Friday, December 28, 2012

2013 Melanoma Awareness Resolu...umm...Plans



Image: Livescience.com
Each year I decide upon a set of personal New Year’s Resolutions.  I guess I use the calendar change as a benchmark as to where I am versus a year ago…and set goals as to where I’d like to be in another year.  Consider it a personal employee evaluation.  So let’s review last year’s personal resolutions.

1.       Lose 15 pounds. (I gained 8)
2.       Become more financially secure. (Fiscal cliff?  HA!  I’ve been in a Fiscal Abyss for several months now!  Help!)
3.       Reduce the amount of time spent at work. (I may change my mailing address to “the butt at my desk.”)
4.       Spend more time at home with my wife and kids. (See mailing address above)
5.       Eat healthy foods.  (I ate a salad at McD’s yesterday, but dang that pizza tonight tasted sooo good!)
6.       Exercise more. (Ummmmm…does grunting when I get out of bed count?)
7.       Get more sleep. (Have you noticed how late I usually write these posts?)

Okay…so I fell a bit short this past year.  But I intend to make the exact same resolutions this year (except now to lose 23 pounds) and this year I’ll meet them all.  Yep.  I sure will.  Uh huh.

Isn’t the definition of insanity the act of expecting a different outcome while attempting the same task over and over?  Just wondering.

Anyhow, I’m not here to preach about my personal resolutions.  Instead, I want to share my other resolut…umm…let’s not call them resolutions.  Or even goals.  Let’s just call them plain ol’ plans.  Why?  Because I damn well will work towards these tasks and I don’t plan on falling short!  These are my plans in 2013 with regards to melanoma awareness and sun safety.

1.       Continue writing this blog at least once a week if not more frequently.  Lately, I’ve felt that I’ve shared it all over and over.  I felt the same way last year…I’m sure it’s just the holiday rush.  But just as the Grinch had a mountaintop epiphany, I realize that it’s okay to repeat the same message over and over.  Wear sunscreen…get your skin checked…stay out of tanning beds.  Over and over…it’s a message that NEEDS to be heard!  I won’t stop!

2.       Share the message of sun safety and skin screenings with everyone I can…not just in this blog.  I won’t leap out of dark alleys brandishing sunscreen, but I’ll ask my friends and co-workers if they’ve had their skin checked lately.

3.       Use any talents I have to assist with the passage of the Ban the Tan bill in North Carolina.  I plan to write my representatives and help others write to theirs.  I plan to write several blogs sharing stories of North Carolina citizens who have been touched by melanoma.  I will be heard and they WILL listen.  And they WILL pass the bill!

4.        Promote the next AIM Walk in Charlotte as much as possible and hopefully attend again.

5.       Promote the Amanda-Corey Memorial walk for MRF held in my hometown, and help make it the biggest melanoma awareness event in eastern North Carolina.

6.       Wear sunscreen and get my skin checked.

The best part of these resolu…umm…plans is that you can do them, too!  Spread the word, write your representatives in your town, county or state, and participate in a walk or other fund-raiser.  And by all means, wear your sunscreen and get your skin checked!

2012 was a great year for melanoma awareness…and 2013 will be even better.  You can count on that!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good Question


Daddy?

Yes?

How old do you have to be to own a gun?

Hmmm…the law says 18 years old, 21 for hand guns.

Why?

Because the government wisely determined that guns can be very dangerous and it takes an older person to understand the risks and responsibilities.

Daddy?

Yes?

How old do you have to be to buy alcohol?

State law says 21 years old.

Why?

Because the government wisely determined that drinking alcohol can be very dangerous and it takes an older person to understand the risks and responsibilities.

Daddy?

Yes?

How old do you have to be to drive a car?

State law says you have to be 16 years old.

Why?

Because the government wisely determined that driving a car can be dangerous and it takes an older person to understand the risks and responsibilities.

Daddy?

Yes?

How old do you have to be to buy cigarettes?

State law says you have to be 18 years old.

Why?

Because the government wisely determined that smoking cigarettes can be dangerous and it takes an older person to understand the risks and responsibilities.

Daddy?

Yes?

How old do you have to be to go to a tanning salon?

State law says you can go when you're 14 with just written permission from your parent.

Couldn't that be faked?
 
Probably.

Daddy?

Yes?

Didn't you tell me that tanning beds have a link to skin cancer?

Yes.
 
