Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Write to Your Local High Schools!

A little over two years ago (February 15, 2013 to be exact), I wrote a letter to the local high school newspaper’s faculty adviser and asked if one of their students might want to write about indoor tanning. There was pending state legislation against tanning at the time and I was interested in a teenager’s perspective.   While I identified myself as an advocate for tanning legislation, I provided websites and information for both sides of the argument.  Yes, my message was slightly biased towards the safer choice, but I wanted the newspaper to do their homework and give their honest opinion.  The adviser responded and stated that she’d forward the idea to the student staff and let them decide.  After a few weeks, I hadn’t heard from the advisor and life caught up with me to the point that I never followed up.

Fast forward to about a week ago when I noticed my “Sent” folder in my email account had not been emptied in a long while.  The aforementioned message was still there.  My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked up the high school newspaper’s website and checked older articles.  Sure enough I found this, dated February 26, 2013:
North Carolina considers teenage tanning ban 
News Editor

Every year in the United States, nearly 28 million people tan in indoor tanning salons annually. Out of that 28 million, 2.3 million of these patrons are teenagers. Seventy percent of people using indoor tanning salons are Caucasian women ages 16 to 29 years.

The indoor tanning days of North Carolina teens could soon be over. Legislators are considering a bill that will ban anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed. In comparison, the current North Carolina law is less restrictive. Children under 13 are prohibited from using a tanning bed without a doctor’s permission, and teens ages 14 to 17 simply need a parent’s permission.
The facts paint an unfavorable picture for the indoor tanning industry. There is a 75% increased risk of melanoma for those who have been exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds, and that risk increases with each use. Studies show that there is an 87% increased risk of melanoma for those who start using tanning beds before the age of 35.

But for some these facts are not enough. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, argued that the tanning industry should be given equal time to present its facts before lawmakers vote.

The bill will be debated and is expected to get a vote in the House Health Committee on Tuesday, February 26.

Again on March 8, 2013, another article was written, complete with a poll of students as to whether or not teenagers should be allowed to indoor tan.  Here’s that article and the poll results:
New tanning law could protect teens 

North Carolina’s legislature is currently proposing the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act,” a bill which would increase the state’s minimum indoor tanning age from 13 to 18, with the exception of a doctor’s note.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 76,690 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma while 9,480 will likely die in 2013 alone, citing UV rays, used in tanning beds, as a contributing factor. Also, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that those who use beds before age thirty five increase their risk for melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, by an alarming 75 percent.

Many young people, specifically teenage girls, don’t necessarily realize the long-term damage a day at the tanning salon can cause. According to skincancer.org, since teens’ skin cells are still rapidly developing, they are more vulnerable to cancer than adults.

Is it worth having a temporary tan if you could develop a dangerous, potentially life-threatening disease? This bill attempts to curb these alarming cancer statistics among young people who may make a decision they regret afterwards.

Opponents claim that if teens desire darker skin, they will simply sunbathe outside and still be at risk. Does that mean N.C.’s legislature should do nothing? Passing this bill could potentially save countless lives. Shouldn’t our lawmakers do everything within their power to ensure teens remain safe and healthy?

Below is a poll of Apex High School's opinion on tanning among children:

Note the results of the poll.  78.4% of the students believed that minors should NOT be allowed to use tanning beds!  That is FANTASTIC!

This goes to show you that it pays to take some simple actions.  Donna Regen of “Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds” is currently asking folks to write to colleges to ask that tanning beds be eliminated from university-promoted housing.  With prom season fast approaching, I strongly encourage you to write your local high school as I did and ask that their newspaper take a hard look at the tanning debate.  Offer up facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation and MRF websites.  Encourage sun safety.  It's quite simple!  

Teenagers are smart…more intelligent than we give them credit for.  Let’s encourage them to get loud and spread the word on smart tanning choices.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Aggressive Melanoma Advocacy - It's Getting Attention!

Advocacy is defined as a process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic and social systems or institutions.  In the skin cancer and melanoma awareness world, advocacy occurs through various means.  Groups and individuals lobby for tanning legislation. Those who have been touched by melanoma share their stories in social media.  Other organizations organize fund-raisers and educational forums.  Public Service Announcements from the Melanoma Research Alliance appear on TV or on YouTube.  “Dear 16 Year Old Me” from the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund continues to be the benchmark for all PSAs.  This is advocacy in its purest form. 

