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This is Brave

Welcome to ‘This is Brave’

We’re on a Mission to Protect and Prevent in 2020

Warriors Advocate for Skin Cancer Prevention and Protection During a Pandemic

Coolibar launched This is Brave in 2018 when a young girl stepped up and reminded us all of the importance of advocating for and supporting individuals with skin cancer. When Quinn told her brother Graham to Be Brave, she was reminding us all that we can do this! We can battle through and no matter what the outcome might be, we’re better when we can Be Brave together.

In 2020, the third year of our This is Brave campaign and first year as the Official Apparel Partner of the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF), our mission remains the same but the need for support is even greater. In the past few months, the world has shifted significantly in terms of patient care, research funding, and non-profit outreach. Key fundraising events like Miles for Melanoma have been postponed, and we’re working with the MRF and our community to find ways to continue funding life-saving research, and support patients and advocates across the country.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime whether there is a pandemic or not. #CancerHasNoCurve. The good news, the MRF and the greater melanoma community continues to be strong and active. Patients and advocates have done everything from taking the message of prevention and protection cross-country, to telling a neighbor to care for their skin and get checked. You are amazing. Everything you’re doing counts!

A lot will change forever in 2020, but the need for skin cancer prevention and protection will not. If you’re able, we’re asking you to support skin cancer awareness and the MRF this May, Melanoma Awareness Month. Here is how you can help:

  1. Read the awe-inspiring stories of our Brave warriors and share them with your friends and family. Awareness can save lives!
  2. Consider donating to the MRF. They’ve created wonderful virtual programs to ensure that the funding for research and education remains strong.
  3. Purchase a 2020 This is Brave UPF 50+ T-Shirt for yourself or send it to someone as a sun-safe gift for a cause. The proceeds go directly to the MRF.

Thank you for all that you do and remember…together we can BE BRAVE!

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Live Wisely Quiz

How Much Do You Know About Skin Cancer? | QUIZ

Results

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#1 True or False: Melanoma only occurs on the skin

It can ALSO develop anywhere on the body – eyes, scalp, nails, feet, mouth, etc.

#2 True or False: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.

FACT: More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

#3 What percentage of melanoma cases are thought to be caused by exposure to UV light and sunlight?

#4 True or False: More people develop lung cancer because of smoking than develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning.

Actually, more people will develop skin cancer due to tanning beds.

#5 What is the 5-year survival rate for those who detect and treat melanoma before it spreads to the lymph nodes?

The importance of early detection is crucial. If detected after spreading to lymph nodes, the percentage drops all the way to 64%.

#6 Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women of what age group?

It’s the leading cause of cancer death for 25-30 and 2nd for women ages 30-35.

#7 True or False: At least 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70

#8 True or False: The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white women over the age of 50.

It is actually white MEN over the age of 50 that are most at risk.

#9 True or False: Only people with fair skin are at risk of skin cancer

Skin cancer can affect ANYONE, regardless of skin color or ethnicity.

#10 What is the most common form of skin cancer?

Basal cell (BCC) is the most common form with an estimated 4.3 million cases in the U.S. each year. Squamous cell is the 2nd most common with more than 1 million cases each year.

finish

Sources:

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Live Wisely Wear to Where

When to Wear a Sun Hat

Some of the most common places to be diagnosed with skin cancer – face, scalp, and ears – are located on your head… So choosing to wear a hat, especially one that is UPF 50+, just makes sense. The bigger challenge is trying to figure out when it is most crucial to have one on your noggin.

Reading a Good Book on the Beach

Whether it’s the ocean or poolside, having your favorite read
teamed up with a wide-brim hat is the duo you’ve been looking for. Spend more
time getting into that New York Bestseller and less time worried about the sun.

Coolibar Choice:

Hitting Up the Country Club

Have a membership at the local country club? Hours of direct sunlight on the golf course or tennis courts adds up and can be detrimental to your skin health. With the reapplication of sunscreen and a good hat on your head, you should comfortably be able to play 18 holes unscathed by the sun.