Doesn't drinking, smoking, shooting and wreckless driving also cause problems?
 
Yes.
 
Then why hasn't the government made any wise determinations regarding tanning salons?
 
Good question.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Christmas Ball

I originally posted the story of the Christmas Ball in 2006 in my personal blog.  I re-posted here last year, but then removed as I entered the story in a writing contest (I didn't win).  I've rewritten the story this year from a retrospective view.  Please enjoy.
 
On the east side of my house is a small dining room.  In the corner of the dining room sits a small shelving unit.  On the shelves are displayed various figurines and knick knacks honoring the holiday season.  On the bottom shelf sits an ugly metal cube.  Within the cage-like cube sits a tattered and scarred golf ball.  And within this golf ball rests my fondest Christmas memory.

It all started about 30 years ago when my brother Jeff and I were golfing.  We were neither skilled nor rich (which hasn’t changed at all for me).  At some point, we both spotted a lost golf ball in the tall grass with an “Elmer Fike” logo printed upon it. (Elmer Fike was a local chemical company just up the river from the golf course).  Finding a “free” ball was as valuable as a birdie for two novice hackers such as us.  Naturally, we both laid claim to the find, but rather than wrestle in the middle of the fairway, we decided that whichever of us won that hole would win the ball.  (To this day, I still think he cheated).

A few years after that, we were still young and broke, but we made sure to exchange gifts every Christmas despite living hundreds of miles apart.  We made sure our gifts were small enough to package and ship cheaply.  Mind you that this was way before gift cards.  Naturally, each gift exchange included one token prank gift.  One year, I received a small tootsie-roll shaped package.  It turned out to be an empty toilet paper roll with the golf ball inside.  (I’m guessing that he felt guilty about cheating).  Not to be out done, I returned the ball to Jeff the next year in similar packaging.  This continued on for a number of years with the joke being that we knew what the gift would be.  Family members would look under the tree before Christmas to find the golf ball.  It turned into a “Where’s Waldo” of presents.

One year, I decided to change the rules a bit.  While shopping for a gift in a toy and game store, I found a 3D puzzle that looked like it could possibly hold a golf ball.  To dismantle the puzzle, several complex moves were required.  I felt this was the perfect “packaging” to totally annoy Jeff on Christmas morning.  Little did I know, a Christmas tradition was born that would be followed by many.

The next year, I did not receive a tootsie-roll package from Jeff, but a box big enough to hold a softball or grapefruit.  Inside was a golf ball-shaped candle.  Naturally, inside of the wax was the golf ball.  In the spirit of unwrapping the gift, I lit the wick later that night.  It stayed lit until a putrid odor emitted from the candle.  The golf ball was on fire!  This would be the first of many scars.

The Ball before being caged

Over the years, the golf ball had been packaged many ways.  One year I inserted the ball into a snow globe and it somehow survived the shipment without leaking.  Another year I had inserted it into a home-made ornament and sent it to his wife, who was a teacher and had a special tree set up with only hand-made ornaments from her students.  The first Christmas after my kids were born, I packed it in a “used” diaper using oatmeal and melted chocolate for that realistic visual effect.  Yet another year, I enclosed it within a stack of super-glued Lego bricks.

Not to be outdone, Jeff returned the ball to me in very unique packaging as well.  In honor of my cats, he once wrapped it in a basketball-sized ball of yarn.  Another year, he encased it in a commemorative brick.  He had also sent it within a “kissing ball” decoration, and more deliciously he packaged it in a huge chocolate kiss one year as well as his last shipment in hard candy.  You can understand all the scars on the ball…but each one represented something more special.

I shipped it one last time back in 2006.  I asked a local machine shop if they could enclose it in a metal cage of sorts.  They were eager to help, but alas, a little too eager.  Not only did they enclose it, they welded it within hardened steel that was essentially impossible to penetrate.  In retrospect, I should have stressed that it could be somehow opened.  Unfortunately, that brought an end to the exchange as there was no way to remove the ball without destroying it.  Jeff supposedly kept the ball in his office at work as a conversation piece and paper weight.

While that seemed like a sad ending for a great tradition (which was followed by radio stations and newspapers), it created a great trophy.  We decided to start a new tradition of exchanging retro toys (think Etch-a-sketch, etc.) but it really wasn’t the same.  My last prank gift received was a t-shirt and stuffed bear advertising Cocoa Wheats hot cereal.  (When I was a kid, Cocoa Wheats was the ONLY thing I would eat for breakfast).  I received that during the Christmas season of 2009.  The stuffed bear still sits on my night stand.

