Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Checking Out My Birthday Suit

About six or seven years ago, I started an annual tradition.  My brother discovered he had melanoma on his back…I believe it was Stage 1...possibly Stage 2.  Either way, he mentioned that his dermatologist stated that siblings of melanoma patients are higher risk and should be checked annually.  For once, I listened to my older brother and made an appointment.  The first appointment I made was on November 1, and I’ve tried to make subsequent annual appointments on the same calendar day.  It’s the day after my birthday and I figured it was as good a day as any to have my birthday suit examined.
I had my annual visit today.  This year’s visit differed than previous years because of my growing awareness of melanoma and skin cancer.  I was actually nervous driving to my appointment, although I really had no concerning spots on my skin.  I had three minor spots I wanted to point out…two of them having been mentioned by other medical professionals.  But in general, I had no real concerns.  All I really had was the growing paranoia that comes with knowledge.
I told the doctor of my recent months scouring websites and information regarding skin cancer.  I asked him questions I hadn’t asked before.  “How do you compare a patient’s condition year-to-year without taking photographs?”  “What recommendations do you have for self-exams?”  “What are your thoughts on tanning beds?”  I won’t share all his thoughts here (I failed to ask for permission to convey his thoughts online), but it was nice to have a face-to-face discussion with a medical professional and not merely read another online article.
I walked away from my appointment with my questions answered and an announced clean bill of health.  Still, I had an unsettled feeling.  You see, in the waiting room of the practice, I saw all sorts of ads, displays and brochures for many skin care products.  This practice was not just a general dermatological practice, but they also offered many cosmetic services.  I have no issues with this…there are certainly many aspects of skin health that a dermatologist handles outside of skin cancer.  But still…I didn’t see one brochure, flyer or even mention about skin cancer prevention.  This disappointed me.
I decided to check their website this evening and found several sections related to various skin conditions, including one on skin cancer, one on sun damage, and another on “Teen Tips.”  While they mentioned that the sun can add to skin aging and sunburn, there was no mention of the dangers of tanning beds.  Of all sections, one would think the Teen Tip page would have some warning regarding UV tanning.
I checked other local dermatologist’s websites and found the same…rarely a mention of tanning beds or other skin cancer dangers.  Well, there was one local practice that mentioned tanning bed dangers, so I emailed them and thanked them for posting such info.  Then, I decided to take action.
While my dermatologist’s practice had no email address posted, they do have an address…so I wrote an old fashioned letter (snail mail).  In it, I wrote the following:
I would like to make one suggestion.  As I mentioned today the decision in California to ban tanning beds for teens, I would love to see <your practice> add a paragraph in your website with regards to teens and tanning beds.  As you most likely know, melanoma and skin cancer is rising in younger adults and teens…and studies suggest much of this may be due to tanning beds.  I can understand your practice not taking a more political stance with regards to an imposed ban, but I think a statement in your “Teen Tips” section, amongst the acne information, informing teens of the dangers of tanning beds would be a responsible act on <your practices>’s part.  An additional mention in your “Skin Cancer,” or “Sun Damage” sections would be recommended as well.
Small actions…small steps…create great strides.  I’ll keep you posted on any response…and encourage you to send a similar letter or email to your local dermatologist practices.
Thanks to my clean bill of health, I hope to be making such small steps for many years to come…all dressed in my birthday suit.

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