Coolibar Choice:

Fishing on the Lake

Summer is all about going up to the cabin, taking the boat
out and taking advantage of the good weather. For the big fishers out there
that just love being on the water and lose track of time easily, a hat with
extended coverage is vital because of the straight hours of direct sunlight and
the UV rays reflecting off the water. 

Coolibar Choice:

Running Errands Around Town

It’s your day off and it has to be spent buying groceries,
stopping by the bank, picking up the kids from school, going to the dentist’s
office and countless other things on your agenda. With all that scheduled for
your day, the accumulated UV rays add up quickly!

Pro tip: Keep a packable sun hat in your car or purse to always be ready for the sun.

Coolibar Choice:

Paired with the Perfect Outfit

A very underrated piece of an outfit that can really bring the whole look together is a well-styled hat. There may be no better time to have a perfectly selected wide-brim hat than for a Kentucky Derby party or event!

If you are struggling to find the right one, our team has designed a guide to help you find the perfect hat that works with your face shape.

Coolibar Choice:

Taking the Dog for a Walk

Our furry companions need their exercise too, it’s an important part of being a pet owner. With that being said, typically, you’re taking the dog out for a little stroll during the day while UV rays are present. It shouldn’t be a very time-intensive chore to get prepped for a walk! Simply apply a little SPF 30+ sunscreen and a hat… and voilà!

Coolibar Choice:

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

This one is for you adventure seekers that love camping in the woods and exploring nature! If you’re the weekend warrior that joins every hiking group they can, you need a great sun hat paired with some long sleeves.

Coolibar Choice:

Regardless of the activity, you’re doing and the style you choose, make sure to get in the habit of wearing sunscreen on your face with your hat to help lessen the chances of extreme sun exposure even when wearing a hat .

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Live Wisely

Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?

ANSWER: Sadly, yes.

We were as disappointed as you are to find this out. In fact, the common forms we develop are what also affect them – melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Although most dog breeds are at risk, Jill Abraham, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist in New York City, told the Skin Cancer Foundation that the ones with “light-colored, short coats and less hair on the belly” are the most vulnerable. Before you start slathering sunscreen on your dog (Yes, you can put sunscreen on a dog), there are a few tips to help your furry companion live a safer life in the sun.

Limit Sun Exposure

Like us, dogs can get sunburned. Ever notice when a dog’s skin looks a little red after coming back inside? Sunburn. We all know how much they love laying out in the backyard sunbathing in the grass, but limiting the amount of time they have in direct sunlight during the strongest hours (between 10am and 4pm) is crucial. Helping encourage them to shady areas is a very good compromise to beating the sun.

Sunscreen

We weren’t kidding! Dogs 100% can wear sunscreen and it is actually strongly recommended by Richard Goldstein, DVM and chief medical officer of the Animal Medical Center in New York City.

A dog’s skin can be damaged by the sun just like our own, so they require the same protection against the development of sunburn and skin cancer.

Richard Goldstein, DVM and Chief Medical Officer of the Animal Medical Center (PetMD)

Here’s a video from Banfield Pet Hospital to cover the rest of the important basics to know about sunscreen and dogs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NywEcCwltSs
Video created by Banfield Pet Hospital
Sun Protective Clothing

Hear us out on this one. For the pets with no escape from the sun, you could use some of your older UPF 50+ tops and wrap it around them or even see if it fits without too much struggle. It might sound a little ridiculous, but even Dr. Abraham thinks it’s a viable option. And to be honest, it is always cute to see a dog running around in a t-shirt.

When it comes to our loyal buddies, keeping them safe is a no brainer! One of the biggest final tips on dog skincare is just building up the consciousness of knowing when your dog is receiving too much sun. Now get out there, grab a Frisbee and enjoy a sun-safe life with your loving, furry best friend.

