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Are you ready for summer?

Getting ready for summer

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:

  1.  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
  1. BUY/FIND ALL THE SUN PROTECTION TOOLS NEEDED
  • Sun hats
  • Swim shirts
  • Long loose clothing
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen with SPF 30+
  • Umbrellas
  • Trees
  1. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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!

 

 

 


Wrapping up Melanoma Awareness Month

protect and check 1

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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%.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

 Every month is awareness


Are we risking our lives for fashion?

Coco Chanelwomen tanning 1920s

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.

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Remembering Meredith

Written by: Elyse Sunshine, Board Member, DCMF

Meredith collage 3

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.

Meredith collage 4

 


The flip side of the sunny winter get-away

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!

crowded beach


The DCMF is blogging!

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Welcome to our Blog!  We hope you will enjoy these personal thoughts, experiences and tips relating to sun safety and melanoma awareness.

If you would like to contribute to our blog or our Facebook page, please email your submissions to us at contact@dcmf.ca Attn: Elyse Sunshine.  Although we will fairly consider all submissions, we reserve the right to post only those submissions in keeping with our mission and objectives.  We also reserve the right to use, edit, modify or change all submissions as we deem appropriate.

And now for some more legal stuff… Please note that:

  • All posts and comments in our blog are subject to review by the Administrators.
  • Comments are welcome. However, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund (DCMF)  reserves the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice due to:
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  • The DCMF is not responsible for the content in comments.
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  • The DCMF encourages users to exercise discretion when using the hypertext links on this blog. Any hypertext link may ultimately direct the user to websites or other blogs containing information that some people may find offensive or inappropriate. The suitability and content of information accessed by hypertext link from this blog are the sole responsibility of the persons or organizations that maintain that information. If you have questions about the content of a particular linked website or blog or information related to it, contact the person or webmaster responsible for that website or blog.

This policy is subject to change at anytime.


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