Posts tagged “melanoma

Dear 16 Year Old Me saved my life

By Rebecca Maskevich

rebecca maskevichWhen “Dear 16 year old me” started making the rounds, it was two days before I would receive the results for an abnormal mole I had removed on my side.

To give you a little bit of a back story, I’m a fair skinned girl who has tons of moles…just tons. I had my first weird looking mole removed when I was a kid. My doctor explained to me why I needed it to be taken off and tested and what I should look for. He told me how important it was to talk to my doctor if I noticed anything on my skin that looked strange. Since then, I’ve always kept an eye on my skin and brought any weird looking or changing moles to my doctor (nine to be exact) and had them removed. They always came back clean. I honestly didn’t really worry too much about them. It never really occurred to me to be overly concerned because I’ve always paid close attention to my skin.

About 3.5 years ago, I changed cities and family doctors. On my first visit with my new doc I showed him two moles on my stomach. They caught my attention because they were new moles and they had been slowly getting bigger. He took a look, said they were fine.

I kept an eye on them and made sure to bring them up to him every single time I had a doctor’s appointment. I would tell him that they are changing shape, getting bigger, that there was a change in colour… all textbook signs of melanoma. Every time he said it was fine and I left feeling like I was overreacting.

In December of 2016 I went in for my yearly checkup and, lucky for me, there was a resident who was doing training and would be the one to take point on my exam. I showed her the moles on my stomach yet again as well as a weird looking one that was on my side. My doctor agreed to let the resident take the mole off my side but not the ones on my stomach because, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, they were “fine”.

The mole on my side was removed and I received a call a week later that it came back abnormal and that I needed to come back in. The doctor couldn’t see me for a month so I used that timeline to keep calm. I felt if it was something serious, they would need to see me right away. I was also under the false impression that if it did come back as skin cancer, it wouldn’t be a big deal (boy, was I misinformed!). I was a little bit of a basket case (but only a little) waiting for the results but I was holding it together and trying to not think about it.

I was checking Facebook two days before I was scheduled to go in to get my results when I came across “Dear 16 year old me”. Cue tears, panic, a sense of dread, and googling photos of all three kinds of skin cancers to see if the mole I had removed matched any of the photos. If it was anything, it was a melanoma.

At my appointment I found out it was something called a Clarks Nevus, which isn’t really something to worry about. I’ve never been so relieved in my life. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the moles on my stomach were an issue and keeping “Dear 16 year old me” in mind, I insisted this time that my doctor remove them. Even as he was cutting them out, he kept telling me they were fine. He was humouring me.

I bounced out of that appointment feeling great and not actually worried that my results would come back as anything. A week later, I received a phone call saying the doctor needed to see me that day. My heart sank. I knew what the news was going to be. Both were melanomas.

I was referred to a wonderful surgeon who informed me that luckily, one of them was what is called a melanoma in-situ. They needed to take out a little bit of extra skin around it to make sure that they removed all of it but no further treatment was needed.

The other one, unfortunately, was not in-situ and had started to gain the wonderful ability to spread to my lymph nodes and from there wreak havoc on all my internal organs. My surgeon was pretty confident that it had not spread but because my family doctor let it go as long as he did, it was recommended that I get a sentinel node biopsy.

If you don’t know what that is, let me tell you about the world of fun that goes along with it. Because my mole was smack dab in the middle of my stomach, there were four different lymph node sites that (if the cancer had spread) it could have gone to. To identify which area(s) the melanoma would most likely visit, I was injected with this dye that feels like 100 bees are stinging you at the same time. Not fun.

Turns out that my body is a bit of an over achiever and I had two sites (one in each armpit) where they would need to go in and remove some lymph nodes to confirm that the melanoma had not spread. Do you have any idea how many nerves are in your armpits and how much it hurts if someone were to slice into them?!? Thank goodness for post-op pain killers.

Lots of post-surgery checkups and some killer scars later, I received my clean bill of health. I now have a life of slathering on sunscreen with reckless abandon, stylish hats, and constantly being way over dressed for the heat. Basically, I’m a greasy, sweaty mess who rocks hat hair.

Had I not known what I was looking for and actually listened to my family doctor, I most likely would have caught it too late. The key to fighting this cancer is timing and awareness. Your family doctor is not the be all and end all for medical knowledge. Inform yourself. Advocate for your health and the health of your loved ones.

I want to thank the David Cornfield Melanoma Foundation and those involved in making “Dear 16 year old me” for giving me the resources I needed to advocate for my own health and for making me realize that it’s more than “just skin cancer”.