And then there is advocacy with a kick.

While general advocacy oozes into the public consciousness, more aggressive advocacy gets right in your face.  Sometimes the ads don’t necessarily scream at you, but they give you a cerebral slap and make you think about the issue just a bit more.  A few months ago, there was presentation on YouTube called “How the Sun Sees You.”

This video showed people to looking at themselves through a UV camera which highlighted previously unseen skin damage.  Many were shocked at what they saw, and then even more shocked when they saw how sunscreen can have such a dramatic positive effect.  To date, that piece has received over 14.7 million views.  It got people’s attention.

Then there is what I’d call extreme advocacy.  A good example is the “Truth” campaign against tobacco use.  Many of their ads depict deathly ill individuals or people who have been severely affected by smoking.  They don’t tell you that smoking is hazardous to your health; they flat out tell you that it can kill you through an ugly and horrid death.  The folks who advocate against underage drinking have also put out some effective ads.  One spot shows a mother talking to and putting earrings on her daughter, who lies dead in her coffin.  These are the types of ads that shock you…and get your attention.

The folks at Mollie’s Fund have recently released their own “extreme” ad.  Called “Free Killer Tan,” it shows free tanning sessions being offered in the city on a cold wintry day.  Promoters are walking the streets, holding signs and encouraging folks to warm up by getting a tan at “Vitamin Sun.”  Some patrons decide to check it out.  They enter the new tanning salon, complete with tanning products in their lobby.  After a quick sign-up, they’re given a towel and goggles and told to proceed down the hall way through a curtain.  What they find on the other side is a funeral parlor with a tanning bed instead of a coffin before pews of mourners.  Atop the coffin is a photo of the potential tanner with the statement “In Loving Memory.  You are gone but not forgotten”. 

So far, it has received about 300,000 views, but there’s a lot of buzz in online magazines and publications.  I suspect this ad will get many more views.  It’s getting people’s attention.

But not all aggressive advocacy needs to be surrounded by promises of death.  While many of us have followed traditional advocacy by placing “Melanoma Awareness” bumper stickers and magnets on our car, there’s one lady in California who has taken car accessorizing to a new level.  Take a look:

Yes, Kristi Donahue has plastered her Toyota with melanoma messages and images from top to bottom.  The car even displays dozens of photos of melanoma angels…those we’ve lost to the dreaded cancer. Her intent is to get the message out and it’s definitely working.  She shared one experience of driving her car to take her son to the lake to feed the ducks and ended up giving an impromptu lesson on melanoma awareness to curious passers-by.  Her message is being heard and her car is definitely getting attention!

I am very proud to be a part of melanoma advocacy.  My blog and Facebook postings fall within more traditional advocacy, but these aggressive campaigns are inspiring.  It shows me that we can go a little farther…dig a little deeper…and be encouraged that we are being heard.  Whether we shock the public or turn their heads with a loudly decorated car, we’re starting to get people’s attention!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vaccines and Sunscreens

There’s a national debate going on about whether or not a child should be vaccinated.  I've not read all the details, but from what I gather, those opposed to vaccinations state that the vaccine itself has some cancer-causing chemicals within that could endanger the child.  Apparently there are documented cases of children becoming sick, afflicted or dying after being vaccinated.

On the other hand, those supporting vaccines have stated that the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh any risk.  Cases of whooping cough are on the rise in one community where there lives a higher population of vaccine opponents.  The risk of being negatively affected by vaccine is less than 1/10 of one percent.  The benefits are that you won’t get measles, chicken pox and other diseases which are highly contagious and not fun illnesses to experience.  I've had chicken pox…it was like having fire ants on my body.  I also had shingles a few years ago.

For me personally, I would have chosen to vaccinate my kids even if it wasn't required by law.  It’s common sense (in my opinion) and helps to protect my kids and others with whom they come in contact.

I've seen this debate elsewhere, although possibly not as publicly.

There are some sunscreens which contain potentially cancer- or illness-causing chemicals.  Animal studies show that oxybenzone may have some affect on hormones.  Retinol, or Vitamin A has been shown to cause skin cancer in mice.  As a result, some people refuse to use sunscreens with these ingredients and opt for sun blockers such as zinc oxide.

Other reports show that the amount of retinol applied to the mice would be equivalent to applying gallons of sunscreen onto our body at one time.  If the proportions were equal, there’s a good chance that the little rodents would have been fine.