Resources:

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Skin Diaries

Julie Smith: “I may have Stage IV Melanoma, but it doesn’t have me.”

I was first diagnosed with melanoma on April 11th, 2013. I had a mole on my right shoulder blade that itched and would bleed. My family physician removed the mole, then called to let me know it was melanoma. A surgeon removed the rest of it and I was labeled “cancer-free”. At the time, I was grateful that I didn’t need to remove any lymph nodes or get a CT scan, I simply needed to visit my dermatologist every six months. I felt relief and followed the doctor’s recommendation.  

Then, in December 2017, I was experiencing pain around my stomach and had a hard time breathing. I thought I had pulled a muscle in my back. I visited a chiropractor, but I was still in pain. In March 2018, I contacted my family physician who checked me out and requested a CT Scan. He was initially checking to see if I had a blood clot in my lung, but instead, the results showed a 15cm mass on my right adrenal gland. It was pushing up against my lungs and making it hard for me to breathe.

At this point, my husband and I paused, looked back to my experience in 2013 and completely reconsidered my cancer-free diagnosis. Five years later, after meeting additional oncologists and medical professionals, we knew more and questioned everything that had happened in 2013. Had we been given the opportunity to go back to 2013, we would have taken every additional precautionary test or scan to make sure that the cancer-free diagnosis was accurate. While we had enjoyed five years with a false sense of safety, my cancer had metastasized.

That April, an oncologist biopsied the growth to see what it was and what we’d need to do next. Before the biopsy even happened, I knew I had cancer.  My faith in God has always been very important to me and I’d had a vision where God told me what my diagnosis would be and that I was going to share my story. I could see myself sitting in a room getting chemotherapy while sharing stories with other patients. God was preparing me for my upcoming journey.

I visited my neighbor down the street who was a pastor and asked him to pray with me. He asked me, “If this is cancer, what is your prayer?” I told him that I wanted to pray for the strength and the ability to help others with my story, and vice versa. I wanted to be able to make sure all of us are never alone while we go through this.

On April 9th,
my husband and I saw my Oncologist and he gave us the news. He told us that I
had Stage IV Melanoma that had metastasized and landed on my right adrenal
gland, but it was curable and treatable. Just over a week later, I had surgery
to remove the mass. I was cut from the bottom of my sternum to just past my
belly button. They didn’t get all the cancer out, so I started immunotherapy and Opdivo and Yervoy at the beginning of May. I ended up
in the hospital from mid-July to the beginning of August because the side
effects made me severely sick. But, a PET Scan on August 6th showed
that the mass that started at 15cm had been reduced by almost 6cm! We were
making progress. The side effects continued to the point where I ended up
having a hysterectomy in September.

A PET Scan in
November showed that the mass, which had reached 6.2cm had stopped shrinking.
They put me on oral target medicines called Mekinist and Tafinlar that I take daily. I’m truly blessed
to be able to take this as it only works on someone with the BRAF
gene
. If I didn’t
have that gene, I would not be sharing my story right now. By February 2019 the
mass had shrunk to 4.5cm and I was officially in “partial remission”. My scan
in May 2019 showed a reduction to 2.2 cm. By August of this same year, I
received news that it had reduced another 24%! 

Already this year, I have been stronger and doing a lot more. I had previously lost my job because of the cancer, but I’m happy to report that I was able to go back to work in July 2019. I am working part-time and getting stronger day by day.

I have been
asked numerous times what keeps me going and how I keep a smile on my face. The
answer to that question is this…

Faith. Family. Friends.

We are all put
on this earth for a purpose. My story helped me do something dear to my heart… glorify
God by helping others along their journey. Without the support of my family and
friends and knowing that God is with me always, I don’t know where I would be
right now. There have been times when I’ve been so depressed that I’ve told God
he could take me anytime. I didn’t want to go through anymore. But He has
bigger and brighter plans for me. He’s not done with me and I’m not done
fighting.

