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.
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.