Overall, the medical community encourages wearing sunscreen.  The health benefits of protecting against skin cancer (and aging and wrinkles) far outweigh any risk of illness from the chemicals.

I choose to encourage my family and friends to apply sunscreen every day.  There are options with regard to sunscreen, and the recent passage of the Sunscreen Innovation Act will allow new chemistries to be considered, so perhaps the use of oxybenzone and retinol can be avoided after all.  Even so, I would recommend any sunscreen over none at all.

As for the hot debate, please have your child vaccinated.  There’s greater risk if you don’t and you negligence to not vaccinate your child may endanger another child.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Wishes for 2015

The beginning of the year brings two things, resolutions and predictions.  Frankly, I’m as aware of my resolutions on July 23 as I am on January 1, so I see no real need to make a special list.  (If you must know, exercise more and eat better…period).  As for predictions, I have trouble knowing what I’m, having for breakfast tomorrow.  Instead, I’d like to share my wish list for 2015.

I know this is a melanoma advocacy blog, so of course I wish for a cure for melanoma.  We’re closer today than we’ve ever been, and we’ll be even closer tomorrow.  But my wish is for multiple cures.  My mother suffered from Lupus, so I wish for a cure for Lupus.  She also died of Lung Cancer, so I wish for a cure for Lung Cancer.  For that matter, let’s include all cancers.  They all suck.  My father in-law suffers from MS, so l wish for a cure for MS.  I wish, simply, for cures.

This one could be deep, but in the melanoma advocacy world, I wish the world to be enlightened that UV radiation can and does cause skin cancer.  Skin cancer is serious.  Even the “simple” cancers such as basal cell carcinoma can be very disfiguring and scar up that precious skin of yours.  But melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers and it kills.  I wish the world to be enlightened to this fact.  But I also wish the world to understand that we’re not trying to ban fun in the sun.  We simply wish the world to take precautions by wearing sunscreen, hats, sun glasses, and proper clothing. 

Enlightenment can carry over into state and national legislation regarding tanning beds.  I wish that legislators would understand that tanning bed bans are no more a sign of being a “nanny state” than cigarette bans.  Tanning beds are not the same as the sun.  They have deadly and largely unregulated consequences, much like cigarettes.  I wish that all tanning beds could be banned, but more realistically for now, I wish strongly that laws be passed in all states to prevent minors from tanning in salons.

Self-Acceptance and Beauty
My son and daughter will turn 13 this year…they’ll be teenagers.  I wish that they will gladly accept their own skin color and resist any temptation or peer pressure to tanning in the summer time because it’s fashionable.   Every person’s skin color is their own, and part of what makes them beautiful.  There’s no need to change.

I wish for more advocacy for melanoma awareness, education and research.  I hope to see more PSAs from skin cancer organizations.  I hope to see more effective PSAs in the US as we’ve seen from Australia.  I hope to see celebrities take a stand on sun safety all year round and not just in May.  I wish to see more people share their story on Facebook. Twitter, or whatever big media fad is in 2015.

I wish that elementary schools would teach sun safety so that middle school and high school students already know right from wrong.  Some will choose not so wisely, but I have faith that most kids are pretty smart and will understand.  But they need to be educated.  I also wish that colleges would ban the use of tanning beds as amenities within student housing. 

Most of all, I wish good health to all that suffer from any type of skin cancer.  Sadly, many that I know or that read my Facebook page will not be around to see 2016.  Fortunately, due to advances over the precious few years, a larger percentage will live to see another year.  For those fighting, I wish you strength, courage and support. 

Enjoy the coming year my friends.  Many good things will happen!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Only Good Things Can Come From That"

This evening (December 10, 2014) I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 GSK Melanoma Virtual Summit.  This was an online gathering of bloggers and melanoma advocates and organizations to discuss recent developments in the fight against melanoma.   I’ll admit, I wasn’t very good at keeping notes, so what I share here will be a very summarized and abbreviated account of the 90 minute session.

First of all, we all introduced ourselves.  I was thrilled to see the faces of familiar friends and “meet” those I’ve followed for a few years.  I’ll share respective blog and websites at the end of this piece.  There were also representatives from various melanoma advocacy groups (see the list at the end).