Every day, I’m amazed at how far I have come. Today, I am working, able to get outside and enjoy some of the many wonderful things God has created and enjoying time with family and friends, which absolutely means the most to me.

I may have stage IV melanoma, but it doesn’t have me.

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Skin Diaries

A Mission That Goes Beyond a Career

“Dry skin, maybe psoriasis, it’s nothing”, that’s what 3
different dermatologists told me when I asked about a small patch of skin
behind my left ear. It came and went over at least 10 years and sometimes
itched and felt dry. Sometimes I could barely feel it. I obviously couldn’t see
it and they were the experts, so I assumed it was just my sensitive skin acting
up. Maybe I didn’t wash behind my ears enough?

The itchy, dry patch behind my ear was basal cell cancer. Ironically, I was diagnosed 2 weeks after I started working at Coolibar. As VP of Brand Marketing and Creative Services at the time, I was immersing myself in the mission, sun-facts, warrior stories and education about prevention and our unique sun-protective clothing and accessories. It was kind of like Googling “skin cancer” except the knowledge I had gained in my first few weeks at Coolibar was completely factual. I had a heightened awareness of the potential consequences of my diagnosis. Although basal cell cancer is slow growing, I’d had it for over a decade. The voice inside my head immediately began cussing every derm who has ever looked at it and not taken the step to biopsy, even when I was advocating for myself. I was really angry! But that quickly turned into thankfulness for my primary care doctor who had referred me to Dr. Mary Meighan, who listened carefully, asked thoughtful questions and took her time during my annual skin check. I wasn’t even going to say anything about that itchy patch, but I did. Thank goodness.

I have practiced sun-safety for the majority of my life. During
my teen years, I realized that even if I was tan, no one noticed because my
skin is naturally very pale. So, while everyone else was tanning, I decided to
be a rebel and achieve the palest skin possible. That said, I remember getting
burned. In fact, there is a family story about me falling asleep curled up in a
fishing boat and getting sunburned across the exposed strip of skin between my
top and pants around age 3. I personally remember getting a brutal burn on my
back as a teen, after spending the day at a surfing lesson with only SPF 30
lotion to protect me. My father got diagnosed with melanoma in his late 70’s. I
knew it was in my cards. But, as they say, nothing prepares you for that
diagnosis.

The suspense was killing me. How bad was it? I felt humbled by my vanity. I didn’t want a big scar. But the bigger fear was that I didn’t want cancer or any limitation from being a mother to my 10-year old daughter. Dr. Meighan referred me to her colleague at Zell Clinic, Dr. Karl Vance for Mohs surgery. I arrived for surgery and told him that I worked at Coolibar and that I was going to write a blog about my experience to help educate and support others. He was immediately all in and couldn’t have been more accommodating, narrating his every move. He even let me go behind the scenes where he was literally looking thru a microscope at the skin graft he’d just taken from behind my ear. He was making sure he got all the cancer in his first cut and wanted to see a minimum 2mm edge of clean cells all the way around the cut and he said, with some well-earned pride, that it was important for him to retain his stellar record. 99% of his Mohs surgeries got the cancer with the first cut. His record remained intact and so did my ear.

The cancer hadn’t gone very deep and only a little over an inch around. It was tiny compared to the skin cancer warrior’s I’d met on the Coolibar blog. I didn’t need to experience skin cancer to want to work at a mission-driven company like Coolibar. I already knew that tan skin is damaged skin and sun protection promotes anti-aging. My friends who worshipped the sun in their younger years now look their age and I, the eccentric pale girl, often pass for younger. But here I am, a cautionary tale, waiting for the next diagnosis. Hoping it’s not the big M. Take care of your skin! Get skin checks by a qualified dermatologist. Check your loved ones. Self-advocate with your doctors. Spread the word. That’s what I’m doing at Coolibar.

