By Sari Cornfield, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund Board Member
My name is Sari Cornfield and I was blessed to be David Cornfield’s wife. Our love story began as do most – boy meets girl, girl and boy fall in love, get married and so on. We were young and in love, we were best friends who spent every free moment together. We were starting our life together, having adventures, working hard at our respective careers and planning to start a family. Unfortunately, that’s where our love story took a turn.
One night David complained of an itchy bump under a mole on his back. David had a family history of melanoma so I made him an appointment with his dermatologist. The biopsy results were not what we expected and in an instant the floor dropped out from under our perfect world.
David was 29, a rising star at his accounting firm with his whole life ahead of him. A cancer diagnosis was not in our plans. And so together as a team we tackled the cancer as we did any other challenge. I followed David, my fearless leader, as he directed the course of the next year. And he did so with his usual determination, confidence and humour. Cancer was no match for David! We spent hours researching and discussing the best treatment options. David suffered through a year of treatment with brutal side effects that challenged both of us to our core.
With a clean bill of health, a new sense of appreciation for every single day and my strong vibrant David feeling more like his pre-cancer self, we were delighted to find out we were expecting our first child. April 2, 2004 was filled with excitement, joy and so much love and gratitude as we welcomed our shining star Noah into our family. Our first year as a family of three was the usual sleepless nights, magical firsts and continued thankfulness for our beautiful life together.
One week after Noah’s first birthday, David went for a routine scan where a spot on his lung was found. And a few days later, despite prayers and hope, our worst fears were confirmed. The cancer was back and this time the beast would not be tamed.
For the second time, our happy, blessed life was turned upside down and we were faced with surgeries, travelling to the US for treatment and scary statistics. David reassured me that we would beat the odds. Again he smiled through treatments that tested his endurance convinced the more terrible the side effects, the better chance of it defeating the cancer in his body. But the beast raged on and the cancer quickly spread to his brain, intestine and finally his spinal column, paralyzing him and confining him to bed. I will never forget the terrible day the doctors took away our last shred of hope telling us there was nothing more they could do.
During the last few weeks we had together, David and I continued the long talks we had always shared. David believed there was a reason behind his illness and knew that his story would somehow be used to make a difference in the fight against melanoma. December 18, 2005, of all the awful days we had experienced, was the very worst. This was the day David told me quietly he had to go.
The days, weeks and months that followed David’s death were some of my darkest moments. The only things propelling me forwards were my beautiful son and David’s wish and belief that something good would come of this tragedy.
Because of the amazing person that David was and all of the lives he had touched, soon the people around me stepped forward wondering how to honour their friend, their brother, their colleague. Collectively we were all looking to channel our grief in a way that would honour David. And thus, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund was born. And with it a sense of pride as we knew we were encompassing David’s spirit and values and a legacy that would help others and hopefully make an impact on the melanoma community.
During those early months and years, we struggled to find DCMF’s purpose. We wondered how we as a small charity could make the most impact. As we met and began to talk, to explore and to share ideas, it felt as if David, our leader, was once again guiding us. I remembered a conversation with David where I was convinced that we needed to start a charity to raise funds for research because I was so frustrated with our own experience of having such limited treatment options. David said: “A million dollars buys a test tube. It is impossible to make a difference that way. We need to raise awareness.”
It is hard to believe it has been 11 years since David left us and 10 years since DCMF began the journey to aid in the awareness and prevention of melanoma. We have come a long way thanks to the incredible support of so many. With each life lost and each life touched and saved, our determination grows. I know that David is so proud of all we have accomplished and all that we will continue to do.
By Parker Smith
July 7, 2011 – My best friend, mentor and business partner passes away unexpectedly at 40 years old. At that time I was 10 years and 2 days younger than him. This is my first true experience of such a brutal loss. It scares the shit out of me, enough to go to the doctor for a complete physical. Just to be sure everything is ok…
At this point, I think I am in the best physical condition and the healthiest in my life. I have a strong daily yoga practice. I run my first Tough Mudder with some friends (and carry my cross fit partner down the last portion of the race). I learn to surf. I travel. I love. I feel a deep gratitude for all the blessings in my life.
Aug 19, 2011 – Around my birthday, I go to the doctor for a full physical and everything proceeds normally. I feel healthy, happy and strong. As the appointment ends I remember, “My mom has been bugging me to get this tiny mole on my back looked at”. The doctor cuts the tiny black dot off the middle of my back. A bandaid and a lollipop later and I am back home to my healthy, happy life.
A week later I get a call from the doctor about my blood work and the biopsied mole.
When the doctor says the words “Malignant Melanoma”, all I hear is skin-cancer. I have known lots of family and friends talk about dealing with skin cancer. They get it burned off, or it is neatly removed one affected cell at a time. The doctor can tell by the tone of my voice that I do not understand the gravity of my situation. She starts saying words like: “Stage 4”, “Currently 3mm”, “Extremely Aggressive”, “Surgery Immediately”.
I work from home as a software geek and already have 3 monitors full of windows open to every piece of information, research, treatment and risks I can find.
As the doctor is talking, I am reading facts like:
- Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
- When there is distant metastasis, the cancer is generally considered incurable.
- The five-year survival rate is less than 10%. The median survival is 6–12 months.
- Stage 4: (2-4mm) Distant metastasis: 7% survival.
A calm comes over me. Faced with what appears to be a death sentence, and knowing that there is nothing I can do in this moment to fix anything, I go a little numb, finish the day’s work and go take a few back-to-back yoga classes. If I’m going to die, I am going to die enlightened and flexible like Gumby.
Sept 5, 2011 – The week of my surgery. I ask the surgeon about all the different kinds of treatment. Does he know about advanced Mohs surgery? He delicately chuckles and says yes he helped pioneer that technique and he has been doing surgery longer than I have been alive, and MY only option is taking 3-inch margins and down to the muscle. Basically cut out as much as possible around the area in hopes of catching any possible cancer cell.
He makes a comment that I am not the youngest patient he has treated, but I am close.
After some exciting complications during the procedure, it ends well and I take some pictures of the large piece of “me” that now is floating in a small jar.
Inside that little jar are “hopefully” ALL the little cells that were about to kill me.
Inside that little jar are ALL my hopes to give good news to my family. (At this point I have told no one what has been happening).
At that moment, my entire future, every hope and dream was trapped in that jar.
Sept 17, 2011 – I receive a very calm and factual report that “the margins were clear” and that it appears I was extremely fortunate to have caught it when I did.
In that very clinical phone call, I was alive again.
I had to be careful: wear sunscreen; check my skin; don’t get a sunburn.
Now the numbness dramatically changed to every emotion I had refused to feel.
I felt like laughing till it hurt, curling into the fetal position sobbing, hugging everyone, all at the same time. Instead of doing any of that, I called my mom. “Mom. Don’t worry. Everything is ok now. I am ok. I just got the news that the surgery to remove the deadly cancer I had (and didn’t tell you about for 3 weeks) was a complete success and I am going to be completely fine. Oh, and you were SOOOO right, I should have had that mole checked out a long time ago.” *Note: Everyone listen to your mother.
