Did you know that although it is the least common form of skin cancer, melanoma is the most deadly? For women, ages 25-30, it is the leading cause of cancer death, the second leading cause of cancer death for women ages 30-35. For both men and women, ages 15-29, it is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer and approximately 500 children in the US are diagnosed with melanoma each year. This year (2020) it is estimated that over 196,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma and 6,850 Americans will lose their fight with this deadly cancer.*
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and, having lost my dad to Melanoma in 2009, I know all too well what this cancer can do to someone.
My dad was first diagnosed with melanoma when I was very little. I hadn’t even started school yet. Doctors believed it was in its early stages. They removed it from his shoulder, believed they had caught it all, and my dad opted out of further treatment (chemo, radiation, that sort of thing.) But, he did monitor it. My entire childhood, I remember going to doctor appointments with him where they would remove suspicious moles. For years it looked like everything was all clear.
Fast forward 15-ish years, to my high school graduation, and my dad is really sick. Over the last month or so he had lost a ton of weight and was sleeping all the time. He blamed it on exhaustion, but he was wrong.
After some tests and several misdiagnoses, we learned the cancer was back and it had spread. It was in his lungs and wrapped around his heart. Before the end of summer, it would find its way to his intestines.
Despite things not looking good, my dad decided to throw everything he had at this cancer, radiation and bio-chemo. He fought until the very end and lost that battle a mere four months after his second diagnosis.
Because my dad was diagnosed for the first time when I was just a baby, I grew up with no choice, but to be sun smart. However, with family trips to places like Bullhead City and a love for hiking, biking and being outdoors, that meant lots of per-cautious steps for both me and my dad. We were both constantly being slathered in sunblock and forced to wear big hats. If we were going to be in the sun for any long period of time, like at the beach or on the lake, that meant big t-shirts we could keep on for added protection.
In fact, when it came to me, being the youngest out of the family, everyone knew “don’t let the baby burn.” That meant, even when I wasn’t with my parents, my brothers and my sister and everyone else had to keep an eye on me. Trips to SeaWorld, or the pool, or the beach was a constant, “Come here, let’s reapply the sunblock.”
At the time, I hated it! (And if I’m being 100% honest a part of me still hates it, but I know how important it is that I do it.) The sunblock felt gross and made my eyes burn. If I was swimming, it meant every 90 minutes getting out, drying off, and reapplying and waiting for it to dry. It also meant always being the whitest palest person in the family and out of all my friends. My entire life I was made fun of for my white legs. I hated it! But, now I am so so thankful for it.
Growing up I knew why I had to be careful, but in all honesty, it didn’t click until I lost him. I knew my dad could have died, but actually experiencing his death was a huge slap in the face for me and how important being sun smart is.
90% of melanoma is caused by UV light and sunlight, being in the sun, and just one blistering sunburn can more than double your chance of developing the cancer. That means the best way for you to reduce your chances of developing melanoma is to avoid harsh sun and sunburns. You should seek shade whenever you can, wear protective clothing, avoid being in the sun during the harshest part of the day (10 am – 4 pm) and wear sunscreen, every day. *
No matter how careful you are, we all make mistakes. I’ve had several blistering sunburns just in the last few years. Nobody is perfect and even if you are, there is still always that chance you could still develop melanoma and in that case early detection is key. You can click here for some tips on how to spot melanoma.
Because May is Melanoma Awareness Month, not only am I sharing this information here and being extra annoying to my loved ones, I’m also participating in the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Virtual Miles for Melanoma. In 2014 I participated in their Universal Studios Miles for Melanoma 5K, but thanks to COVID-19 all 5Ks have been canceled and/or postponed. In response to that, the organization is hosting their first ever Virtual Miles for Melanoma. Every day this month I will be walking, jogging and running to raise money and awareness for melanoma.
If you would like to donate to my cause you can do so here.
I only touched briefly on melanoma and I highly recommend you take some time to educate yourself on the cancer. Please research for yourself and your loved ones how to prevent it and how to spot it. Some resources I recommend –
*All statistics sourced from the Melanoma Research Foundation.