned. I went about ten times a year after that for various reasons—prom, pageants, and even my wedding. 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. 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.”

Three years later, Dr. Sparks Lilley is cancer-free and helping adolescents comprehend the risks of using tanning beds. “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,” she says.

Dr. Sparks Lilley’s points include:

1. Never indoor (or outdoor) tan.

2. Talk to your physician about health concerns.

3. Take time to take care of your health. 

Mayo Clinic release: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00209-1/abstract

Dr. Jessica Lilley’s full story: http://blog.coolibar.com/doc-learns-hard-way-to-avoid-tanning

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Expert Rx Routinely Check Skin Videos

Free Skin Checks on Melanoma Monday + Tanning Mom Skit

Is your FREE SKIN CHECK scheduled? Today, the first Monday of May, is Melanoma Monday and dermatology offices across the country are offering free skin checks as a reminder to get your annual exam. A yearly skin check promotes good health and skin cancer prevention, today and all year long.

It is currently estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. When caught early skin cancer is highly treatable, and is often preventable.  Because the signs of skin cancer are visible on the surface, you just need to call your doctor when you see something unusual, growing, or changing on your skin.

You can search the website of the American Academy of Dermatology and their SPOT initiative to find a free screening near you.

Exposure to ultraviolet light is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.  If you could reduce your risk of skin cancer by just seeking shade, wearing sun protective clothing and sunscreen, and avoiding tanning beds, wouldn’t you?

Ask your loved ones to commit to keeping their skin safe and getting a skin check.

Now, if we could just convince Tanning Mom that her bronzed skin is not good for her.  Watch the Tanning Mom skit from Saturday Night Live.

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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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School sun safety SunAWARE

Gearing Up for Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May has been declared Skin Cancer Awareness Month by the Centers for Disease Control. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon according to the American Cancer Society. Take advantage of the wealth of skin cancer prevention resources available next month so you can become SunAWARE and help prevent and detect skin cancers.

1. Start out May with a free skin cancer screening.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) designates the first Monday in May as Melanoma Monday (5/7/2012). Dermatology offices often provide free skin cancer screenings. Find a free skin cancer screening on the AAD website or by calling your local dermatology office.

Additionally, this year, the AAD will launch their SPOT Skin Cancer™ public education initiative on Melanoma Monday. The initiative aims to educate the public about skin cancer and promote positive behavior to prevent and detect skin cancer. SPOT Skin Cancer™ also will position dermatologists as the experts in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

2. Walk or run to support skin cancer research.

Register to walk or run and raise money in support of skin cancer research through the Melanoma Research Foundation. Search for an event in your area, or create your own Miles for Melanoma event. Miles for Melanoma events take place across the United States and are hosted by volunteers.

3. Register to win school sun hats from Coolibar.

Coolibar is giving away up to 50 school sun hats to five winning classrooms across the United States. Download the contest form or enter online. Contest deadline is May 11, 2012.

4. Kick off your summer with Don’t Fry Day.

The Friday before Memorial Day (5/25/2012) is deemed Don’t Fry Day by The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. The purpose is to remind everyone to protect your skin while enjoying the outdoors.

5. Pledge to follow these simple steps of SunAWARE to prevent and detect skin cancers all summer.

Avoid unprotected exposure to sunlight, seek shade, and never indoor tan.

Wear sun protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Apply recommended amounts of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sunburn protection factor (SPF) greater than or equal to 30 to all exposed skin and reapply every two hours, or as needed.

Routinely examine your whole body for changes in your skin and report concerns to a parent or healthcare provider.

Educate your family and community about the need to be SunAWARE.

If you have any ideas, suggestions or events on skin cancer prevention, please share them with us.

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Educate Others SunAWARE

A New Year’s Resolution with a Cause

While you may already have a personal goal in mind to accomplish in 2012, have you thought about creating a New Year’s Resolution that can have a profound impact on others as well? Over 58 thousand people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin in 2007 (the most recent year statistics are available) and the number continues to rise (Center for Disease Control). You, just one person, can help lower the rate people are being diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and save lives. This year, consider giving back by getting involved in a race for the cure, fundraise for melanoma research, or hold an event to help educate others about skin cancer and prevention. Our friends at Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) have some suggestions to help you get started. Go ahead – set out to accomplish something BIG this year!