Every Day After –
Today I try to use my experience as a constant reminder to be grateful and thankful for every little thing. I say “yes” to a lot more things. I am less afraid of taking risks and truly living.
I have a deep connection to the practices I have studied about Mindfulness and Being Present. But, I often feel like I am cheating because it is easy to live in the moment when you know what it feels like to think each moment is likely your last.
So many people have had their lives destroyed by this disease. Most people don’t catch it in time. They are forced to: suffer with chemo; multiple surgeries; the fear and pain of leaving a spouse and children.
To all the people who have lost someone to melanoma: I can’t imagine the pain of losing your parent; a sibling; the love of your life; your child; Your pain continues and I am very sorry for your loss. I join you everyday in yelling “F*** Cancer!”
One of the many new passions I have explored in “Life 2.0” has been running. After starting running in Dec 2015, I completed the Denver Colfax Marathon. My first marathon, and also my first ever race. I have continued training and on Oct 16, 2016 I will be racing the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund’s team.
During all my training I have learned lots about running technique, training plans, nutrition, race day rituals, and setting and believing in goals. But all of those details pale in importance to running for a Purpose. My Purpose for running is to continually raise awareness for this easily preventable, exceptionally deadly disease.
To all my inspiring running mates, it has been a great summer – now check your skin! Go to dcmf.ca for lots of resources and tools about checking your skin, and about melanoma. If you are somewhere you don’t mind shedding a tear, check out DCMF’s video “Dear 16 Year Old Me”.
I’m proud to support the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund’s work in melanoma awareness, prevention and research.
Here’s my ‘5 years cancer free’ cup!
By Kate Trimarki
My journey begins the week of my 26th birthday. Birthdays are such a happy, memorable time, aren’t they? At least that had always been true for myself, and this was one I would truly remember for the rest of my life. This birthday week would be the point of impact for my story, because it is indeed when the bomb was dropped that would change the rest of my life. Up to this point in my life I was free-spirited, outgoing and driven but after this, things would be different forever.
Let’s rewind to my teenage years and my early twenties. Back then I loved tanning and being tan. It didn’t matter if I was laying on the beach, in a tanning bed or in the standup machine, I just wanted my skin to have some color. I have milky white skin, which I undoubtedly inherited from my Irish father, and call it a blessing, call it a curse or maybe even one of those cases where you want something you don’t have, but all I longed for was that sun kissed skin tone. In order for myself to obtain this, I had to follow a process which consisted of getting a real good sunburn and letting it fade until I ended up with just the right color. The sad truth is, what I was actually doing was arming all of these little land mines, “moles”, under my skin, and it would just be a matter of time before they decided to detonate.
Let’s jump to me being 24 and at an annual physical, still 2 years before impact. Physicals were never an issue for me because I always knew I’d get a clean bill of health. Somehow however, this physical was a bit different. During this visit, while my physician was listening to my lungs from my back, his focus turned to a mole sitting just below where had placed his stethoscope. Now, he had mentioned before that it may not be a bad idea to see a dermatologist due to all my freckles and moles, precautionary of course, but today his tone was different. He became insistent that I have this mole checked out immediately. I explained that mole had been there forever and my pediatrician always kept an eye on it. He then explained regardless of the past, it was irregular in shape and quite dark and needed to be checked. So in the interest of maintaining my clean bill of health, I appeased him by assuring him I would make an appointment with someone in his group ASAP. The truth is, I did nothing of the sort.
So we’re at the week of my 26th birthday and it’s been two years since my last physical, so I may as well get one out of the way. I’m not even thinking about the fib I told my physician last time, that I would have that mole checked out, but he was thinking about it. He had not forgotten and was in shock to learn I had done nothing about this mole. The physical quickly turned to “cancel whatever you have going on for the rest of the day” and he would make sure I was seen by a dermatologist in his group today. In my head, I couldn’t understand why he was overreacting like this. I just didn’t see why the sense of urgency, but decided to just go along with it knowing it would be a minute to have this thing removed and I would be on my way, and indeed that was the case. About 48 hours later, when I was asked to return to the dermatologist’s office due to the biopsy results, the reality of the matter still hadn’t kicked in. I went to the appointment alone, figuring this would be a quick visit, and after showing up, “you have malignant Melanoma Kate”, “you’re going to have to meet with an Oncologist and have surgery as soon as possible”. I simply replied, “Why can’t you just laser it off?” which I was then greeted with the response “obviously, you do not understand the severity of this.” He was right, I did not.
To say I was naive when it came to skin cancer was an understatement. I always associated it with the elderly or someone that looked like Magda from the movie There’s something about Mary. Regardless, this was happening to me, and my entire birthday week turned into one big blur to me. The only way to describe it was like if I was a famous actor on the press tour from hell. I was being rushed off from one place to the next, answering the same questions and giving the same answers. I was poked, prodded and studied from every angle. Everything felt so invasive however the surgery and partial lymph node biopsy did prove to be a success. Of course this was at the cost of a whole lot of pain and a huge reminder on my lower back of what I went through. The remainder of that year proved to be one of the most challenging I would ever live.
Adjusting to this new lifestyle of being constantly biopsied and having surgeries, all I really wanted was my life to go back to the way it was before my diagnosis. Until now, the focus of my biopsies and surgeries were all on my back, so I began having the mentality that I would treat my body like a paper doll. Focus on the front and just ignore the back, ultimately pretending that nothing ever happened. Then I had to have surgery due to squamous cell carcinoma on my breast and stomach. I received many stitches during that surgery and when I could finally shower, I remember catching a glimpse of my front in the mirror and it hit me like a ton of bricks. That was the first time I had felt an emotion, anger, and I was overcome by it. My body was no longer the paper doll, instead I saw a body that was quite broken and I did not like it. I began punching things and yelling, yet surprisingly, not a tear would fall. And with that anger, my life just took a downward spiral. My boyfriend and I had ended our relationship, I decided to just up and quit my corporate job, and I could not concentrate or focus on anything. I was separating from the person I once was, and people were noticing. It was my Oncologist that finally requested I see a cancer therapist. His recommendation and a dash of my parents telling me that they hadn’t seen me smile in so long was just the right mixture for me to agree to see someone.
The first few times going to therapy I let the therapist do most of the talking because I still really had nothing to say. It wasn’t until our fourth session that she pulled out my chart and read the notes that my Oncologist had written about me. He described me as the following:” Kate has made a decision to avoid in engaging emotional connections. She runs from situations and I am concerned that as a survivor of trauma that she has developed into PTSD”. The therapist then pulled out a book and said that she was going to read me a poem. The poem was about a day at the beach with friends. One of the friends decides to swim out by themselves in the ocean. The undertow and waves prove to be too much for him or her. He or she can see their friends on land. There is no lifeguard on duty, so in order to be saved, they would have to ask for the help of their friends. The person tries to swim and fights to get closer to the shore but ends up letting the ocean take them instead of calling out for help. The therapist looked up at me and says to me, “that person in the ocean, that person drowning, is you. You would rather drown then be saved by asking for help.” She said to me that I am running away from something that will eventually catch up to me. Through everything I had been through, I finally cracked and broke down crying. I actually began to weep and the sadness overwhelmed me. I did not realize how much I was alienating and distancing myself from my family and friends.