I will now live a long, pale, and very greasy life that I couldn’t be more thankful for.

Thank you for putting that video together and all the amazing work that you do.


Melanoma Awareness Month 2017

By Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

This year’s Melanoma Awareness Month was a great one for DCMF. Our awareness, prevention and research efforts were in full swing. Our 2017 Sun Smart Kids Program starting rolling out across Ontario, our melanoma awareness videos Dear 16 Year Old Me and #newfamilyrule continued to empower people to protect and check their skin, and the DCMF Award at the University of Toronto began to take shape.

cupcakes 10 yearsWe also had the great pleasure to celebrate DCMF’s 10th Anniversary with our most loyal supporters at Deloitte Thursday Night Lights on May 11th. That night we spent some time reflecting on where we started and what we have achieved.

We have also taken the time to reflect on the significant melanoma awareness, prevention and research progress worldwide – much has changed since DCMF began in 2007. In particular, we admire Australia’s efforts to tackle melanoma head on. In 2014, Australia became the first country in the world to see a decrease in melanoma rates. This decrease was no fluke. It was as a result of a concerted multi-year, multi-sectoral strategy to curb melanoma in Australia – the country that had the highest melanoma rates in the world. Using prominent public health campaigns, school-based sun safety programs, the development of sun protective clothing and the use of shade, Australia enabled its citizens to significantly reduce their risk of melanoma. In 2016, Australia even banned indoor tanning nationally. Australia’s leadership is commendable.

On the research front, the past 10 years have been remarkable. New diagnostic technologies have emerged making early detection more effective. And groundbreaking treatment options, such as targeted treatment and immunotherapy, have been introduced and are helping to save lives that certainly would have been lost a decade ago.

These awareness, prevention and research advances are impressive. But much work remains to be done.

Skin cancer (melanoma and non-melanoma) is the most common cancer in North America accounting for more cases than the four major cancers combined (breast, colorectal, lung and prostate). Thankfully, melanoma is preventable and treatable if detected early.

During DCMF’s first decade, a strong foundation has been built to help curb the incidence of melanoma. This Melanoma Awareness Month, we did our small part. Moving forward, every month, we all need to do more.


We Love Our Volunteers

By Elyse Sunshine, Board Member, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless ~Sherry Anderson 

volunteer photo

 

DCMF Board 2012
Every organization, especially a small grassroots charity like ours, knows it would be impossible to function without volunteers. In fact, the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund (the “DCMF”) started because a group of dedicated volunteers got together to ensure that David’s wish to take steps to ensure that no other family had to lose a loved one from melanoma was attained.  Now 10 years later, this exact same group of volunteers still sits at the helm of the DCMF.  In the world of charities and not-for-profits, that is quite an accomplishment (if we do say so ourselves)!  This is attributable not only to the love and respect we had for David and our desire to honour his legacy, but also because of the countless other volunteers who have helped us along our journey to save lives from melanoma.

While it is impossible for us to acknowledge all of those incredible people by name (and some of them don’t like the limelight), in this National Volunteer Week, we want to celebrate the people who have supported us by generously giving their time over our first 10 years. image019

First, we have all the dynamic and dedicated committee members, both past and present, who have organized and run our events and fundraising activities such as David Batori, Ronit Schiff, Jeff Michaels, Andrea Siegel and Adam Perzow.  All our committee members have gone above and beyond for DCMF. Using his redheaded charm, Adam also acts as our lead volunteer fundraiser, securing significant corporate sponsorships and donations. We are extremely grateful for Adam’s commitment and dedication.

volThe DCMF would also not be complete without the numerous wonderful folks who step up to help us execute our events. * We have those in the “melanoma community” who have appeared in our videos and slideshows and shard their words and powerful images.  Your assistance set us on our journey and continues to motivate us day after day.  And then there are those remarkable people who work so hard, often physically hard, to assist us with all of our activities.  From setting up silent auction tables, to delivering pies, to handing out SPF lip balm by an icy ski image010mountain – we have been amazed at the unsung heroes who step up year after year after year to ensure that our events and awareness activities run smoothly and professionally.  Whatever their connection may be to the DCMF – be it David’s family or friends or colleagues, family or friends of a Board member, someone impacted by melanoma or just a kind “stranger,” these selfless souls are the light of our events. Their eagerness to help where needed and warm smiles are appreciated more than words can express.