People often make cause related resolutions at the new year, particularly after the holidays when they feel the loss of a loved one more deeply. Often the individual will contact MRF directly with a statement along the lines of “I recently lost someone and I want to do something to help.

The MRF is uniquely available to fill that need for those who lost someone to melanoma or for those who are currently battling it. The MRF has several event based programs that allow people to join our community and raise funds for research. What is attractive to the individual is that they become part of a larger group who can make a bigger impact. As one it’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference, but when you join a group that ultimately has nearly 10,000 participants a year, and raises nearly $2 million a year, then you know you’ve made a difference.

Our participants take on challenges from the simple to the extreme. Many join us at our 5k Miles For Melanoma walks. Many of them will do some fundraising of their own, but most will join us to help with awareness and provide a sense of community. The more people we have at these events, the more we can make people aware of the need for sun safety and prevention.

Other participants might take on more daunting challenges – running a marathon, racing in a triathlon, riding their bike across the U.S. and more. These folks all become fundraisers and bring in an average of $1200 or more.

We also have supporters who focus on awareness and education activities – they often take their own time to reach out to school groups and businesses to educate them about the importance of getting a skin cancer screening, using sunscreen and promoting a better understanding of the seriousness of melanoma. It’s not “just” skin cancer. The MRF relies on our advocates and messengers to provide this valuable information to their communities.

Carolyn Edrington
Melanoma Research Foundation

Perseverance is key to reach your goal. You can achieve great things if you are focused and motivated.  Taking on a cause related resolution by yourself can be a daunting task, so create a plan to accomplish your goals and set milestones, track your progress and keep a positive ‘can do’ attitude. Make 2012 your greatest year yet!

Happy New Year!

Coolibar

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SunAWARE

While Melanoma Treatments Advance, Prevention Remains Key

Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, isn’t going away. In fact, The National Cancer Institute previously estimated in 2011 that 70,230 people would be diagnosed with melanoma and 8,790 would die of melanoma of the skin. While two major melanoma treatment advancements have made headlines over the past year, it’s even more important to remember that the best way to fight this disease is prevention.

When caught early, melanoma can usually be cured with surgery alone, but once it metastasizes, treatment options become limited. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for stage IV melanoma is about 15% to 20%. Yervoy™ (Ipilimumab) and Zelboraf™ (Vemurafenib) are two new late stage melanoma fighting drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Yervoy is the first melanoma drug to receive FDA approval in 13 years. It’s also the first proven treatment to extend overall survival for late stage melanoma patients. “Yervoy may offer many patients a 2-year survival advantage, with a smaller percentage of patients being virtually cured,” claims the Skin Cancer Foundation’s (SCF) report the new drug.

B-RAF
Crystallographic structure of B-Raf (rainbow colored, N-terminus = blue, C-terminus = red) complexed with vemurafenib (spheres, carbon = white, oxygen = red, nitrogen = blue, chlorine = green, fluorine = cyan, sulfur = yellow). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3OG7.png

According to the SCF, Zelboraf, approved later in the year by the FDA, is the first targeted genetic therapy of its kind to treat advanced metastatic melanoma patients whose tumors have a specific mutation in the BRAF gene that’s present in 40-60 percent of melanomas. While both drugs represent a step towards a cure for melanoma, in most cases, these treatments only extend the life of advanced stage melanoma patients, and a cure for melanoma has yet to be discovered.

Even though melanoma, in particular late stage, is difficult to treat once it occurs, the good news is that skin cancer, including melanoma is preventable in many cases. Over exposure to UVA and UVB rays produced by the sun or artificial ultraviolet light (i.e. tanning beds) can form genetic mutations in the skin, which leaves those who have burned or tanned susceptible to all forms of skin cancer later in life. UV radiation is considered the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs), including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The SCF says NMSCs strike more than 250,000 Americans each year. Experts also believe UV radiation may also cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

By protecting yourself from UV rays (both artificial UV from tanning beds and naturally occurring UV from the sun) and performing routine skin checks, you’ll not only help reduce the incidence of skin cancers, but improve your overall skin appearance and health. Skin sun damage is cumulative, so there is still time to grab a bottle of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen, a wide brim hat, UV sunglasses and look into adding sun protective clothing to your wardrobe.

Photo credit: anolobb

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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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