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This is Brave

This is Brave: Coolibar Inc.

CEO Kendra Reichenau and Coolibar are DETERMINED to change the statistics

The reality is, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and one person dies of melanoma every hour. These statistics are harrowing.

On Melanoma Monday, May 7th, we revealed a limited-run tee shirt in support of our mission to keep the world safe from sun damage. The proceeds from the sale of this commemorative tee shirt, inspired by a 10-year child impacted by a melanoma diagnosis, will go directly to the Melanoma Research Foundation in support of research, education and advocacy.

After a skin cancer or melanoma diagnosis, life alters dramatically for the individual and everyone around them. It takes courage, determination, and advocacy to elevate the fight against this terrible disease in the hope of one day extinguishing it. For the month of May, we have joined forces with some of the true heroes in this fight, who have bravely come forward to share their real-life journeys as skin cancer and melanoma warriors. Depicted in photos and written in their own words, each story brings the reality of this immoderate disease to life, utilizing the most powerful insight.

We are honored and humbled to share these stories with you to raise awareness and encourage you to join us in the fight.

Together we can change the statistics. Be DETERMINED.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Janet KJ103

I’m “that girl”. The girl who begged her mom to sign a permission slip so she could use the tanning bed at 16.  I’m the girl who would proclaim that “tan fat looks better than white fat” as she would hop into the tanning bed before heading out on summer vacation.  I’m the runner girl who trains and runs half marathons without wearing a hat or sunscreen.  I’m also the girl who never thought skin cancer would happen to her.  So when I was told that I had basal and squamous cell skin cancer on my nose, I was shocked to say the least. I didn’t even have a spot that I thought looked suspicious!

Before I knew it, I had a dime size hole in my nose and I was talking to a plastic surgeon about the procedure to pull a vein from my forehead to feed a skin flap that would be placed on my nose.  I would have two surgeries within a month.  One to create the forehead flap that would remain in place for three weeks. The other surgery would be to fix all the damage they were about to create.

Every doctor I saw during this process reassured me that it was “just basal cell”.  Those words, “just basal cell” led me to create a Facebook live video showing off an up-close look at my forehead flap because “just basal cell” sure did mess up my face.

The hard reality that no matter the type of skin cancer, it’s impact will change your life.  Soon I was receiving messages from all over the country from people who went thru the exact same procedure. People who didn’t leave their house for three weeks because of the way they looked.  People who felt all alone during their entire process. They told me that my story brought them comfort and that they admired me for being brave. Let me tell you this, I didn’t put my story out there because I was brave. I put my story out there because I was loved.  I was loved by so many people that I didn’t know I should hide out. I was showered with the type of love that pulls you out of a dark valley and places you high on the mountain top… Where you’ll be sure to wear sunscreen! Since I was so loved, it was my duty to share that love with others.  Love allows you to be brave, be strong, be vigilant, be a light… BE LOVE!

 

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Cindy Brodie

My journey began with a very small, brown spot on my nose that looked like an age/sun spot.  My “spot” did not itch or burn and was asymptomatic, other than the fact that it would not go away. As a former sun-worshiper, I was no stranger to these “spots”, but I put off seeing my dermatologist until AFTER a holiday trip to Mexico because I didn’t want a small scar on my nose for the trip.

My biopsy indicated the presence of melanoma, but early stage 1. Within a couple of Weeks, Dr. Jerome Potozkin performed the surgical procedure to ensure all margins were clear. Looking at my face right after the procedure made me feel scared and anxious, and wondering if I would ever look the same. The procedures the doctors were discussing for reconstruction sounded barbaric, and I found myself wondering how such a small spot could cause such major surgical procedures to repair.  But I knew the journey had just begun.

Seven days later, I went under general anesthesia for the 1st of several surgeries. Dr. Jonathan Sykes, my plastic surgeon, utilized cartilage from my ear and a skin graft flap from my forehead to rebuild my nostril.  My “trunk” provided a live feed to help regrow my nose and allow the cartilage to settle into the open space. This “trunk” remained on my face for 3 weeks, which was painful and humiliating. I went back to my doctor every 2-3 days to ensure there was no infection and to clean the wounds. I was terrified to leave the house during this time. After the removal of my “trunk” and 9 months of healing, I went back to see Dr. Sykes for another reconstruction.

 

The entire process, from the “sun spot” on my nose to the photo you see here, took one year. I am grateful to Dr. Potozkin for the early detection. It could have been so much worse. I am grateful to my plastic surgeon, Dr. Sykes for reconstructing my face. I am grateful to be sharing my story with you today. If my story motivates you to call your board-certified dermatologist today to make your annual skin exam appointment, then my heart is full.

Cindy has been cancer free for 2 years and continues to have her skin checked every three months, as early detection is key.

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Live Wisely

How to Share Your Skin Cancer Story to Help Others

It’s no secret that personal experience carries more weight than any statistical fact ever will. You could be told repeatedly that you should wear sunscreen, have regular skin checkups and upgrade your clothing to UV protected fabrics, but it doesn’t hold the same true meaning as having someone explain their own painful journey. Over the past 30 years, more individuals have been diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined and there are many ways your story can educate change.

  • Speak openly with family and friends

For many, the journey to open-up can be difficult, but this is the opportunity to help prevent your loved ones from being diagnosed. Emotionally, a cancer diagnosis affects everyone, so words of advice and tips hold value to the people closest to you. Along with the educational aspect, storytelling benefits therapeutically. No experience is the same, but for the most timid of survivors, putting your story into words helps you as much as the ones you love.

  • Share your story online

Remember the desperate searching for answers after your diagnosis? Organizations such as Melanoma Research Foundation and Skin Cancer Foundation want to give you a platform to share your personal story. Regardless of the current state of your skin cancer, your shared experience can too enlighten and support a diagnosed patient with similar circumstances.

  • Get out of your comfort zone

Some people were born courageous; others may have courage thrust upon them. This past May, several brave individuals shared their skin cancer battles in our Let’s Get Gross Campaign—like Judy, a Skin Cancer Warrior, pictured in this blog. There’s no denying images and scars can be difficult to look at, but they are visual cues and awareness-builders of UV over-exposure. Instead of hiding the blemishes, positively take advantage of your social media presence and bravely show the true dark side of skin cancer.

Regardless of your path, remember that you’re in the unique role of educator. With your personal story, you may be able to help prevent skin cancer for people across the globe.

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Expert Rx Success Stories Wellness Warriors

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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