Months had passed and I continued therapy. I felt like my therapist was the mirror that was showing me the destructive path I had been taking. She explained that my impulsiveness, like quitting my job, was all about control. I could not control my skin cancer, but I did have control over the decisions that I made. I had so much regret, but I was trying to become a healthier person. I began to educate myself on Melanoma and all types of skin cancer. I was like a sponge and I just wanted to read everything and anything about this disease. I wanted to embrace it instead of running As better of a mental state I was in now, the one thing I was still missing was having someone I could relate with. It was great talking with my therapist but I needed someone who had been through what I had, someone who dealt with the same cancer I had. Enter Shonda Schilling. It was at this point I had found my Melanoma Survivor Soulmate.
Ironically, prior to my therapy, my mother had made mention of Shonda and her story, which had made headlines because of her exposure being married to Boston Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling. She was a Melanoma survivor but when my mother first mentioned her, I was in denial and not ready to hear anything about her. But one night out of curiosity, I went on the Shade Foundation website, which was founded by Shonda and her husband Curt, and I read Shonda’s story. I immediately felt compelled to reach out to her via the website. Within 24 hours, I received a response from her. It was surreal, like hearing from a long lost friend. After several email exchanges, she invited me and some of my family to be her guests at one of Curt’s baseball games at Fenway Park. Being from Massachusetts and from a family of diehard Sox fans, I was overjoyed by the invitation.
Meeting Shonda in person for the first time was like a revelation. I saw that you can truly be happy again even after a nightmare like Melanoma. I could see that Shonda was genuinely comfortable in her skin, whereas I wasn’t quite there yet. She was proof that you can love again and be loved, scars and all, and that you can have a career, a family, friends, laughter, smiles, and a beautiful life. For so long I thought I was being punished with this diagnosis that I deprived myself of all the good things life has to offer. Not only has Shonda inspired me in so many ways, she has become a role model and a friend whom I will always hold close to my heart.
In 2007, 6 years after my initial diagnosis, I have my happy ending. I found the love of my life and 9 years later, we have 3 beautiful girls, a five year old and twin 2 year olds. My journey still continues. I will always have dermatology appointments and biopsies once in a while but I have accepted that. I have also made it a personal mission to raise awareness for Melanoma. Yes, even I am still learning new things about Melanoma every day, I do try to put myself out there as much as possible and I was even honored to be part of OLAY’s Best Beautiful Campaign to help promote skin cancer awareness. Social media has also proven to be a huge part of raising awareness and serves as a vehicle for victim and survivor personal stories. I commend these people because it takes a strong person to share something so raw and private and that was always something I had great difficulty with.
Today, though, I too am like Shonda, happy and comfortable in my skin. My priorities in life may have changed and the meaning of what is “beautiful” has changed. I have grown in so many ways. As I conclude, I want to share two things that I have learned:
Everyone has scars, I just wear mine on the outside and AWARENESS IS BEAUTIFUL.
By Dave Aizer – television host, writer and producer
January 2nd 2015 was the day that changed my life. It was the day my dermatologist called to tell me the mole he biopsied from my face tested positive for melanoma. As a guy who grew up in South Florida, I certainly knew of melanoma; but I had no idea what it really was. I just thought it was “skin cancer.” I didn’t know it could penetrate your lymph nodes, spread throughout your body and potentially kill you.
As you can imagine, I was beyond terrified. Nightmarish scenarios raced through my head constantly. To become acutely aware of your own mortality, and how quickly everything can be taken from you, is a feeling I would never wish on anyone.
A few weeks later, I had surgery to remove the melanoma and some surrounding lymph nodes from my face and neck. Because we caught it early and the melanoma was small, the odds were very much in my favor that it hadn’t spread to any nodes. As it would turn out, I was the exception rather than the rule.
They diagnosed me as stage 3a. What followed was a PET scan, a brain MRI, meetings with oncologists, survival rates and a massive second surgery. That surgery took over fourteen hours and involved the removal of all the nodes from the left side of my neck, the removal of my left parotid gland and a massive plastic surgery reconstruction of my face and neck.
All because of a stupid little mole.
The two weeks after that surgery were the hardest of my life. Not only was I healing physically but I was on pins and needles, waiting for the pathology results. So when the doctor called and told me the most incredible news — everything they took out of me came back clean — I wept, prayed, hugged my family and made a promise that I’d spend the rest of my life (which I intend to be very long) being an advocate against this terrible disease.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m a television host for the CW here in South Florida and I’m blessed with a platform to educate our community on melanoma detection and prevention. I’ve shared my story on TV and have interviewed my surgeon and oncologist.
Regarding my treatment, I’m on a clinical trial and will have MRI’s, CAT scans, blood tests and oncology appointments for the next few years. I try to live every day like it’s my birthday and I’m grateful for every moment I’m alive.
I’m proud to say I’ve been cancer-free for a year. I’m even more proud to say I’m doing my part to help others avoid what I’ve been through.
December 18th is DCMF’s toughest day. It’s the day that David Cornfield passed away in 2005. This year is especially difficult as it marks the 10 year anniversary of David’s death.
The loss of David changed us forever. David was, simply put, the very best. Words cannot express how much he is missed.
It was David’s personal wish that DCMF be created to 1) spread awareness of melanoma prevention and 2) support melanoma research.
Amidst their deep grief, our founding board members, comprised of David’s family, friends and colleagues formed DCMF in 2007. These dedicated board members continue to lead DCMF today.
10 years after David’s death, thanks to the generosity of our loyal donors and sponsors, we are very proud of what we have accomplished on David’s behalf:
- Dear 16 Year Old Me, 2011: awareness video
- Melanoma Base Camp, 2012: winter sun protection event
- Blue Jays, 2013, 2014, 2015: DCMF is hosted by the Blue Jays Play Sun Smart program
- David Cornfield Melanoma Fund Award, 2015: $100,000 endowed award at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, awarded annually to a PhD student excelling in melanoma research
- #newfamilyrule, 2015: melanoma prevention video for families
- Sun Smart Kids, 2015: melanoma prevention program distributing thousands of hats, magnets and information to kindergarten children and their families in the Toronto District School Board
As we remember David this month, we take stock of what we have achieved and strengthen our resolve to help everyone protect and check their skin to reduce their risk of melanoma. We have great momentum and are driven to achieve more in David’s name. We are extremely excited about what lays ahead for DCMF in 2016 and beyond.
