By Kim Davis, Board Member, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
David and Sari Cornfield were two of our closest friends. Mark and I met David at Deloitte where we worked. David was the one who, much to his amusement and delight, first discovered our blooming interoffice romance a few years before.
I remember the evening that David and Sari told us about his melanoma diagnosis. David always exuded positivity and optimism, but he had a rare moment of seriousness and concern that night. Despite his tone and the look on Sari’s face as they gave us the news, I barely reacted. I was a little bit embarrassed that I had never heard of melanoma before, but as David explained that it was a form a skin cancer, I assumed that it wasn’t serious. After all, as I recall saying to Mark later that evening, he was lucky because skin cancer could surely just be cut out.
Even as the cancer progressed, Mark and I had no idea how serious David’s situation was, despite regular updates. David fought with courage and grace. He loved life and his glass was always overflowing, as he would say. There have been many times following David’s passing that I have reflected back and wished that I had understood the gravity of his situation and been more sensitive and supportive to our dear friend.
Eventually it became obvious that David wasn’t going to beat melanoma. His case, we assumed, was a tragically rare situation. It wasn’t until after David passed and we helped to form the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund that I began to do more research. I was shocked at what I learned. David’s situation wasn’t rare at all. In fact, it was all too common.
Melanoma is one of the most preventable and detectable forms of cancer, yet its incidence continues to grow significantly, particularly among young people. Most alarming to me was that if people could catch it early, they would almost certainly survive, but if not, they would likely only survive less than five years.
With the advancement of social media, I was able to read all sorts of stories about young people who discovered suspicious moles years before being diagnosed, but didn’t do anything about it. And stories about people who unwittingly engaged in risky behaviour such as allowing themselves or their children to get sunburned or use tanning beds, only to develop melanoma a few years later. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends – all real people with names and faces. My heart was broken.
I was a 29 year-old, well-educated professional at the time of David’s diagnosis. I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t aware of melanoma, many others weren’t either. Surely if we could educate people, we could save lives. That realization weighed heavily on me and fuelled my commitment to fulfill David’s dream of spreading awareness.
In 2011, the DCMF Board decided to create an awareness video. None of us really knew what it should look like or how we would promote it. At that time, we had no employees and we were all young parents with full-time demanding jobs. Then, divine intevenation. The communications firm that we hired to create the video had a very special member.
Marisa Caple was young, passionate, creative, and extremely talented. She was in our target demographic and she understood how to most effectively reach our target audience. She had a vision that the DCMF board, mostly comprised of accountants and lawyers (not the most creative people), couldn’t fully appreciate. We were contemplating a video to show in schools and camps; Marisa persuaded us to launch the video on YouTube instead. We provided Marisa with the key messages that we wanted to convey and she wrote two alternative scripts for our consideration. We chose one, but Marisa knew that the other entitled ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’, was the video that would engage and empower its viewers the most.
We wanted our video to be authentic, so we decided to recruit real, young melanoma survivors or families of melanoma patients. Easier said than done! We needed twelve to fifteen participants, but due to privacy laws, we were unable to ask doctors or hospitals for names. We asked our friends and families, but were only able to identify five or so participants. Time was tight as we wanted to get the video released in time for our upcoming fundraising event. So my late evenings were spent scouring the internet for melanoma blogs and websites and reaching out to patients, friends, and families to see if they would be willing to take a chance on DCMF, a completely new and unknown charity, and fly to Toronto to be in our video. We finally found our participants, and they were perfect.
The morning of filming, I was an emotional wreck. This had become an important and personal project. As I got into my car to go to the studio, I turned on my radio and the first song to come on was “Beautiful Day” by U2. This was David’s favourite song and the line ‘It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it slip away’ was his personal motto. I immediately knew everything would be ok.
We met many of the participants for the first time on the day of filming and we felt an instant connection with each of them, a connection we continue to treasure immensely. It was a wonderful, fun, exciting, happy day.
The DCMF board members were not allowed into the filming area, so we really didn’t know what to expect. But when we viewed the first cut of the video for the first time a few weeks later, we knew that it was special. Of course we had no idea how special.
Dear 16 Year Old Me was released on YouTube on May 3rd, 2011. By May 4th, it had over 25,000 views. By May 5th, it had over one million views, including various channels outside of YouTube, in over 15 countries. By the end of 2011, Dear 16 Year Old Me was the 7th most shared ad in the world – an incredible achievement for a small non-profit organization. To say that we were amazed is an understatement.
Today, Dear 16 Year Old Me has been viewed by close to 10 million people in 215 countries, shared by organizations and celebrities, featured in the media (including on NBC’s Today Show), and won a number of awards. The video clearly resonated with people, and through it we have made huge strides in achieving our goals of educating people and saving lives.
Here is just one of the countless emails that we received:
“Thank you, thank you very much! If it wasn’t for your video, that I saw by chance on YouTube a few months ago, I would have never thought to have my skin checked… I actually didn’t know what melanoma was! Now everything seems to be fine, you, your commitment your work actually saved my life. Thank you with all myself, I hope I will have the opportunity to support your precious job in the years to come. I really owe you so much. Thank you. Cesare from Italy”.
Dear 16 Year Old Me propelled the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund onto the global stage and earned us the credibility needed to become the organization we are today. It also validated the fact that our message of awareness was compelling – our viewers heard it, understood it, and shared it.
So with that knowledge, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund will continue to work tirelessly to promote melanoma prevention and early detection. We are incredibly thankful to everyone who made Dear 16 Year Old succeed and all the donors and supporters that took a chance on us. We hope that we have made each of them proud. And of course, we hope that we have made David proud too.
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 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.
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, 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!