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: 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