Cocoa and Zack

As you know, Jeff passed away in November 2010.  When I went home to West Virginia for the funeral, my sister-in-law brought one thing along from their home in Ohio…the Christmas Ball.  She knew I wanted to have it.  I needed to have it.  Ever since then, I keep the ball, metal cage and all, on a shelf beside my computer desk.  It rests between a tacky WVU piggy bank and an autographed football from the 1977 WVU football team…both gifts from my brother.  But during the holiday season, I bring it out along with all the red and green and silver and gold to showcase and celebrate the holiday season.  For me, that scarred golf ball in an ugly welded cage is the best symbol of Christmas joy and family love I could  imagine.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

To Switch Dermatologists or Not?


Last week, my co-worker, Elliot, told me about a new dermatologist’s office that opened up near our work place.  I figured he was just letting me know since he knew of my campaign against skin cancer.  This afternoon, he offered up a review of this new office because he had visited for a full skin check.  “They checked everything, soup to nuts.”  He was very excited about having gone (after my continued insistence to all co-workers) and promised to share the results of the one mole biopsy that was performed.
 
Yea Elliot!

He said one thing that stuck out. 

“There was not one advertisement in the waiting room for cosmetic treatment.”

I’ve brought up this point before.  The last time I visited my dermatologist (November 1), I couldn’t help but notice pamphlets and brochures on every conceivable cosmetic procedure…yet not one single thing offered about skin cancer.  While I trust my doctor, this little evidence of focus bothered me.

I decided to compare the two office’s websites.  Here’s my dermatologist’s home page:.



As you can see, while my dermatologist offers up full general dermatology services, the focus of the home page seems to be on the cosmetic services.  And because both lists are listed alphabetically, “Skin Cancer” is listed far below “Dandruff” and “Hair Loss.”

Here’s my co-worker’s dermatologist’s home page.



I blotted out all the basic information, but you can see that all services, both general and cosmetic are listed on the right.  The interesting difference is that the list is not alphabetically, but apparently in order of importance to the dermatologist, with "Skin Cancer" listed first.

While I know what your answer will be, which dermatologist would you choose if concerned about skin cancer?

Me, too.  I've got a decision to make before my next exam in November 2013.  I'll let you know what I decide.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hello...


I have to admit, I’ve been quiet on my blog lately because of a big crash.  The “high” was the recent AIM Walk in Charlotte which I still consider one of the best days of my life.  You have no idea how much love and respect I felt for people at the walk.  I hugged and shook the hands of warriors who were Stage 0 to Stage 4.  I felt overwhelming admiration for those who ran all 5K as well as to those who took the challenge in a wheelchair.  I felt humbled by these folks in ways I can’t begin to describe.  And that’s one reason that words have escaped me of late.

But the crash afterwards was hard.  After I came home, I felt like we had just won the Super Bowl.  The season was over…the victory was ours.  But then it occurred to me…in the 20 hours or so that I spent in Charlotte, 20 people in the US died of melanoma.  In the 11 days since the walk, 264 warriors have left us.  Melanoma never stops to celebrate.  It just keeps being the evil that it is.  And in the midst of the crash, I felt tired.

I have no right to feel that way since I don’t have melanoma.  I fight the awareness battle in memory of my brother, but that’s nowhere near the war that others fight every single moment.  Several folks couldn’t make the walk because melanoma was hitting them hard.  Some were in the hospital…some were sick at home…and some were way too financially depleted from the expense of the battle to make the trip to a far away city.  Melanoma attacks in so many ways and it doesn’t get tired.  Our most dedicated warriors get tired, but they fight on.  Despite the most daunting of obstacles, they fight on.  Jillian fights on.  I’m inspired by that.

Their fight reminds me of that of Inigo Montoya. 
 
 
 
He was the Spanish sword master in the movie “The Princess Bride.”  Inigo had a sense of vengeance to find the “man with six fingers” who had killed his father long ago.  For many years, he had rehearsed his greeting for the moment he would meet his father’s killer.

Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.

Eventually, he finds his nemesis and confronts the six-fingered man with his line.  Unfortunately, Inigo is quickly stabbed with a dagger and about to suffer the same fate as his father.  When all seemed lost, Inigo mustered up enough energy to pull the knife out and repel a killing thrust of his enemy’s sword while muttering…

Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.

