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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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