Today is a momentous day for Canada’s youth. As of November 1, 2015, Canada’s 10 provinces will have regulations banning youth from indoor tanning.
Congratulations to each provincial government for their leadership and to all the health organizations and committed citizens who worked so hard to encourage the adoption of youth tanning bans. This is a remarkable and important achievement.
Skin cancer is Canada’s most common cancer and melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, is increasing. There is no doubt that indoor tanning (a class 1 carcinogen) has contributed to these grave statistics.
Indoor tanning is dangerous for people of all ages but is particularly dangerous for youth. Banning indoor tanning for youth is an important step to reduce the risk of all skin cancers in Canada.
We are proud that Canada’s provinces (as well as the Northwest Territories) have committed to protect their youth from the dangers of indoor tanning.
We look forward to the day that, along with Brazil and Australia, we can celebrate the banning of indoor tanning for Canadians of all ages.
By Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
Throughout May and June, pre-school children are visiting their new schools for the first time in preparation for Kindergarten in September 2015. For 8,000 Toronto families, these visits include the chance to learn about sun protection through the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund’s (DCMF) latest initiative, Sun Smart Kids.
Since sun exposure and sunburn in childhood increases the risk of developing melanoma later in life, DCMF wants to empower families to protect themselves in the sun. Sun Smart Kids is DCMF’s sun protection awareness program for children and families. Sun Smart Kids is comprised of sun hats and magnets for children, and for parents, information about melanoma, the importance of sun protection and what steps families can take to remain protected in the sun.
We are delighted to partner with The Learning Partnership’s Welcome to Kindergarten Program to deliver Sun Smart Kids in the Toronto District School Board. The Welcome to Kindergarten program is a unique engagement strategy that brings parents, children, schools and community service agencies together to prepare children for a fun and successful first year in school.
Welcome to Kindergarten events are happy and momentous occasions where families are greeted by the Principal and staff and enjoy a series of hands-on activities in the classroom. At the end of the event, the children receive their own Welcome to Kindergarten bag. This bag includes our Sun Smart Kids hats, magnets and information sheets, and Welcome to Kindergarten books and learning tools to help children prepare for school over the summer months.
We have had the opportunity to see Sun Smart Kids in action. Principals and Learning Partnership staff have enthusiastically celebrated the DCMF/Learning Partnership collaboration, underlined the importance of sun protection directly to the children and parents, prominently displayed Sun Smart Kids materials and encouraged the children to become Sun Smart Kids. We’ll never forget the joy on the children’s faces when they reached into their ‘special bag’ to grab their Sun Smart Kids hat.
Thank you to our fantastic partners, The Learning Partnership and the Toronto District School Board, and to our generous suppliers KapGun Art, Karbon and Parade Creative.
We are looking forward to seeing our Sun Smart Kids across Toronto!
Written 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.
I 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 wanted 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!!
Written by: Elyse Sunshine, Board Member, DCMF
February 24, 2014: Your mom calls with the terrible news. There are tears. There are no words.
March 2014: We read and re-read the beautiful articles written about you and all of your accomplishments. We honour what would have been your 27th birthday.
April 2014: We obsessively read your old emails and Facebook messages and smile at your enthusiasm and zest for life. We think of all of the people you inspired with your bravery and willingness to share your melanoma journey.
May 2014: We honour you in a slideshow at our fundraiser event for melanoma awareness month. We all fall silent as your smiling face fills the screen knowing that no pictures can ever capture how beautiful you truly were.
June 2014: We re-watch your episode of Say Yes to the Dress. We smile listening to your Southern accent and seeing the sparkle in your eyes as you find your gown.
July 2014: We work on a website for you, trying to include all of the amazing tributes written about you – there are so many.
August 2014: We take the ALS ice bucket challenge and in addition to donating to
ALS, we give money to the DCMF and other melanoma charities in your name.
September 2014: We create business cards to inform others about you and your website and to keep your legacy going. When they arrive, seeing your beaming smile when we open the package is like a gift.
November 2014: We are thrilled that your parents come to Toronto but know you should be here too – laughing as we peer down the depths of the glass floor of the CN tower. We brave the cold in Niagara Falls and think of you as we take in the magnificence of this world wonder.
December 2014 – We turn our thoughts to your family at Christmas and are thankful for your wonderful nieces and nephew that make your parents and siblings smile.
January 2015 – We see in the new year. We whisper a toast to you and to the others who are no longer with us.
February 24, 2015 – We cannot believe the year has passed. We think of you with love. We think of your parents, siblings, family and friends and many admirers. The world remains a sadder place without you but your legacy is strong. You will never be forgotten.
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
2015 started off with an amazing public health feat: Australia banned indoor tanning nation-wide. This made Australia the second country (after Brazil) to make indoor tanning illegal. Both countries should be applauded for taking this bold and impressive measure to protect their citizens from melanoma.
In recent years, efforts to decrease melanoma have increased around the world. Many countries and jurisdictions have banned indoor tanning for minors and enforced strict equipment regulations and health warnings. Numerous organizations and health authorities have launched high-profile prevention campaigns related to indoor and outdoor tanning. Many companies have started promoting sun-safe clothing. And in 2014, the U.S. Surgeon General published its significant and forceful ‘Call to action on skin cancer’.
This activity is reminiscent of the measures taken over the past few decades to curb the use of tobacco to reduce lung disease: prominent public health campaigns on the dangers of tobacco-use, health warnings on tobacco packaging, limiting youth access, and medical and political leadership via the U.S. Surgeon General’s influential reports on tobacco. Due to coordinated, committed political and financial investment to these and other measures, in many parts of the world, tobacco use has decreased and lung cancer incidence and death rates are dropping.
As Australia implemented a multi-sectoral approach to reduce tobacco use in the 1980’s, it also implemented a skin cancer reduction strategy to curb its troubling number of skin cancer cases and deaths. As a result, Australia is the first country in the world to see a decrease in skin cancer cases. This is an impressive feat considering Australia’s cherished beach culture! The Australian strategy included prominent public health campaigns, school-based sun safety programs and policies, curtailing access to (and now banning) indoor tanning, developing sun protective clothing technology, and building and promoting shade etc. Australia’s skin cancer reduction approach should serve as a model for how to turn the tide on skin cancer.
Around the world, high death rates from lung disease served as the impetus for many countries to commit to reduce tobacco use. Similarly, high skin cancer incidence and troubling death rates in Australia served as the motivation for concerted action on skin cancer.
Today in North America, although the death rate from skin cancer is not as high as that for lung cancer (lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death), the incidence rate is significantly higher. (Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, accounting for nearly the same number of new cancer cases as the four major cancers combined—lung, breast, colorectal and prostate. In the United States, skin cancer accounts for nearly half of all cancers). And, while the incidence and death rate for most cancers is decreasing, it is increasing for melanoma, the most lethal skin cancer.