Another thrust is rejected and Inigo repeats the words...twice.  The six-fingered man screams “Stop saying that!” do which Inigo responds…

HELLO!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.

Ultimately, the words prove prophetic and Inigo gets his revenge.  Despite having been injured and bleeding and left for dead, Inigo’s determination and strong will saw him through.

The efforts of those warriors that fight every second of their lives, and the determination of one movie character makes me want to stare melanoma right in the face and say…

Hello.  My name is Al Estep.  You killed my brother.  Prepare to die.



Post Script.  Please send your thoughts and prayer to Jillian as she fights the hardest part of her battle.  Her treatments have been deemed ineffective and her doctors (and family) can only hope for a miracle.  Jillian and her mom Susan have been advocates and inspiration for all those who are raising awareness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reflections on the Walk


 
So many blogs and Facebook postings have been written about this past weekend’s AIM Walk in Charlotte.  The Rev. Carol offers a great play-by-play while Chelsea shares some great photos.  Timna has an incredible blog about the emotions behind those amazing “Spirit Signs”…the decorated photos of some people we carried with us so that they could be with us.  I’ll try not to rehash much of what’s been shared by others, but I thought I’d share some of my reflections on the weekend.

·       The best way to describe the weekend was as a reunion among friends I’ve never met.  Despite others’ differing opinions, I’m usually pretty shy around folks I’ve never met.  But this past weekend was different.  Perhaps it’s just the way things are in this day and age of social media, but I felt as comfortable with everyone as I do my own family (maybe even more so!)

·       There were so many folks I didn’t meet that were in attendance.  After reading some of the aforementioned Facebook postings, I realized there were several folks at the walk (and even at the hotel lounge on Friday night) that I failed to talk to because I just didn’t realize who they were and vice versa.  Next time maybe we all need to wear nametags with our Facebook icons.  J

·       I was glad to meet so many on my “must meet” list.  I was especially happy that I asked Tara Gill to repeat her name 20 minutes or so after initial introductions in the loud bar.  She was one on my “must meet” list that almost got by without a hug.

·       Mark and Rich’s tutus.  What can I say?  Funny thing is, by the end of the day, it just seemed like their normal attire.

 

·       I loved the Rev. Carol’s prayer during the opening ceremonies.  I also loved that she encouraged folks to “get connected.”  Our voice online is a loud voice, but I realized that we were a minority in attendance at the walk.  Imagine if every person there (probably well over 500) blogged or at least shared sun-safety on their Facebook accounts!  Thanks for the reminder Rev….let’s hope others get connected.

·       One of the most emotional statements made at the walk was, “One day we’ll check out at the grocery store and the clerk will ask, ‘Would you like to donate a dollar to melanoma research?’”

·       Freedom Park is a beautiful park and great for such an event!



·       My GPS led me from the hotel to the park via a very swanky neighborhood…but not past a Starbucks.  I finally found it AFTER the walk when I traveled a different route.  And yes Chelsea, it looked like a house.

·       One of my highlights was not only carrying the Spirit Sign for Jennifer Christie (and others), but having one of Jennifer’s close friends approach me and ask where she could get one.  I gladly gave her mine and she seemed to light up with emotional pride.

 

·       The unexpected post-walk tailgate party in the Sunseeker RV (minus the Sun) was a real treat.  My family and I got to spend some time with our intriguing friend Donna with whom we shared the entire walk.  Our host also coaxed Chelsea into sharing a wine or two or… (how many times did the police circle the RV?).  I have to say it was a true pleasure to meet Chelsea in such a sit-down-and-talk environment.  She was exactly as I imagined…funny, bright, and gracious.  She may have been wearing a tiara, but she was no “diva.”  She, and her family which joined in later (yes, 9 people total in an RV at once) couldn’t be nicer or more genuine folks that anyone would want to know.



·       It was incredible to walk among people who “get it.”  I think each one of us in the melanoma community feel a lot of frustration when we share our stories and thoughts with others who don’t care to really listen.  Over this past weekend, we all got it.  We all spouted off the facts and figures.  We all shared the joys of medical triumph and the sorrow of lost loved ones.  We all came together with a shared mindset…and for me personally, it gave me the much needed boost to keep my campaign going.  I’m not alone…you’re not alone.  WE will make a difference!