First on the agenda was a discussion of a patient’s perception during initial diagnosis.  GSK, as a drug manufacturer, interacts primarily with doctors and medical facilities and not so much actual patients.  They’ve been investigating the patient point of view more and presented some insights.  The most riveting part of this section of the summit was not GSK’s presentation, but the opportunity for melanoma warriors/survivors to tell their tale.  My friends Timna and Rich shared their reactions and experience with initial diagnosis.  It was encouraging to see a representative of the “Big Pharma” corporate healthcare world (GSK) listen to real human stories and emotions.

The next segment dealt with updates on recent policies related to melanoma.  July’s “Call to Action” by the Surgeon General emphasized.  This is not a federally funded venture, but a true call to action in local communities.  Organize the building of shaded areas in parks.  Increase awareness of UV dangers.  Promote sun-safe policies in schools and in the community.  Participate in fund-raising and awareness-raising activities.  Support legislation to ban the use of tanning beds for minors.  While it may have been the same message from July, it was an effort to recharge our efforts.

Others also presented updates on the recently signed Sunscreen Innovation Act.  Now, new formulations of sunscreen will be expedited for FDA approval.  This will introduce a slew of sunscreen formulas to the United States that already exist in other countries.  I asked if the increased options in sunscreen might help reduce the price of sunscreen…perhaps through increased competition.  Unfortunately, this could not be predicted or known at this time.

Additionally, there was discussion about the FDA Guidelines on sun lamps (warning stickers and reclassification of tanning beds), funding for various research, and details about research on genetic testing, specifically on those melanoma patients not fortunate enough to have the B-RAF gene (as there is no effective treatment for this 50% of the melanoma patient population).  This last effort is lead by the SU2C/MRA Melanoma Dream Team.  In addition, there was a report on the Brain Mets tissue bank to help research brain metastasis.  Over half of all melanoma deaths occur from brain metastasis.  Count my brother Jeff as one of those.

The summit closed with a brief impromptu discussion about pediatric melanoma and the apparent increase in such cases.  It was noted by one participant that 10 years ago, melanoma research concentrated on men in the 50’s.  Now, the research is heading to younger ages…20’s and now even to pediatric patients.  It’s a disturbing trend.

With the upcoming merger/acquisition/whatever of GSK with Novartis, there’s some concern that this summit will continue going forward.  The GSK group seemed confident that it will continue.  I certainly hope so.  Does this group of bloggers and advocates create new and innovative “legislation” against melanoma?  No.  But as my friend Rich commented, “The value of these things is to establish and build personal connections and relationships in the melanoma advocacy community.  Only good things can come from that.”

Thank you to the following organizations for your participation:

AIM at Melanoma – aimatmelanoma.org
Melanoma International Foundation – melanomainternational.org
Melanoma Research Alliance – curemelanoma.org
Melanoma Research Foundation – melamoma.org
Skin Cancer Foundation – skincancer.org
Skin of Steel – skinofsteel.org

The following is a list of attending bloggers as supplied by the GSK organizers.  My apologies for any that attended but were not on the provided list or that I simply forgot to type (it’s late at night…lol):

Steve and Jennifer “Who Dat” Martin - http://martinfamilyjourney.blogspot.com/
Chelsea Price Dawson (and her little dog, too) - http://adventurewithmelanoma.blogspot.com/

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some Time Away

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve taken some time off from blog writing.  While my responsibilities at work contributed to my reduced personal time and online absence, the truth is I decided to simply take a break.  Some of it was writer’s block but a lot of it was to get away from melanoma for a while.

This started at the first of the month when I spent an amazing birthday weekend with family.  My dad and his wife headed on their annual migration from West Virginia to Florida and decided to spend a few days with my sister-in-law Debbie.  She lives a few hours from my house, so my family and I decided to join the others at Debbie’s place for a reunion of sorts.  You see, this was the first time the three of us (Dad, Debbie and I) have been together since Jeff’s death.

I had visited dad a few times either in WV or Florida…and we’ve visited with Debbie as well.  But this was our first gathering of the three.  In my over-analyzing thoughts, I wasn’t sure how the weekend would go.  Our last such gathering…at Jeff’s funeral…was anything but enjoyable.  Certainly memorable, but not for any reasons we wanted to remember.  How would things be this time?

Gladly, it was spectacular.  We laughed, we ate (Debbie cooked…yum!), we laughed some more.  Debbie and I shared inside jokes that Jeff and I would have shared…Dad and I shared a few melancholy moments talking about my mom and brother…but none of the times spent together felt like any type of memorial.  It was simply family time.  It was great.  It was cleansing.