We wonder what it would take to motivate North America to apply the lessons from tobacco control. Will we follow Australia’s lead to take real action on melanoma? Is the number of lives lost the only way to motivate a bold multi-sectoral approach? What about the opportunity to prevent the #1 cancer in North America? Or the responsibility to curb the number of melanoma cases before death rates rise further?
Is tanning the new tobacco?
By Anne Todgham, Assistant Professor of Animal Physiology, University of California Davis
For the past two years, I’ve been leading a research team in Antarctica as part of the United States Antarctic Program to understand the vulnerability of Antarctic fishes to future climate change. I’m specifically interested in understanding how ocean warming and ocean acidification (the absorption of CO2 by the ocean causes it to acidify) impacts the development and performance of young fishes.
Antarctic organisms have spent millions of years at stable, sub-zero conditions and have tuned their physiology to be able to survive in polar waters. Unfortunately, this tuning has resulted in them having a physiology that is very susceptible to warming and therefore scientists are concerned that polar species will not be able to tolerate future ocean conditions. This is worrisome given that Antarctic fishes in particular are largely only found in the Antarctic and are very important food for seals and penguins.
The feeling of arriving in Antarctica for the first time never goes away – utter amazement at the vast expanse of whiteness and how lucky you are to be able see such remarkable beauty in its simplicity. Now don’t get me wrong, Mother Nature can be fierce in Antarctica and there are many times we wonder how the early explorers, like those on the Shackleton and Scott expeditions, were able to cope without the extreme cold weather (ECW) gear of today. Unlike the fishes I study, we are clearly not tuned to survive Antarctica’s climate! Being prepared when you go outside is the key to success on this harsh continent.
Before we deploy from the US and head to the bottom of the world, we get a thorough set of medical exams to ensure we are in top shape. Part of the paperwork is a reminder about the importance of sun safety. As the sun’s harmful rays are reflected from the snow, the US Antarctic Program takes sun safety very seriously insisting all program participants wear sunscreen and sunglasses. We are advised to bring multiple pairs of high quality UV protective sunglasses from a list of recommended brands (in the Antarctic you always need back up of important items since you just can’t go out and buy more on a moment’s notice). When we arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand for our final briefings and clothing issue, we are given two bags of ECW gear. This gear includes an extremely warm red Canada Goose coat (“Big Red”), snow boots, snow pants, long underwear, fleece, hats, mitts and a pair of UV protective goggles.
My research team conducts fieldwork outside most days, in good weather and bad, and there isn’t a day that I don’t apply sunscreen throughout the day and wear my sunglasses. Remembering sunscreen is not hard to forget at McMurdo Station, the largest of the US research stations in Antarctica. There are sunscreen stations at the doors of most main buildings of the station. At the entrance to the galley, there is a hand washing station for when you go in and a sunscreen station for when you leave.
Our three-month field season is about to end. It is starting to feel a little like “summer” in Antarctica. Temperatures get above freezing during the day and McMurdo is turning into McMudhole, as the snow begins to melt and the ground thaws. Time to return north for the holidays, just in time for a sun-safe winter in North America!
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
DCMF’s mission is to save lives from melanoma through prevention and research. On the prevention side, we are committed to empowering people to protect and check their skin to reduce their risk of melanoma. Due to deeply rooted social and fashion norms, convincing people to protect their skin from the sun is no small task. Convincing people to stop indoor tanning is just as difficult.
Why are we concerned about indoor tanning? Simply put, we are concerned because indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma. In fact, one study demonstrates that people who have ever used indoor tanning equipment have a 74% chance of developing melanoma compared with those who did not tan indoors. The study also demonstrated that the risk of melanoma is consistently higher among those who started using indoor tanning at a young age and among frequent users. The link between melanoma and indoor tanning is so clear that in 2009, the World Health Organization classified indoor tanning devices as Class I human carcinogens, on par with tobacco and asbestos.
Despite these troubling facts, indoor tanning remains prevalent, especially among young women. In Canada, a recent study revealed that more than 25% of women aged 16 to 24 tan indoors. In the U.S., nearly one out of every three young white women aged 16 to 25 uses indoor tanning. Further, 13% of American high school students tanned indoors in 2012. Worldwide, a 2014 study revealed, that there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking.
We are very encouraged that legislation around the world is emerging to protect people from indoor tanning. This includes bans for youth under 18 and health warning labels. Although very promising, most jurisdictions still lack formal legislation, leaving many people, and especially young people, with full access to indoor tanning.
The disconnect between the serious health risks of indoor tanning and its regular usage by many is puzzling leading us to wonder:
- Are the health messages that explain the risks of indoor tanning not reaching people?
- Are these health messages not compelling enough?
- Are people driven to tan indoors because of myths such as ‘base tans’ providing protection from the sun?
- Are the perceived short-term ‘beauty benefits’ of a tan considered more important than the long-term health risks?
- How do we correct the myth that indoor tanning is a ‘safe way to tan’.
- How can we empower people to refrain from using indoor tanning in advance of their prom or vacation?
- What does it take for someone to change their behaviour and step out of the tanning bed for good?
What we do know for certain is that no tan is worth the risk of melanoma. We also know attitudes towards tanning need to change so that people can ‘love the skin they are in’. DCMF will continue our efforts to help others feel the same way.
Written by : Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning to reduce the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. Equally important for the prevention of melanoma is early detection through checking your skin and reporting changes to your doctor.
Checking your skin is important for all skin cancers but it is particularly important for melanoma. This is because 98% of melanoma cases are treatable if caught early. If diagnosed in a more advanced stage, however, patients have less than a 10% chance of surviving more than five years (American Cancer Society).
What does checking your skin actually mean?
- Awareness of the need to check your skin: Taking care of your skin begins with an awareness of the importance to check your skin and a commitment to do so monthly.
- Knowing what to look for: Actively checking your skin means searching for changes. The ABCDEs of melanoma provide a useful guide on what changes to look out for.
- Monthly skin check: For 10 minutes every month, grab a mirror and follow our how to check your skin instructions.
- Reporting changes to your doctor: Any change in your skin should be reported to your doctor to maximize the chance for early diagnosis and treatment in case of a skin cancer diagnosis.
Although these 4 steps are simple, following them all on a regular basis requires a concerted effort. At DCMF, we want to understand how we can not only educate people on why and how they need to check their skin, but also motivate them to actually make skin checks a part of their health routine. How can we translate knowledge into action?
When we made our award-winning melanoma awareness video ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’ in 2011, our goal was to inform people about melanoma and the importance of protecting and checking their skin. With over 7 million views on YouTube alone, we know we have increased awareness significantly.
Based on numerous messages from viewers around the world, we have learned that Dear 16 Year Old Me has also continued to motivate people to make the commitment to do monthly skin checks:
“I am an 18-year-old lifeguard at a local pool in my hometown…When your video popped up on my newsfeed, I watched it twice…immediately after watching the second time, I checked my entire body like you described on your website and I am planning on doing so often. I also plan on using sunscreen almost obsessively- pale skin is better than a scar and the possibility of death. I am very sorry for the loss of David Cornfield, but you can be assured that the organization in his name has possibly saved at least one life. I plan to share the video’s message with my friends and especially my coworkers, because it will probably help the lifeguards most of all. Thanks for a powerful wakeup call.”
