Friday, October 5, 2007

When Skin Cancer Hits Close to Home

I receive numerous emails every week from patients and family members touched by skin cancer. Every time someone openly shares their story with me, my heart aches for them. If only there was a way from me to reach through the computer screen and give them a warm embrace; to hug them for as long as it takes for their pain to dissipate.

Today, however, when I received a email, accompanied with a picture, my reaction was more of shock as it hit particularly close to home. In fact, the shock and disbelief has me nearly paralyzed.

My friend, Carly's mom has skin cancer. "CathyMom" as I have affectionately called her for the past five years, has been diagnosed with a fast-growing form of squamous-cell carcinoma (the second most commonly diagnosed form of skin cancer). Apparently what she thought was merely a pesky sore has been growing up through her nasal cavity and headed for her eye. Suddenly, a sense of deja vu hit me. It was three years ago when my friend Tiffany husband Paul (who is featured in my book ONLY SKIN DEEP?) was diagnosed with a fast-growing squamous cell carcinoma, as a result of pesky sore that too was growing up through his nasal cavity and headed for his eyes. Fortunately, Paul survived, but not without severe facial disfiguration (which, has actually been corrected thanks to Dr. Robert Hunter of Salt Lake City). And CathyMom's prognosis now is pretty good. She has to go in for another set of surgeries and tests, but the dermatologist believes he's "got it all" after multiple surgeries, biopsies, laser burns, and reconstruction.

I just couldn't believe my eyes when I ready CathyMom's email. Why didn't Carly call me? (Oh, yes, she is always the tough one who never wants anyone to worry). Why am I just barely finding out about it now, weeks later? (Yes, Cathy is the very same way. Like mother, like daughter).

After talking with CathyMom on the phone for about 45 minutes, I think that she's holding up better than I am. (Though, I didn't let her hear a tear in my voice.)

I just couldn't believe it when they told me that I had skin cancer! I thought to myself, I haven't had a sunburn or went tanning since I was a teenager. But, then again, I came from the generation that practically bathed in Baby Oil and burned ourselves to a crisp to get a tan. I was so vain, and now I'm paying the price for it. To think if I hadn't gone in when I did, I could be facing something even more serious like melanoma.

I explained to her that sun damage and the UV damage caused my tanning beds has a cumulative affect on our skin. Hence, the reason why it is so important that we protect our children from the sun and discourage young adults from frequenting tanning beds.

I have heard you and Natalie talk about it for several years now, but I don't think Carly and I really understood just how serious skin cancer is...but now, now I know.

I just wish that she didn't have to face a skin cancer diagnosis to realize just how serious skin cancer really is, and how vitally important it is for all of us to adopt a lifetime of proper sun safety (and avoid tanning beds) from day one.

Moments after talking with Cathy, and then with Carly (and reminicsing about our silly pageant days. Carly was first runner-up to Miss Utah 2005 and 1st runner-up at the National Sweethearts Pageant), I received another email from a woman in Pennsylvania was just diagnosed with malignant melanoma--the deadliest form of skin cancer.

I have melanoma now because I've frequented tanning beds for the past 20 years. My vanity has caught up me
, she said.

Immediately after reading this email, I received another one from a parent in Louisiana wanting to know if there were any interactive educational tools she could use to teach her kids about sun safety. I told her that our book SKIN SENSE was coming out next week; it's a colorful children's book written for kids ages two and eight. (Incidentally, I was informed by the EPA this week that their SunWise program has been cut, and now aren't any free public education programs for children about sun safety. It appears SKIN SENSE will be the only resource akin to it available).

At any rate, it never ceases to blow my mind just how many lives skin cancer touches. More than 1.3 million Americans will be diagnosed skin cancer this year alone, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It's the ONLY cancer that is rising. Yet, it is also the most PREVENTABLE cancer.

This morning I was thinking "What if I stopped doing skin cancer work? Would anyone even notice? Am I even making a difference?" You see, I recently lost my best friend (who wrote the afterword to my book). Oh how I miss her terribly! And so, this morning, while thinking about my dearly missed and beloved friend, I was thinking that perhaps I have nothing left to give to anyone including the skin cancer community, despite my good intentions (and the fact that I have so many projects on my To-Do List for skin cancer).


And so I will... Even though I wonder if the work I'm doing is making a difference, I'm still fighting the good fight and praying that I can, in some small (yet significant) way protect someone else from having to face this disease. How can I tell Carly, whose mom has skin cancer, that I've given up, especially when I lost my own mother to [breast] cancer. I suppose, though I often doubt my ability to do any good in the world and feel heavy laden by the burdens upon my back, I cannot deny how compelled I feel to heed that prompting within that says "Keep Crusading! Keep Fighting the Good Fight." Though, it was my dear, dear friend and co-founder Natalie (a former Miss Utah) that really got this ball rolling, the cause for skin cancer prevention education has made a nest in my heart that continues to hatch and give me wings.

So, here's to my favorite would-be queen Carly Lynne and her mom Cathy, and all those touched by skin cancer --

God Bless,

The photo above is of Cathy just after her third surgery.

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