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Skin Diaries

Fighting Fires and Melanoma

I’m a firefighter. Someone once lovingly called us a group of “macho bastards”. We’re tough, self-sacrificing, and stubborn. The day my future disappeared, my macho demeanor suddenly changed to extremely vulnerable and fearful.

I was an active, healthy man and a fireman for Pete’s sake. It wasn’t until I became a father that my perception of the need for sun protection changed. Our family photographer, Tracy Callahan, launched the Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation after being diagnosed with skin cancer. I recognized her efforts to raise awareness about the importance or early detection and prevention. She encouraged me to make an appointment with a dermatologist. I went out of support more than anything.

On May 20th, in a quick 15-minute appointment I had one mole on my back biopsied and was sent on my way as the doctor assured me that everything should be fine. Four days later a nurse called and things began to change quickly. The biopsy was malignant, and my doctor was scheduling an appointment at the University of North Carolina.

“Firefighters are diagnosed with melanoma at younger ages—an average of 42 compared with 64 for the U.S. population.”
– The Skin Cancer Foundation

While I was still recovering from this news, the phone range again. It was the oncology department advising me to come in as soon as possible. I was going to an oncologist. A doctor who treats cancer. As I sat in my appointment the next day listening to the doctor use words like “excision”, “margins”, “sentinel lymph nodes”, “out of work for weeks”, and last but not least “cancer”, the realization and shock that I was in trouble really started to sink in.

After spending the Memorial Day holiday with my family and five-year-old son, I went in for surgery on June 7, 2016 to have the cancer removed. It all happened in the course of a morning and I was sent home heavily bandaged with a drain tube in my side, an abdominal binder wrapped around me, and NO idea what was next.

All I could do was try to rest and recover while I waited for the doctor to call and let me know if they got all the cancer. For days I just prayed and between prayers, I would cry over the life I could lose and what my family’s future would look like without me. Yes, when faced with your own mortality, career firefighters cry. When I finally got word that I was in the clear I wanted to scream from the rooftops! I immediately shared the news with my friends, family and coworkers, all of whom had been so encouraging and supportive.

I owed my life to Tracy Callahan and Polka Dot Mama. She got me to get checked. She saved this stubborn fireman’s life. Literally. What shocked me was that she was the only source of the information I needed to survive. Tracy was the only one that made me aware of the dangers of skin cancer. I wanted to make sure my friends and family were safe. I wanted to protect my firefighting brothers and sisters from skin cancer.

“Men are more likely to die of melanoma than women. This is true at any age.”
– American Academy of Dermatology

Cancer is not a new word around the firehouse, we are exposed to some of the most toxic carcinogens known to man. Firefighters experience cancer-related deaths at a 14 percent higher rate than the U.S. general public. We often focus on our lungs, or prostate, but our largest organ is our skin, and it absorbs everything. As fellow firefighter Mark Rine discovered when he was diagnosed with terminal stage 4 melanoma, occupational cancer is real.

Organizations like the Firefighter Cancer Support Network are working to remind firefighters of the importance of taking steps to protect themselves on and off the job. I’m doing my best to help spread the word wherever I can. I now bear the scars to show what not being sun safe can do to your body. I’m certain that the people around me, especially my colleagues, are sick of hearing me get on them about being sun safe and wearing protective clothing AND sunscreen. But you know what? If I save just one life, just one, it will have been completely worth it.

Story originally shared by Polka Dot Mama on June 23, 2016.

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Live Wisely What's Hot

2018 Coolibar Guide to Showing Someone You Care

“One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.”
Skin Cancer Foundation

The need for sun protection is universal. Whether you live in a hot or cold climate or have fair or dark skin, we all need to be mindful of our exposure to UV rays. Coolibar recommends gifting UPF 50+ protection to the people you love most as a way to help them live a sun-safe lifestyle while enjoying the outdoor adventures they love most.

For tiny cuties who already love the water:

“Because babies have thinner skin, sunscreen is not recommended for infants under 6 months of age.”
Skin Cancer Foundation

For the “big kiddos” you love to the sun and back:

“Even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma.”
Skin Cancer Foundation

For the sun protection-resistant men in your life:

“By age 50 men are more likely than women to develop melanoma. This number jumps by age 65 making men two times more likely as women of the same age to get melanoma.”
American Academy of Dermatology

For global-trotting sun seekers:

Travel destinations like Hawaii are starting to ban sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs.