Even more remarkable are the numerous messages that we continue to receive from viewers who credit Dear 16 Year Old Me for saving their lives as their skin check lead to an early melanoma diagnosis.
“I just want to thank you so much for doing this video. I saw it about a month ago, made a dr. appointment and they just called with the biopsy results. They caught a pre-cancerous Melanoma on my back and I will have the surrounding area removed next week. The nurse said I was so lucky to catch it this early. I can’t thank you enough and my three young children can’t thank you enough. This video truly saves lives.”
“I watched this video for the first time … last spring. It caused me to get a suspicious mole checked out. I found out my wife was pregnant with our 3rd child in October and in November found out that mole was early in situ Malignant Melanoma. This video likely saved my life; I’m not one to go to the doctors. It’s now December and I’m looking forward to enjoying my family for a long time to come.”
Dear 16 Year Old Me has proven to be a powerful tool to increase awareness and encourage early detection. It has demonstrated that knowledge turned into action can actually save lives from melanoma.
We invite you to watch and share Dear 16 Year Old Me to continue to spread the important knowledge that melanoma can be prevented. We also encourage you to check your skin every month and report any changes to your doctor. We, in turn, will continue to seek ways to inform and hopefully motivate people to make a commitment to protecting and checking their skin.
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
Two recent influential reports, The Canadian Cancer Statistics and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer (see our last blog on its significance), provide valuable information about skin cancer statistics and sun protection habits in North America.
Skin cancer is the number one cancer in North America. In Canada, the number of skin cancer cases rivals the number of new cancer cases of the four major cancer combined (lung, breast, colorectal and prostate). And while the incidence of most cancers is decreasing, the incidence of melanoma, the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing, tripling in the U.S. since 1973.
The statistics confirm that melanoma does not discriminate, affecting males and females of all ages and races. They also reveal that although both women and men are at serious risk of melanoma, there is reason to be particularly concerned about men. Why?
- Melanoma is more common in men than women;
- Melanoma incidence has increased faster for men than women;
- The death rate from melanoma is notably higher for men than women; and
- The death rate for melanoma has increased more quickly for men than for women.
To understand the causes behind these statistics, we need to examine the sun exposure, sun protection and self-care behaviors of men diagnosed with melanoma.
- Sun exposure: We know that intermittent or recreational exposure to the sun is more likely to lead to melanoma than daily sun exposure. Many men enjoy recreational exposure to the sun and often do so without adequate sun protection.
- Sun protection: As a result of fashion traditions and social conventions, men are unlikely to wear appropriate clothing outdoors (e.g., often no hat or only a baseball cap, which does not provide sufficient protection for the ears and neck, and no shirt, which leaves the torso exposed—the most common location for melanoma on men). Men are also less likely to use sunscreen than women because it is deemed ‘feminine’.
- Self-care: We know that early detection by checking your skin regularly and seeking medical attention early is critical to successful treatment of melanoma. If caught early, melanoma is very treatable; if detected late, melanoma is often fatal. The increased death rate among men is directly attributed to the fact that men of all skin types are less likely than women to seek regular, early medical attention.
These behaviours are particularly dangerous for men with fair skin, hair and eyes, who are at greater risk for melanoma (not surprisingly, non-Hispanic white men have the highest incidence of melanoma in the U.S). They are also dangerous for men with dark skin who often underestimate their risk of melanoma, which leads to insufficient sun protection and late diagnosis. This results in high death rates; in the U.S., survival from melanoma is poorest for black men.
This leaves men with a terrible combination of risk factors: frequent recreational or intermittent exposure to the sun, poor sun protection behaviours, and delayed medical care. Simply put, men are not adequately protecting or checking their skin, and when a problem is discovered, they seek help too late.
At DCMF, we know that behind every statistic is a real person. Our men, our sons, brothers, friends, husbands, fathers, grandfathers are dying from what is, for the great majority of cases, a preventable disease in part because of ingrained social norms and traditions such as fashion and so called ‘manly’ behaviours. This is very troubling.
For information on melanoma and how to protect your skin visit http://dcmf.ca/melanoma
For tools to help you check your skin visit http://dcmf.ca/tools
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
We may have witnessed a watershed moment yesterday with the launch of the US Surgeon General’s ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’. This report could signal the beginning of a true commitment to combating skin cancer in the United States. It labels skin cancer as a ‘major public health problem’ that must be acted upon with urgency, and it aims to galvanize individuals, families and multiple sectors to address skin cancer head-on.
The potential impact of this report should not be underestimated: past U.S. Surgeon General reports, particularly the reports on tobacco, have been the catalyst for commitment and action on serious public health issues, nationally and internationally. With this report, the US Surgeon General has brought skin cancer prevention to the forefront. This is unprecedented.
The ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ is forceful and comprehensive. Five goals are outlined:
- Goal 1: Increase Opportunities for Sun Protection in Outdoor Settings
- Goal 2: Provide Individuals with the Information They Need to Make Informed, Healthy Choices About UV Exposure
- Goal 3: Promote Policies that Advance the National Goal of Preventing Skin Cancer
- Goal 4: Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning
- Goal 5: Strengthen Research, Surveillance, Monitoring, and Evaluation Related to Skin Cancer Prevention
Each Goal is accompanied by specific strategies, which, together, map out a multi-sectoral plan of action.
DCMF commends the U.S. Surgeon General for challenging us all to combat skin cancer. Although focused on the U.S., this influential and descriptive call to action is informed by international successes and can serve as a guide for health leaders around the world. We agree with the Surgeon General that achieving these goals will not be a small task, but we are hopeful that the ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ will mark the beginning of a new era in the fight against skin cancer.
For the full report and resources visit: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/prevent-skin-cancer/index.html
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
If I had to write a list of my favourite things in life, summer would rank very high. My love for summer runs deep. It is a love that is rooted in amazing memories of family trips, time at the cottage, summer camp, special events in the city and many small happy moments. Even though I have been out of school for years, I still feel the thrill of the feeling of ‘school’s out for summer’ and look forward to some time off. And as a parent, there is nothing better than enjoying outdoor activities with my children.
In our house, we have been counting the days until the end of school and we can’t wait for the many summer adventures before us. We’ve decided this summer is going to be our best yet and we are making lists of all the things we want to see and do.
Top of mind for me is ensuring that our family is safe while outdoors. This is important because I know that exposure to the sun, especially in childhood, can increase your risk of developing melanoma. This fact is not to be taken lightly. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada and melanoma, the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing in incidence. (See Canadian Cancer Statistics)
I am more informed about the importance of protecting and checking your skin to reduce your risk of melanoma than most. I’m also more motivated than most to ensure that my family is protected while outdoors all year round. Still, there have been times this spring, due to distraction, forgetfulness or busy schedules, that my family has not been properly protected. This has been troubling and frustrating to me. It has made me think that if I, an informed and motivated person, cannot always successfully take the steps to protect my families’ skin, how can I, as Executive Director of the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund, expect or empower others to do the same? Something needs to change!