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This is Brave

This is Brave: The Inspiration Behind the Campaign

In 2018, we were introduced to a young girl who inspired our entire organization to “Be Brave”. When her brother Graham was ready to give up after five years of treatments and surgeries for his pediatric melanoma, Quinn reminded him to be brave. He could do it!

Quinn and Graham’s entire family continues to show us, and everyone in the greater melanoma and skin cancer community, what it means to “Be Brave”. Since Graham was first diagnosed, they continue to advocate for education, prevention and research. In fact, they got their start by raising more than $34,000 for cancer research by selling bracelets, which got the attention of President Barack Obama. To learn more about their work visit: www.facebook.com/Grahams-Gift.

This April, Quinn, her mother Cheryl, stepfather Bob, and brothers Graham and Charlie, stopped by the Coolibar offices to talk about the past year and what it has meant to them to “Be Brave”.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Eric Martin

It all started in 2011 with a stubborn scab-like spot on my back. I ignored it thinking it would go away on its own, but after it started to change colors and even bleed I decided to see a dermatologist. While in the waiting room, I was surrounded by posters of melanoma. It looked just like the mark on my back. Before the doctor had even said a word, I knew I had it.

“Am I going to die? What’s going to happen? What’s next?”

Up to this point in my life, I had never really been to a doctor before. I’d never even broken a bone! I was confused and scared. Even more so when my oncologist told me I had a 50/50 shot. Thankfully, my response was to have faith and put my game face on. I found a doctor who specialized in melanoma, Dr. Gregory Daniels at the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

Treatment started with surgery and adjuvant interferon, but it was soon discontinued when another lump was found with more melanoma. The cycle of surgery and interferon was repeated – but the reprieve was short lived. In August 2012, follow-up scans revealed 20 ‘relatively small’ tumors all over my liver. This time, surgery and interferon weren’t going to be enough. My doctor and I decided that the best bet was enrolling in a promising trial investigating tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte – or TIL therapy – at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Steven Rosenberg. Some patients were seeing incredible results, which of course were not guaranteed.

At this point in my life – late 2011 – the stakes seemed higher than ever. My wife just found out she was pregnant with our first child which would be my second. Luckily, the TIL therapy worked. In fact, it was considered a “complete response,” meaning that I wasn’t necessarily cured, but signs of cancer had disappeared. It was a great year for me. My beautiful son was born, I was cancer-free, and things started to look up. Then, three green dots appeared on my right pectoral.

Immediately, I started a second clinical trial examining the experimental combination of nivolumab + ipilimumab. After my first infusion of ipilimumab, I landed in the hospital. The side effects of the immunotherapy were so extreme that I had to drop the ipilimumab altogether. Nivolumab and surgery kept the tumors at bay, but eventually, the spots came back. Tumors were now visible under my skin, and biopsies confirmed, every single one was melanoma.

I started interleukin-2 (IL-2) and over two sessions had 50-60 doses of the medication infused into my bloodstream. Once again, the side effects brought on by activating the immune system reared their ugly head. In all honesty, I wanted to die. It was horrible – easily the worst treatment I’ve ever gone through. I had every side effect that they warn you about. What’s worse, it was all for nothing. The IL-2 didn’t work.

The next two clinical trials I enrolled in were based on vaccines that were injected into my tumors. We saw some results, but the tumors continued to grow. We then tried Keytruda by itself, but after six doses the tumors still continued to grow. At this point, Dr. Daniels had run out of trials to enroll me in, but I was determined not to give up or lose hope.

In late 2017, I tried a new approach and a new clinic three hours north of San Diego, Dr. Omid Hamid at The Angeles Clinic. I’ve been through two clinical trials with Dr. Hamid now and our battle to keep my tumors at bay seems never-ending. But there is a silver lining. My experience motivated me to start my own prevention-focused non-profit organization called Stage FREE Melanoma. I don’t want people to have a story like mine. I want to make a difference. Stage 1 stories are so much easier. If we make early detection easy, fewer people will reach an advanced stage of cancer.

