Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Visit to the Skin Cancer Foundation's Road to Healthy Skin Tour

4/13/11 - Road to Healthy Skin Tour

The huge, 38-foot long canary yellow RV drew plenty of looks.  It sat parked in the Rite Aid parking lot in Raleigh, and most folks just gazed at some of the messages printed upon.  “Don’t use tanning beds,” “Use sunscreen,” and “Examine your skin” were only a few of the many messages conveyed upon the vehicle.  Many folks walked on to their cars, or into the drugstore, but a few approached the table in front, full of pamphlets and information about skin cancer.  Clad in my homemade “Black is the New Pink” t-shirt, I walked up and started to browse the info (Yes, I picked up every brochure and will share much of the info in future blogs!)

Christie, one of the tour’s hosts greeted me and asked if I’d like a screening.  Yep, that’s what I came for.  As I filled out the form (and not a long form at all) we talked a little about the tour.  It seemed slow at the moment and I asked if they expected a larger crowd, or was a smaller crowd typical.  Christie responded that it all really depended on the time of day, and expected a bigger turn-out the next day when the RV would be available a good chunk of the day from 11:00 to 5:30.

I asked her what criteria determined the stops they would make.  After all, the big city of Charlotte was visited one day while Raleigh was lucky enough to host the tour for three days.  “Volunteer doctors determine where we’ll be.”  While Christie and her colleague Chris host the tour, it’s the volunteer dermatologists along the way that dictate where they’ll stop.  Today’s host doctor was Dr. Maureen Aarons of Blue Ridge Dermatology.  More on her later.

Christie returned inside the RV as I completed the paper work (and grabbed more brochures) and an older lady approached.  I asked her what brought her to the tour and she stated that she had to cancel a planned skin screening with her normal doctor earlier in the month due to a conflict, but felt it was important to “fit one in” while she saw the opportunity.  She went on to state that, when she was a kid, they used cooking oil on their skin to help enhance the tan.  “While I’ve not had any cancer, I’ve had plenty of pre-cancer removed.  It’s important to get checked now and then.”  Good for her.

Christie called me into the small waiting room…more like a bench in front of a small desk (after all, we’re in an RV).  Chris sat inside and talked a little about the tour.  It all started on March 11 in Florida and plans to end in New Orleans in September.  80 stops in 24 states…amazing…and the two of them are driving every mile.  I asked if they had any days off and he responded that they do, but they’re still with the RV.  “On our days off, we’ll take off and go bike riding.”  But since the RV is always promoting skin cancer awareness, it always gets attention.  “We were at a bike park earlier this week and had bikers knocking on the door asking for screenings.  Of course we’re not the doctors, so we invited them to our next tour stop.”

In the Exam Room

I finally went into one of the two small exam rooms.  It was remarkably equipped and comfortable for being a mobile unit.  I was given the option to have my full body screened, my arms and face only, above my waist, or just a specific area of concern.  I chose the full-body screening and disrobed (leaving underwear on) and put on the paper gown.  Dr. Aarons arrived very soon after...hardly a wait at all.  She introduced herself and described what she was looking for the entire time, putting me, the patient, at ease.  This was her first experience with the tour and she was as amazed at the facility as I.  Eventually, she found one spot of moderate concern…a dysplastic nevus.  This is basically a mole that needs to be watched, but no biopsy recommended.

I didn’t ask, but I don’t believe they performed any type of biopsies on the tour.  On the original form that one fills out, the doctor completes the bottom section and returns to the patient.  There’s a checklist for “presumptive diagnosis,” a diagram of the body to indicate the location, and two choices for recommendations: referred (to see a dermatologist for further examination) or biopsy recommended.  It’s up to the patient to take this information and go do something about it.  So far, as of 4/10/11, the various doctors on the tour have found 188 indications of Actinic Keratosis (the most common pre-cancer), 63 Basal Cell Carcinoma (the most common skin cancer), 26 Squamous Cell Carcinoma (the second most common skin cancer) and 11 Melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer).

Had I not been full of questions, the entire process would have taken less than 30 minutes.  Thirty minutes for a full-body skin screening…I believe time well spent.
Many thanks to Christie and Chris for answering my questions (and complimenting my t-shirt) and to Dr. Maureen Aarons for her volunteer efforts.  My only hope is that word gets out along their tour so that more folks can take advantage of this great service!  Please check their website for planned tour stops ( If the tour doesn’t come to your town, please go see a dermatologist and have yourself screened.

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