“We’re going to keep stepping up and doing our part to prevent skin cancer through early detection. When it comes to making a difference, it’s all about showing up.”
I went to the beach with my children for a summer holiday in 2018. When we returned home, I noticed a bump near my nose. My first thought was, “A pimple? At this age? I better ramp up my face care routine”. After a week of scrubbing, and trying other blemish remedies, the bump was still there. It was time to see a dermatologist.
The ensuing (my first ever) appointment with a dermatologist changed my life. She started out by asking some background questions.
Doctor: What’s your personal skin history?
Me: Fair skinned guy that grew up in Florida during the 80’s.
Doctor: What was your SPF use while growing up?
Me: Cocoa butter and tanning oil.
Doctor: What is your family skin history.
Me: Older brother with multiple skin cancers including melanoma.
Doctor: Arches her eyebrow and responds… Let’s take a look.
Thirty seconds later…
Doctor: You have skin cancer.
I remember thinking, “Wow, she gets right to it”. But then my years of military training kicked in and my thoughts switched to, “OK, how do we take care of this?” She walked me through my options:
- Measure it and see if it grows
- Biopsy it and find out what it is
I asked, “How is number 1 even an option?” Apparently, it’s not, but they’ve gotten feedback that people liked to have options for treatment, so they added number 1. I had the sense to choose to cut it off.
When the pathology report came back, I was stunned. I had malignant cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Years later, I’ve learned that there are much more severe and aggressive types of cancer that are more difficult to treat. But in that moment, I was terrified. I had cancer. There is a common theme in conversations I’ve had with others about their own cancer experiences: the moment when you learn you have cancer is as significant an emotional event as you will ever have.
So what now? I lived in the DC area, so I was sent to Walter Reed Medical Center to undergo MOHS surgery to remove the cancer. The fantastic team there got all of it. It was the most amazing news I think I’ve ever heard. And just like that, my cancer story shifted from that of a patient to a survivor.
My cancer story is a positive one. I know full well it could have been far worse, but I had paid attention to changes in my skin and I had access to health care. Those two things made all the difference. I began to wonder about those that aren’t aware of the importance of prevention and self-exams, and who don’t have access to health care. Having survived skin cancer because of early detection, I set out to find a way to do something about it.
The fact that really caught my attention was this…
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America, but it is also the most treatable, with early detection.
Awesome…then why don’t we just detect it early for heaven’s sake? If the cure for skin cancer is to find it early, then why do we do vision checks every year but not skin checks? Why is a skin screening a C priority in peoples’ lives, instead of an A priority? I knew there had to be a way to get educated eyes looking at more people’s skin. I had a conversation with an artist friend that helped me switch the lights on and find an answer.
I had approached Pat McGee, a singer/songwriter/friend of more than 20 years, about playing a one-year cancer free show for me and some friends. Our initial conversation was pretty…real.
Me: What do you think Pat?
Pat: I think it sounds remarkably self-indulgent.
Me: What if we raised money at the show and gave it to a charity.
Pat: Getting better.
A friend in the medical philanthropy world jumped in with the idea of doing multiple concerts to raise money. LIGHT BULB! The three of us outlined a plan for an organization that would focus on skin cancer awareness AND would get people started by giving them much-needed free screenings. We Rock Cancer was born.
That one-year cancer free concert morphed into a We Rock Cancer launch event where half the attendees opted to be screened, and half of those that were screened had issues identified that required a dermatologist follow up or biopsy. We were amazed. We had found a way to enable early detection and provide people with the information they needed to take action in a timely manner. All while they were attending a rock concert. At the end of the event, one of our volunteer dermatologists observed:
“You guys have found a way to make skin cancer screenings cool!”
Since that night, a team of amazing volunteers has come together to grow our mission capability and our reach. We immediately identified a mission goal to conduct free screenings for those that work in sun-intense occupations—landscapers, construction workers, lifeguards, golf course workers, etc. We also started an outreach program to provide screenings focused on musicians and those in the music industry. The artists and techs that are the key to our public engagement often have extremely limited access to health care.
We also started a Youth Ambassador Program, so that we could help students and young adults be the messengers of sun safety in their school and athletic team environments. We provide them with information and checklists to identify opportunities to improve sun safety and to work with organization leaders to make improvements. Getting this information to young people at an age when they are first making decisions on their own regarding sun safety is essential to successfully prevent future skin cancers.
What’s next? We are gratified that our message is resonating with those that realize spending a few dollars on prevention and early detection is the key to avoiding the dangers and expenses that come with skin cancer. We’re going to keep stepping up and doing our part to prevent skin cancer through early detection. When it comes to making a difference, it’s all about showing up. We’re grateful that our efforts garnered the attention of Coolibar. We’re in this mission together and are so grateful that they continue to show up for non-profits like us. We look forward to sharing their support with our community!