In 2019, we’re launching our mobile dermatology bus to offer free skin screenings and education on melanoma prevention at local parks and beaches in Southern California. We had an amazing “Build the Bus 5K” to raise funds to outfit the bus and get started. It’s going to be a great year for early detection and prevention!

People ask me how I stay positive after nearly a decade of trials and surgeries. I have faith. I know that researchers across the globe are working every day to crack the code and find a treatment that will work. Even if they haven’t beaten my cancer, clinical trials have kept me alive. After nine clinical trials, ten surgeries and more infusions than I can count—I’m still here, eight years after being diagnosed with melanoma. I’ve had ups and downs and have tried practically every FDA-approved therapy for melanoma – but the crux of my story, which all readers need to understand, is that my fight isn’t yet finished. I’m still searching for my silver bullet and the elusive letters N.E.D. (no evidence of disease). In the meantime, I have no intention of letting melanoma get in the way of life. I have faith and I’m going to put it to good use.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Bradly Tomberlin

I was the third person in my family to get melanoma. Not because my family had a genetic form of it…I was simply the third.

My dad Paul had a spot removed from his hand in his 30’s (the 1980’s) and on his scalp and face after he had a heart transplant in 2008. The anti-rejection drugs he had to take effected his immune system and put him more at risk. My sister Natalie also had a melanoma removed but was lucky to catch it early. So, we all knew about melanoma, but generally never thought too much about it.

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve been a male model. Which, for the sake of this story, means that I have had regular visits with a dermatologist – who did, in fact, remove a few moles and things to stay “on the safe side”. Although I was keeping up with my regular appointments, I still was outdoors a lot trying to get a tan and keep what I thought was a good color for modeling. In my younger days when I did more fitness jobs, I was always tan and laying out and even went to tanning beds. It was what you did to get and keep jobs. Just part of the career.

When I lost my mother Sandra to pancreatic cancer in 2016, I was checked to make sure I didn’t have the gene that linked pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Luckily, I didn’t have it.

Then, in January 2017, when I was 42, I had a weird bump on my head that almost felt like a pimple. I kept scratching at it for months thinking it would eventually go away. I finally showed it to my wife Julie, who is a pediatrician and she had me get it checked.

My dermatologist saw it and seemed to know pretty quickly; it was melanoma. She biopsied it right away and rushed the results. Yup. Melanoma. At this point, I was pretty shocked. Finding out you have melanoma is a pretty big bummer. When they said they’d have to cut in wider and deeper around the mole to makes sure they got all the cancer, I got pretty scared and anxious.

They ended up taking a pretty deep-sized cut from my head and creating more scars when they removed the closest lymph nodes in my neck to make sure it hadn’t spread. Thankfully, this is where the fear over my mortality and not knowing how sick I was started to pass. I had a great plastic surgeon help put my scalp back together and my fears moved to my career.

At this point, I was 42 and had been a model for 25 years, but I’d never considered ending my career yet. When it came time to face surgery and plan for the aftermath, I had enough sense to try to salvage my career. My plastic surgeon repaired my scalp in an ‘S’ shape to reduce the visible damage. He did a great job! You can still see the scars if I cut my hair too short, but thankfully my hair covers most of them.

Since the procedures, when I’m not working, I still enjoy being outside. I play golf with my Dad – I’m terrible but it’s a great time together – and I often hike with my wife or go mountain biking. We live in Texas and Utah throughout the year and I always try to wear long-sleeve shirts, sunscreen and hats now. I also see an oncologist every six months and dermatologist every three months. Both my wife and I have increased our awareness of the risks.

Reflecting on all of this, I remember when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and doctors said there was really nothing they could do. They gave us a set period of time that we might have left with her, and that was that. I remember telling her, “You know, none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow.” I’m grateful I’m still here. Grateful that I DID get regular skin checks and found my melanoma in time.