To figure out how my family can successfully prepare for outdoor fun in the warm months, I look to our strategies for getting ready in the winter. Although it is a pain, every day from November to March we manage to layer on all our winter gear (hats, scarves, mitts, jackets, snow pants, boots, sunscreen) every time we go out. Why is it that I can get the whole crew dressed in multiple layers for many winter months but am not always able to get them ready for safe outdoor play in the spring and summer? Surely, there are just as many distractions in the winter as there are in the spring and summer. With less gear in the spring and summer, shouldn’t it be easier? What are we doing right in the winter?
I realize that winter clothing/gear is always on because 1) there is no other choice (it is undeniably cold and unsafe to be unprotected) and 2) all our gear is easily accessible. In short, we have built winter outdoor wear/protection into our lives. To apply this formula to the spring and summer means that 1) sun protection needs to be mandatory (it is undeniably hot and unsafe to be unprotected) and 2) all our sun protection tools (hats, sunglasses, long clothing, sunscreen, shade) need to be easily accessible.
With this formula in hand, I’ve designed a FAMILY SUN PROTECTION PLAN for immediate implementation:
- HAVE A FAMILY DISCUSSION
Explain to all family members why sun protection is important and mandatory:
- Over exposure to the sun can increase your risk of melanoma
- One sunburn before the age of 18 doubles your chances of developing melanoma
- Skin damage is permanent
Outline what we can do to protect our skin:
- protect your head with a hat
- protect your body with long clothing
- protect your eyes with sunglasses
- protect your uncovered skin with sunscreen SPF 30+ , shade and reduce your overall time in the sun, especially between 11am-4pm
- BUY/FIND ALL THE SUN PROTECTION TOOLS NEEDED
- Sun hats
- Swim shirts
- Long loose clothing
- Sunscreen with SPF 30+
- PLACE SUN PROTECTION TOOLS IN SEVERAL ACCESSIBLE SPOTS
- Hats in a basket by the shoes at the front door, in the car, in bags
- Sunglasses in a box at the front door, extra pair in the car
- Sunscreen at the front door, back door, in the car, in all bags
- Swim shirts with bathing suits
- Set up umbrella/make shade
- ESTABLISH ROUTINES
- Sunscreen on before you leave the house, reapply at lunch and mid afternoon and after a swim.
- Hat and shoes go on at the same time
- Follow the weather reports and take extra precautions when the UV Index is high
- LEAD BY EXAMPLE
- I want to protect my skin not only for the good of my own health but also that of my children. I realize that my kids are much more likely to follow through on our family sun protection plan if I embrace it wholeheartedly.
Protecting your skin is not complicated but it does take a commitment and some thoughtful preparation. Use my FAMILY SUN PROTECTION PLAN or design your own to ensure that 2014 is your best and safest summer yet!
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
It’s been a great Melanoma Awareness Month at DCMF. Our award winning video Dear 16 Year Old Me, was profiled on NBC’s The Today Show on Melanoma Monday and passed 7 million views on YouTube, and we celebrated a very successful annual fundraising event on May 13 with our most loyal supporters.
We know our efforts, and those of all our partners and friends in the melanoma community, are helping to increase awareness of melanoma. The question is, are they helping enough?
When people ask me where I work, I say: The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund, a charity devoted to melanoma skin cancer prevention and research. I specifically add ‘skin cancer’ to the description because in my experience many people are not sure exactly what melanoma is or get it confused with other diseases.
This is not good news. If the term melanoma is not well known, surely the causes, severity and need for prevention are even less understood. If I asked the following questions to the general population I’m not sure how many could answer them correctly:
- What is the number one cancer in North America?
Skin cancer. Astonishingly, skin cancer accounts for almost the same number of new cancer cases as lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined. In 2014, an estimated 76,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 6,500 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Canada. As other cancers are decreasing in incidence, melanoma is increasing rapidly.
- Who does melanoma affect?
All skin types and all ages, including young people. People with many moles, fair skin, freckling, light hair, a family or personal history of melanoma or a weakened immune system are especially vulnerable.
- What causes melanoma?
The majority of melanoma cases are caused by over exposure to UV light from the sun and indoor tanning. One severe sunburn before the age of 18 doubles your chances of getting melanoma. Tanning bed use increases your risk of melanoma by 74%.
- Can you die from melanoma?
Yes, melanoma is the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer. In 2014, it was estimated that 1,050 Canadians will die from melanoma. In the USA, one person dies of melanoma every hour.
- What are the two most important things you can do to reduce your risk of melanoma?
PROTECT and CHECK your skin. Protect your skin from the sun with hats, long clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, shade, and reduce your time in the sun. Do not use indoor tanning equipment. Check your skin regularly and report any changes to your doctor. (Use these tools to help you check your skin).
With low awareness of these facts, I suppose it should be no surprise that prevention methods are currently half hearted. With a strong culture of tanning and a general complacency regarding prevention and early detection, we’ve got a lot work to do.
We know our efforts are worth it. We feel we have a responsibility to tell everyone that they have the power to avoid melanoma by protecting and checking their skin. We want to empower people to take the simple steps to stay healthy. To do that, we’ve decided to make every month melanoma awareness month! We hope you’ll join us!
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
While on vacation in the 1920’s, fashion icon Coco Chanel accidentally was sun burned, an accident that changed the course of fashion history. The suntan, previously associated with peasants and outdoor workers, was now deemed fashionable, luxurious and coveted. To emulate Coco Chanel, Westerners put away their whitening make-up, dropped their umbrellas and hats, stepped out from the shade and consciously tried to tan.
Almost one hundred years later, this desire for a tan has become an entrenched part of Western culture. Many Westerners go to great lengths, spending significant time and money, seeking ‘the perfect tan’. Today, indoor tanning is a multi-billion dollar industry, bronzing make-up and creams are staple products, and beach, pool and vacation culture all centre around tanning.
The notion of a tan as nothing more than a social and cultural construct was something I never considered until I went on a trip to China and Vietnam many years ago. I was surprised to observe that tanning was not the norm in these places. In fact, in both countries, people went to great lengths to avoid a tan. This was illustrated most strikingly while I was on a beach in Vietnam. The Westerners were actively tanning in their bathing suits while the Vietnamese wore large hats, long clothing and even gloves and face masks to shield themselves from the sun. And at the airport in Hong Kong, make-up counters sold skin lighteners instead of skin bronzers.
These Western and Eastern examples illustrate the enormous impact that fashion and social conventions have on skin care. Unfortunately, for us in the Western world, our desire for a tan comes at a severe health cost.While most Westerners equate a tan with beauty and leisure, health experts equate the tan with skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the number one cancer in Canada, and melanoma, the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing in incidence.