For adventures in and on the water:

“Many surfaces reflect UV radiation and add to the overall UV levels you experience. Water reflects 10%; sea foam reflects 25% and sand reflects 15% UV rays.”
– World Health Organization

For the garden party goddess that craves a touch of glamour:

“About 90% of visible skin changes such as aging, wrinkles, brown spots or leathery skin are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays and can be minimized by sun protective clothing.”
Skin Cancer Foundation

For someone who needs a little extra support:

“Melanoma is not just a skin cancer. It can develop anywhere on the body – eyes, scalp, nails, feet, mouth, etc.”
Melanoma Research Foundation

For EVERYONE spending time in the sun

“For every inch of brim you wear, you reduce your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. So a 6” brim means 60% risk reduction.”
– Skin Cancer Foundation

 

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

 

 

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Together We Will

Together We Will… Navigate Skin Cancer Prevention, Detection and Treatment

Some people are born for the careers they choose. Others wake up one day thinking they need a change, then suddenly discover they’re meant to help save lives. That’s what happened to Dan Latore, Executive Director of The Skin Cancer Foundation. He’d never dreamed he’d work for a cancer foundation, but now his job is to dream up ways to elevate the Foundation’s purpose and mission.

COOLIBAR: How did you become the Executive Director of The Skin Cancer Foundation?

LATORE: I don’t think anyone grows up thinking they want to be the executive director of a cancer foundation. But twelve years after I joined the team here, I still love it.

C: You started your career as an ad and sales guy, what is it about The Skin Cancer Foundation that has kept you going for over a decade?

L: The results. They’re not about ROI on ad dollars spent or sales numbers, they’re about people. One of my favorite stories is about a woman who donated $20 on behalf of her husband Gus who had passed from melanoma. It was all she could spare, but it was important to her to give to an organization that could potentially help the next “Gus”. We hear stories like this every day. When you have the ability to touch people’s lives through the work you do, there is nothing more inspiring.

C: How do you do it? How do you and your colleagues continue to support this community in such an impactful way?

L: The work we do is so essential when it comes to helping people through every stage of diagnosis and from every vantage point, whether they’re a patient, doctor or caregiver. We literally save lives with early detection programs like Destination: Healthy Skin, our RV that travels across the country to screen and educate people about melanoma. SkinCancer.org is often THE source for information. Nearly 9 million people each year look to our website to get the answers they need. Our Seal of Recommendation and information—all verified by physicians and dermatologists—help break through the fear. Knowledge is power. We are all about empowering people to get the right diagnosis, the right treatment and the right help.

C: Donors and potential donors want to know…where does the money go and how do you decide how much is donated?

L: We’re 100% a people-driven non-profit. Every dollar we get whether it’s $20 from a personal donor or a $25,000 grant is meant to save lives either through education, advocacy or research. It’s our job to ensure that every donation is used in a way that is smart, efficient, impactful and durable. We’ve worked with the government and National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention to tackle issues like tanning bed regulations and FDA limits on sunscreen ingredients. We source and support “Young Investigators”, or doctors who are poised to make scientific breakthroughs. Most importantly, we educate people.

C: What progress have you seen on behalf of your mission?

L: Currently, the incidence of melanoma and skin cancer are on the rise, but mortality rates are falling. This is progress. We want more people to get checked and diagnosed early so that they can be treated, and lives can be saved. We’ve turned early detection into a trend alongside rash guards for children, higher SPF in retail stores, and sun protection clothing for sportsmen. We’re also seeing the impact of our “Go With Your Own Glow” campaign with celebrities embracing their natural skin tone and devaluing the beauty standard of tanning.

C: Can you share a personal story about the important work SCF does?

L: There have been SO many stories! One that stands out is Linda Nagel. Linda lost her husband Todd Nagel, to melanoma ten years ago when he was in his mid-thirties. Since then she has hosted The Todd Nagel Open, a golf tournament that raises about $25,000 annually for skin cancer research. With her help, we grant the amount to a “Young Investigator” poised to make a difference. I look forward to the day when one of Linda’s doctors makes a breakthrough in honor of her late husband.

C: What is the most important thing you want our readers to know about the Skin Cancer Foundation?

L: We’re here to help. One of our most vital assets is SkinCancer.org. Google “skin cancer” and you will get a large number of resources available. When someone is diagnosed, they are overwhelmed and confused. Through our network of doctors, we can provide credible information and resources that support patients and caregivers in a way that is understandable. We work hard to help everyone find what they need quickly and effectively.  It’s all a part of our mission to save lives through education, prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment of the world’s most common cancer.

 

Latore and his team will be at The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Champions for Change Gala this Thursday, October 25th at the Plaza in New York City. To learn more about the event or to make a donation please visit: https://www.skincancer.org/events/gala.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Norah O’Donnell

I never thought I would hear the words that I had been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. And I admit, the first thing I did was cry. And then, I felt really sorry for myself. It took some time but then I realized that as a wife and a mother, I had to be strong.

But it is difficult to be strong when one feels incredibly vulnerable. My diagnosis was the first time I confronted my own mortality. It was also the first time I think my children did as well.

“So, wait, you have cancer?” asked my 8-year-old daughter Riley.

“Yes, but we are going to cut it out!” I replied optimistically.

“Is there any chance you can die from the surgery?” asked my 9-year-old son Henry

“I’m absolutely not going to die,” I assured him. “I mean, eventually I will. But not from this surgery.” When I left my daughter’s bedroom I felt horrible for sharing with them that I was having a relatively minor surgery. There was no need for me to worry them.