Ultimately, you never know when it’s over. It’s an idea that crosses my mind a bit. For this reason, I’m all the more grateful that I still have more time.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Laurie Rivard

It all started with a patch of flaky, dry skin on my face that would come and go. A friend suggested I have it checked, that’s when my cancer journey began…

I quickly became familiar with the term “punch biopsy”. It’s when your doctor takes a tool that punches out a piece of skin for testing. As you can imagine, it hurts! On my very first visit, they found melanoma on my nose and cheek.

I was shocked that this was happening to me. I shouldn’t have been surprised as my face is always exposed to the sun. In an effort to preserve my appearance, I found the best plastic surgeon around. He was as conservative as he could be but left me with a nose full of stitches. It was extremely humbling to have to wear a huge bandage on my face, but I carried on and healed with little scaring. I was so thankful that my friend was concerned enough to get me to a doctor.

Three months later, I returned for my quarterly appointment and had more spots “punched” out of my face and leg, followed by another cancer diagnosis.

At this point, I remember being mad at my mother for not protecting me from the sun. Truth is, there was so much we didn’t know back then, and still don’t know now! As my children got older, we had many arguments about sunscreen and tanning booths. Along with my friends, they saw what I was going through but assumed they weren’t at risk. I had cancer because I was blonde and fair skinned. Not true.

I was learning how lonely skin cancer can be. I was ashamed that I had opened the door for skin cancer every time I tanned without protection. Every three months, they cut out a little more of me and left me with more and more scars. I felt emotionally and physically disfigured and couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I also had to watch my friends and family keep making mistakes I’d made in the past.

I quietly started to change my way of life because I was afraid of the sun. The Caribbean vacations I used to love were no longer an option. When we’d go on biking trips, I was never comfortable unless we knew it would be very cloudy or shady. When we golfed, I insisted on a golf cart. We started to fall off our friend’s list because I was too high maintenance. I was scared!

While I was rearranging my personal life to fit the sun’s schedule, I continued my quarterly visits to the doctor and found more cancer. This time we used a chemo cream that ate away all the skin on my face and chest. I looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie. I joke about it, but inside I wasn’t laughing. I still had to work, which was the extent of me leaving the house. It’s a very lonely disease. How do you talk to friends about this when you’re hiding inside and they’re out enjoying the sun worry-free?

On my next visit, they removed a piece of my chest about three-inches long and one-inch wide and prescribed more chemo cream. It was extremely painful—a truly bloody mess. I’d sleep on my side and the ooze would dry, then crack when I moved. It was very painful and ugly, but I had to do it. I wore a lot of shawls to cover my chest.

While I was recovering from that, I had two more punch biopsy’s and we found melanoma on my back that left a horrible scar. Luckily, that was the last melanoma I had removed. Over the next few years, I was diagnosed with squamous cell, which thankfully could be taken care of with nitrogen.

In January 2018, I celebrated five years without cancer! I left my appointment wondering who I would celebrate with. People don’t think of skin cancer like they do lung or breast cancer, but people still die from it every day. I celebrated quietly with my husband as I scheduled an annual (not quarterly) check-up. SUCH a wonderful feeling.

These days, I have very few moments of shame or loneliness. I know how to protect and care for myself and can make sure others do too. Sun protective clothing has been a God-send. I can get out and golf, ride bikes and enjoy the pool with my grandchildren without as much fear. I’m finally learning to get back in the sun.

I’m also not alone anymore. I am so thankful for the doctors and dermatologists that help diagnose and treat skin damage before it becomes melanoma. Because of them, everyone is more aware of the risks. Because of my experience, I have the power to make sure others know what they’re up against when they go outside. Everyone has to make their own choices, but I have the knowledge to help keep them safe. For that I’m grateful.

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