At DCMF, we know that people will only start protecting their skin when they believe they need to. We realize that, most dauntingly, our awareness efforts have to be compelling enough to challenge 100 years of fashion and cultural history. But we know that healthy un-tanned skin is beautiful and we are up for the challenge.
Written by: Elyse Sunshine, Board Member, DCMF
On February 24, 2014, our dear friend Meredith Legg Stapleton passed away at the age of 26 from ocular melanoma (OM). We met Meredith when she kindly donated her time to travel from South Carolina to Toronto to film Dear 16 Year Old Me. The minute we met Meredith, we knew we were in the presence of someone very special. With her gorgeous smile, sparkling eyes and charming Southern accent, Meredith stole our hearts.
This Hall of Fame basketball player was a beloved and respected figure wherever she lived but particularly, in her University town of Aiken, South Carolina. She held many records including all- time leader in scoring and sinking the most three-pointers in one game career – just to name a few. In addition to her success on the court, Meredith achieved academic and career success and was popular with her classmates and colleagues.
Diagnosed with OM when she was just 22, Meredith was determined not to let this serious illness stop her from living life to the fullest and chose to use her illness to help raise awareness. When she participated in the filming of Dear 16 Year Old Me in 2011, her OM had spread to her liver, but you would never have known it from her energy and enthusiasm. She was so excited to be part of this project and like us, never dreamed of the worldwide attention it would garner. Meredith shone in the video. Numerous people reached out to her to express their admiration. Many others told her that she had motivated them to get checked and their lives had been saved through early diagnosis and successful treatment. As in her everyday life, Meredith was an inspiration to countless young people – showing fierce determination, zest for life and quiet courage and dignity.
To know Meredith was to know a whole community of people who loved her. We were so fortunate through Meredith to get to know her incredible parents, siblings and friends. It was not surprising that Meredith was raised by and surrounded herself with people who were as genuine, kind and lovely as she was.
In October 2012, Meredith married her high school sweetheart, Christopher Stapleton – a truly wonderful man. Again, Meredith took this opportunity to raise awareness, appearing in the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta” and speaking bravely about her melanoma with her mom, sister and best girlfriends by her side. Meredith’s wedding was on a lovely fall day, befitting this stunning bride. It was a privilege to all those present to watch these two young people, so obviously in love, exchange their wedding vows.
Enjoying newlywed life, Meredith tackled her cancer bravely – participating without complaint in any available treatment that her tireless parents and healthcare providers could track down for her. When all treatment options were sadly exhausted, Meredith faced this final journey with the same spirit that she had lived her whole life.
Surrounded by those who loved her, Meredith passed away on February 24, 2014, just a few days before her 27th birthday. Our thoughts are with her family – her beloved husband Christopher, her devoted parents Basil and Robin, her sister and brother-in-law, Lyndsi and Rick, her brother Trey and her darling nephew and nieces, in addition to her countless friends and admirers.
We love you Meredith and you will always be in our hearts and thoughts.
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF
We are deep in the heart of what’s been an exceptionally long, icy and cold winter in Toronto. Although I’ve loved a few amazing days of sledding, skating and playing in the snow with my children, I could have done without the extreme cold and icy conditions. In fact, I’m counting the days until we head down to Florida for a week of outdoor fun in the sun.
One of the reasons I love winter get-aways with my family is that they remind me of the sunny destination vacations I was fortunate to experience when I was growing up. I fondly remember endless days of swimming, sailing, playing tennis, building castles and snorkeling. These trips were a time to slow down and enjoy a bit of summer weather in the middle of our long Canadian winter, a time to read a great novel and an opportunity to spend quality time with my family.
Recently, however, a flip side of the wonderful nostalgia I have for these sunny winter trips is the realization that I experienced repeated extreme exposure to the sun throughout my childhood and adolescence. Yearning to warm up, eager to enjoy all aspects of the outdoors, I spent all day outside in the very hot and intense Florida or Caribbean sun.
Those were the 1970’s and 1980’s when applying ‘sun tan oil’ (I can still vividly remember that strong coconut smell) and ‘working on your tan’ were normal and expected behaviors. Although I tanned once in awhile, I was never one to ‘work on my tan’, choosing instead to enjoy a swim, run or snorkel. But the truth of the matter is that even though I wasn’t ‘tanning’, I probably spent the same amount of time in the sun as the die-hard tanners, receiving equal exposure and therefore equal skin damage.
I used sunscreen occasionally but it was usually only SPF 4 or 7, and wearing a great bathing suit was much more important than covering up with hats and clothing. As a result, over the years, I had several severe blistering sunburns, including painful burned feet and even a burned scalp after an unwise decision to get my hair braided.
I cringe when I think about the amount of repeated extreme exposure I received from the sun on these beloved winter getaways. I cringe because I know the following sobering facts about sun exposure and melanoma:
- Melanoma is a common and serious form of skin cancer that can be fatal.
- The primary cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or indoor tanning equipment
- The risk of melanoma is increased when you are exposed to intense intermittent sun such as that experienced on a sunny vacation
- Light-coloured hair, eyes and skin (like mine) increase the risk of developing melanoma
- The more severe blistering sunburns received as a child, the higher your risk of melanoma.
Today, I notice that more North Americans are taking steps to protect their skin during sunny vacations. That said, however, I continue to notice people actively tanning and people, including babies who are particularly sensitive to the sun, completely exposed in the blazing sun for extended periods of time.
As incidence of other cancers is starting to decline, melanoma’s incidence is actually increasing. In Canada in 2013, there were an estimated 6000 new cases and 1050 deaths. Particularly concerning is that melanoma is the second most common cancer among adults aged 15-29.
Fortunately, we have the power to change these statistics because remarkably, melanoma is preventable. After working in the area of cancer for many years, this fact continues to amaze and inspire me.
Since sun/UV exposure is the primary cause of melanoma, the best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is to protect your skin from the sun on your sunny vacation. Simply put, if you are in the sun, you need to protect every part of your body:
- Protect your head with a hat
- Protect your skin with long clothing
- Protect your exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and reapply often
- Protect your eyes with sun glasses
- Protect your whole body under the shade of trees or a large umbrella and reduce your time in the sun between 11am and 4pm when UV rays are most powerful
We feel the toll of melanoma more than most at the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. Eight years ago, David Cornfield, a beloved son, brother, father and friend, died of melanoma at the age of 32. We continue to feel his loss and we miss him dearly. We are deeply committed to honouring David’s wish to educate people that melanoma is preventable and we are eager to empower people to protect their skin.
I cannot change the amount of sun damage I received on my cherished childhood winter getaways. I can, however, protect my skin now to reduce further damage and to be a role model to my children, family and friends. I can also actively protect my children to make sure they look back on their winter getaways without cringing.
If you have a chance to travel south this winter, enjoy your trip, create some memories, but please remember to actively protect your skin!
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