But I was scared and, perhaps selfishly, really appreciated their deep concern. Over the next few months after the surgery, my daughters, Riley and Grace, took turns at putting a healing ointment on the scar on my back, which I couldn’t reach.

“Oh mom, it looks soooo much better today,” my darling Riley would say, providing such positive feedback.

My dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Hale, made the diagnosis early. I had the surgery January 2017, which included a 3-inch incision and about 25 stitches. The scar has healed, but is still quite visible. It is a reminder that early detection saves lives.

Part of my preventative care now means that I return to Dr. Hale every three to four months for full-body checks to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Each visit requires the strength to confront the scary possibility that she will find another malignant mole.

The reality is that I can prevent a truly devastating diagnosis now with frequent check-ups. The harder truth I’ve come to learn is that I could have prevented the cancer altogether.

“More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking,” Dr. Hale told me. Just think about that.

Well, I am doing more than just thinking about it. I’m telling my children that while skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, it is also the most preventable.

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where jumping in the pool wasn’t just leisurable, it was one of the only ways to cool off! With the temperature pushing 100 degrees in the summer, we spent hours in the pool, many times without sunscreen. In high school, I would visit a tanning salon during the winter. I confessed this history to Dr. Hale who told me, “People that indoor tan before the age of 35 years have a 75% increased chance of melanoma.”

I know I made some bad choices. Those attempts to get a tan likely led to my cancer. But by sharing this with my children and others, I hope that my story can help all of us learn some valuable lessons and have the strength to embrace prevention.

Skin Cancer Facts can be found at http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

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Events Parenting SunAWARE

Pretty for Prom? Tanning Isn’t Part of the Routine Anymore

Pretty Prom - Coolibar

It’s prom season again, which means thousands of teens – girls and boys – flock to their local indoor tanning salons in search of a healthy glow for the big night out. But before they do, the Skin Cancer Foundation has some information for you about tanning for the prom.

Teens tend to be concerned about young-looking skin, and the SCF points out that 90% of changes to the skin that most people associate with aging are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Tanning leads to wrinkles, spots and an aged look early in life; they can start to appear even before the indoor tanner turns 30.

This doesn’t even touch on the dangers of developing skin cancer, including melanoma. Here are just a few, from SunAWARE:

  • Exposure to tanning beds before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75%.
  • More than one million people visit tanning salons every day. Of these, approximately 71% are girls and young women aged 16-29.
  • Young women, under the age of 39, have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancer except breast cancer.
  • Ninety percent of pediatric melanoma cases occur in girls aged 10-19.

What Can You Do Instead?

Through its Go With Your Own GlowTM campaign, the Skin Cancer Foundation promotes skipping the tan altogether – the best look for the prom, or any other time, is your own natural skin color. In case the allure of tan skin is still too great from prom-goers, the foundation also suggests sunless, or UV-free, tanners.

And, if you or someone you know is planning on bronzing up for prom courtesy of an indoor tanning booth, Coolibar has a book for you. Pretty Prom – Your Skin is Pretty Too by Mary Mills Barrow and Maryellen Maguire-Eisen provides a short, convincing account of what’s at stake in exchange for looking tan on prom night.

Coolibar offers Pretty Prom courtesy of SunAWARE. Stay safe, and Stay SunAware!

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Routinely Check Skin Wellness Warriors

A Love Story From the Road to Healthy Skin Tour

On its sixth year, the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Road to Healthy Skin Tour continues to travel across the country providing free skin checks to the public. This mobile tour kicks off in the New York City area in May for Skin Cancer Awareness Month and concludes end of August on the West Coast.  Since the tours inception, volunteer dermatologist have performed over 16,000 skin checks, detected nearly 7,000 suspected cancers and precancers and 295 possible melanomas. Tour Event Managers Christie Farhat and Chris Alvarez have traveled with the Tour for five years and four years respectively.  Together, they are making a difference in the fight against skin cancer.

In 2009, Christie was in Miami for a screening event and was having difficulty finding parking for the Tour RV. A gentleman, who was a hotel manager where she was staying, stepped forward to help her out. It was Chris and they’ve been together ever since! Chris joined the Tour team the next season and the two of them have been making a difference together around the country year after year.

This year, Christie and Chris wore Coolibar UPF 50+ clothing for their nation-wide tour. Having to set up each of the 50 events around the country themselves, durability is important. Comfort is also a priority since they drive long distances often. “Christie and Chris like Coolibar fabrics, find they wash well and are very easy to wear,” said Whitney Potter, Director of Special Projects at the SCF. Christie’s favorite item is the lightweight Water Jacket and Chris loves the Plaid Shirts! “They’ve both received a lot of compliments on their attire — mainly from the volunteer dermatologists who recognize the brand and appreciate its protection from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays,” said Potter. In the spirit of skin cancer prevention, “covering up” with Coolibar is key for Christie and Chris since they spend a lot of time outside in the summer sun during the Tour season.

For more information on the Road to Healthy Skin Tour, visit www.SkinCancer.org/Tour

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