image008We are also fortunate to have had the benefit of what I will call “professional” volunteers.  These are people who, by their profession or trade, have a skill that we need but cannot afford (or are fortunate not to have to pay for).  Over the years, we have had many such professionals, like Dana Fields and Andrea Goldstein, whose communications and PR expertise helped to ensure that our awareness campaigns and efforts received the outreach we were seeking. Then there are the people like Jason Mednick, Wade Makarus and his team and Jon Stancer/Parade Creative who made us look good through the development of our website, creating melanoma awareness pamphlets brochures, program logos and event invitations. And people like Elliott Sylman whose photos make us all look good and Cheryl Kaplan, who created beautiful artwork for our Sun Smart Kids program that reaches thousands upon thousands of pre-kindergarten kids and their parents. We have also had the benefit of volunteer medical advisors like Dr. Paul Cohen whose charm and charisma has helped us relay our messages on television and Dr. Ghazarian whose devotion to David started when he was his pathologist and who has been a guiding light in helping us determine goals and priorities for the melanoma community. We have people who have volunteered their time by providing advice, guidance and opportunities, like Ryan Brain and Marisa Caple.   We have also been privileged to receive volunteer legal advice, accounting advice and pretty much, every kind of advice that a charitable organization needs in order to function.

And then there is our behind the scenes volunteer administrative assistance. There is Gwen Razieli who diligently sends out our donation appreciation cards.  And we cannot forget those volunteers who come to the DCMF through the Board members’ “day jobs.” As busy professionals, our Board members have called again and again on our workplace assistants to also facilitate DCMF tasks.  They do so willingly, spending their lunch hours and breaks volunteering their time to make the DCMF happen. Michelle Bilboe, Laura Skotanis, Krysten Walker, Susan Coffin and Gray Picco, we adore your enthusiasm and the efforts you make to keep us on task!

While not technically a volunteer, we would be completely remiss if we didn’t acknowledge our phenomenal Executive Director, Danielle Paterson. We all know that in addition to her duties, she actually volunteers countless hours of her time and efforts (and her family’s as well) to keep the DCMF running as smoothly as it does and enable us to grow and execute our vision and dreams.  Danielle’s selflessness and devotion to the DCMF and our cause has been absolutely tremendous and we feel so lucky to have her on our team.

sydney-race-day-2016And finally, we have a different type of volunteer, but one whose importance cannot be underestimated. We thank all the people who lend their time, enthusiasm and energy by helping us get our awareness messages out to the public.  These are the people who run on the DCMF Team in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, encourage their kids to do school projects about the DCMF, watch our videos, share our social media posts, and show up when we ask them to. As has been said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen”. Thanks to our volunteers, DCMF can continue to make BIG things happen.

So, here’s to all of the DCMF’s volunteers.  We thank you all for your commitment, enthusiasm and dedication over these past 10 years.  We look forward to your continued support as we move into this next era for the DCMF.  Without you, there truly would be no DCMF and we can honestly say that thanks to you, we are realizing David’s dream and we are saving lives from melanoma.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

 

*Just a few of our recent event volunteers include: Aimee, Alan, Bernadette, Carly, Cindy, Deborah, Ellen, Erin, Joe, Lisa, Marilyn, Julie, David, Lillian, Joel, Marc, Naomi, Mike, Michelle, Natalia, Rochelle, Shoshana, Tamara, Olga.


The story behind Dear 16 Year Old Me

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.

Dear 16 Year Old MeI 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.

marisa on set

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.

dear 16 groupWe 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.

dear 16 on set

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.

dear 16 year old me cast at launchToday, 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.

 


Awareness is beautiful

Kate twitter (1) (1)

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.

Halloween Party with Shonda, G and Curt-2Months 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.

Iphone 1951362245


Spotlight on melanoma

 

Dave and Marlins

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.

Dave SlimeTimeThey 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.


Is tanning the new tobacco?

no tanning

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?

 

 

 

 

 


Sun Safety from the bottom of the world

IMG_4596_panorama of field cape evans ice wall-2

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.IMG_1166_team photo at MCM sign

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

DCIM100GOPROBefore 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.

IMG_1363_Hand washing & sunscreen go hand in handMy 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!


Don’t forget to check

Written by : Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

Check your skin image

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Monthly skin check: For 10 minutes every month, grab a mirror and follow our how to check your skin instructions.
  4. 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.

 


Why we are concerned about men

MEN

 

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.

We are committed to empowering people to protect and check their skin to help save lives from melanoma. Statistics demonstrate that our men are going to need some extra help.

 

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

 

 


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.

k_landry_02-13_vendor_-7indoor tanning


  • Medical Disclaimer
  • |
  • Registered Canadian charity 835241415 RR 0001
  • |
  • © 2017 The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. All rights reserved.