Driving melanoma awareness

DSC_7828Written by: Kristi Donahue

My name is Kristi and 3 years ago I was diagnosed with stage 1a melanoma. I knew nothing about this disease at the time. I had a pretty big surgery on my neck to remove the tumor (mole), and have since healed physically. In the past three years, I have learned SO much about this sneaky, ruthless, and deadly disease.

However, I have come to the startling conclusion that there are very few people out there that know anything about melanoma, or in many cases are not even willing to learn. The lack of education and awareness out there, as well as our own personal vanity, is the number one reason that melanoma has taken over the driver’s seat as being the fastest growing cancer in the United States.  The rate of melanoma in people under 30 is increasing faster than any other demographic group.  Pediatric cases are also rapidly rising. While the incidence of many other cancers is on the decline, melanoma is increasing.

DSC_4664I am a barber in Ladera Ranch Ca. and since my diagnosis, I have made it my mission to make my station become a “platform ” for education. It’s covered with melanoma awareness and educational materials. I hand out sunscreen samples and business cards for local dermatologists. I also hand out books that I order regularly from the National Cancer Foundation. I have also ordered a lot of information and material from the Melanoma Research Foundation to hand out as well, using their cards as my business card ;). In my barber chair, I have helped to spot melanoma on two different customers. Through my Facebook page posts, I have had another person get checked and diagnosed with melanoma. My Facebook page is also 100% filled with awareness and education as I share stories of real people daily, both Angels and Warriors. I am dedicated to using Facebook as a vessel to reach as far as I can.

This brings me to my exciting new project that I just completed. It is so important to me to educate and make people aware EVERYWHERE I go and help them to learn about this horrific disease.  Facebook and the barber shop are just not enough for me, and so I wanted to transform my car into a rolling Public Service Announcement.  I wanted to make sure that EVERY inch of useable space on my car shares facts, helpful slogans, photos, and places where we are exposed to UV rays. For example, the baseball field (all outdoor sports), tanning bed, beach/pool, kids playing outside, and even driving. I have added the link to the AMAZING short PSA “Dear 16 year old me” as well as my FB link. I DSC_4642wanted it to be LOUD, impactful, and educational! I wanted people, no matter where I go, or park to see the word melanoma, a word that they probably have a grave misconception of, and want to know more. I want everyone that I pass by, or that passes me by, to take in any little bit of info, that they would NOT have known before. I want this disease to STOP.

We DESPERATELY need to SPREAD AWARENESS, so that this vicious beast gets a cure, and we stop losing these YOUNG beautiful people. I want to OPEN eyes that would not have even given the word melanoma a second thought. I am determined to use every single part of my life in raising awareness, and open eyes in every way that I can.

The feedback since I received my car back has left me speechless.  Many friends want to do something similar to their cars. I have made connections just out and about with people who have lost loved ones to melanoma.  I was on the freeway and   had this woman look at me in shock (a look like “Holy Cow “) and then give me a huge thumbs-up. I also just recently went to a local recreational park and before I knew it, had a crowd of people standing around asking questions/taking pictures. It was truly an incredible 45 minutes.  Just the kind of thing I hoped would happen.

This month, I will be joining a group of amazing families in Washington DC to speak on Capitol Hill at the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Advocacy Summit & Legislative Hill Day. I am so excited and cannot wait to go. I truly just cannot seem to get loud enough.

With each beautiful warrior that earns their Angel wings, my heartbreak fuels my fire and only makes me want to find new ways, or new people to educate. I believe in my heart that together we can “Drive” this beast into the ground!!

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