The trip offered a bit of unexpected closure.  Despite enjoyable visits with each since Jeff’s passing, there was always the pretense that Jeff was no longer around.  There was almost a “let’s don’t discuss it” feel in the air.  And as a result, there was always a presence of melanoma.  Somehow, the black cancer would invade our time together and remind us that it had taken our loved one away.

During this trip, we all talked and laughed about Jeff...about ourselves…about family.  There was no feeling of an uninvited guest.  There was no melanoma in our midst. 

Ironically, my dad had been diagnosed with melanoma in situ a couple months earlier and had it removed.  He showed off the scar (although very difficult to see) on his scalp where the cancer was removed.  Perhaps this is why melanoma wasn’t present at our gathering.  Yes, melanoma had invaded our family and taken one of us away.  The next time it came, it was detected early and pushed away.  While we respected it for the danger that it is, we were no longer afraid of it.  And thus, it was not with us.

I embraced that feeling after leaving and decided not to drag melanoma along.  I still followed and shared stories on Facebook and tried to keep up with the goings on of friends in the melanoma community, but otherwise, I remained silent and simply kept melanoma off my mind for awhile.

My work and the holidays will most likely keep me busy and possibly away from the keyboard for a few more weeks, but I’ve decided to renew my fight against melanoma.  There is so much to do.  Not just for the memory of Jeff, but to protect my children, who will become tenacious teenagers this coming year.  Tanning bed legislation…sun safety education…fundraising events…  Yes, so much to do.

And so much to be thankful for.

Note: The photo I share in this piece is actually a photo of a photo I spotted in Debbie's bedroom.  It was taken back in 2000 or possibly earlier.  That's me on the left, Jeff in the middle, and Dad on the right.  This was one of the last Thanksgivings that we all spent together as my mom passed away in 2005 after my kids were born in 2002.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Wolf Reveals Itself

Back in May, I wrote a post about the proposed tanning ban bill in North Carolina and how the American Suntanning Association actually supported the bill.  (It has yet to pass).  I stated that I was suspicious of the ASA’s motives to back such legislation to ban minors from tanning salons.  I suspected that they wanted any discussion of the negative impact of tanning to be swept under the rug. 

“Having no opposition to this bill means there will be no heated debate.  There will be no online forums.  There will be minimal media coverage at best.”

I went on to predict that while people would celebrate the passage of such a bill, the tanning industry would be licking their chops toward an older population.  After all, according to the ASA, those under 18 years of age account for only about 2% of the indoor tanning clientele.

“I predict the ASA will refocus their monies from fighting legislation to pushing the tanning industry on the over 18 crowd.  College towns will have an increase in tanning salons.  Specials on lotions and tanning sessions will be promoted on campus.  University girls will be reminded that having no tan before Spring Break is a fashion faux pas.  The wolf will shed its sheep’s clothing and the tanning industry will evoke a full frontal assault on the 20-somethings.  Sadly, many will buy into it all.”

Today, I read where that sheep’s clothing has indeed been shed,  Here's one of many articles.

A study published in JAMA Dermatology (a journal of the American Medical Association) reports that 12% of the top 125 colleges across the US provide on-campus tanning facilities. Over 14% of colleges allow the use of campus cash cards to pay for tanning.   Also, more than 42% of the campuses have tanning facilities in off-campus housing that are pretty much part of the rent.  In other words, there is no limit on usage for the tenants!

The conclusion of the study: “Reducing the availability of indoor tanning on and around college campuses is an important public health target.”

What did the tanning industry have to say about this? Well, the Indoor Tanning Association stated “There is no consensus among researchers regarding the relationship between melanoma skin cancer and UV exposure either from the sun or a sunbed.”  No surprise there.  The wolf is back.

We need to take the study’s conclusion to heart…we need to make college-supported tanning a target for elimination.  We, as alumni, students and supporters need to contact our institutions of higher learning and demand that on-campus tanning be eliminated completely.  We need to demand that the schools not endorse off-campus housing that provides tanning beds as amenities.  We need to support and promote any campaigns that educate the student population on UV exposure and its true relationship to skin cancer and melanoma.  We need to contact our fraternity brothers and sorority sisters and encourage them to take positive action in this cause.  We need to make the university and college student population understand that the damage they do to their skin today will last a lifetime.

Please take action.  It’s the only way to defeat the wolf.