·       Finally, as amazing as this event was, it shouldn’t be considered “special.”  At least not more special than any other.  Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible to have this reunion of friends we never met.  It had a near miraculous feel about it.  There were more hugs and smiles shared than I can recall in a long, long time.  But this AIM walk is one of many…and AIM is one of several organizations that host such events.  EVERY walk is special.  Each event raises funds and awareness. Don’t let all the blogs and Facebook posts make you think that this was the ONLY event in which to participate.  Hardly.  It’s one of many, and I encourage everyone to find such an event near you.  AIM.  MRF.  Miles Against Melanoma.  Outrun the Sun.  Each one helps our campaign to raise awareness. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

AIM's Anne


 
I wrote my very first blog post for Black is the New Pink back on March 4, 2011.  I wasn’t sure what type of response, if any, I would receive.  Ten days later, I received my very first comment.  It read as follows:

Great post!  I was diagnosed with melanoma in Dec 2010 and knew little about it before then.  Unfortunately, I had to learn a lot quickly and was so saddened by what I read, especially about the disease in its later stages.  It’s a horrible cancer that deserves more attention, funding, etc.  I am in Charlotte so keep me posted about any events going on in NC!  I’m looking to become more involved in melanoma awareness as well.

-Anne

That comment was written by known other than Anne Bowman, current AIM Charlotte Chapter President whose organization just pulled off another successful AIM for a Cure Melanoma Walk.

Anne, I think well over 400 people and $60,000 in funds raised for melanoma today says that your search for involvement has paid off enormously.

Congratulations!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Moments


I believe that every moment has an effect on every other moment of your life.  The fact that I just corrected a typo (one of many no doubt) may not have any significant impact to my future, but I’m convinced that action and all others lead to certain pivotal events.

For instance, I’ve always joked (sorta) that had my dad not taken me and my brother to a WVU football game when I was a kid, my children wouldn’t be eating their breakfast right now.  How so?  My family had a few hours to kill before the game, so we walked around town.  This is back when the football stadium was tucked between two hills in the downtown campus area and the term “tailgating” was still years away.  My brother and I were both in awe of the campus and student center.  The electricity of the game itself had a magic all its own.  I decided right then that I would attend college at WVU.  Fast forward to many years later when the job I got out of college lead me to Raleigh, North Carolina.   A small group of local WVU Alumni decided to form a local chapter and we gathered at Chi Chi’s to watch a Mountaineer football game on TV.  While there, I met a girl who eventually became my wife, which of course led to the two kids chowing down on waffles right now.  All because my dad wanted to go see a game.

Some moments aren’t so pleasant, but they still have a profound effect.

Two years ago today, my dad called me as I was driving home from work.  I knew what the call was about before he even spoke.  My brother Jeff had passed away an hour earlier after a horrid battle against melanoma.  My mind was reeling and I never had one thought of how that moment would shape my life.  But it did.  It led me to ask questions.  What was melanoma?  How can someone get a clean bill of health in early August (except for a complaint of blurred vision and memory lapses) and be dead in just three months?  Was it possible that I could get melanoma?  If so, was there a way to prevent it?

I spent many evenings in my crowded little computer room reading all sorts of websites.  I browsed through a large variety of information, but stuck mostly with the traditional and respected resources such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, AIM at Melanoma, and the Melanoma Research Foundation.  I was receiving technical answers, but I was still missing something….something inside.  I started to read the site forums, and contacted one or two folks that had suffered from the disease, and they in turn invited me to read their blogs.  (Thank you Andrea Heitker, aka, Melanoma Girl).  I was once told that in order to find something inside, you had to free it, so I started to write.

I not only wrote about my thoughts and feelings about melanoma, I shared the new knowledge that I discovered.  When new medicines were approved by the FDA, I shared the news on Facebook and within my blog.  When I felt a tug of sadness while missing my brother, I shared it.  And with absolutely no intention of establishing an audience, people started to listen.  As they listened, they shared…and I started to listen.  Before I knew it, I was a part of a community with one common bond.  We had all somehow been touched my melanoma.

I sit here now, two years after my brother’s death, still seeking and sharing information from this cluttered room.  I still feel those tugs of sadness, especially on this day.  I also marvel at the path that was forged from the unfortunate event of Jeff’s death.  Don’t get me wrong, I would trade every good moment over the past two years to have my brother alive today.   But the moment did happen, and here I am today.

Tomorrow, I’ll be traveling to meet some of the folks within the melanoma community.  We’ll all be participating together on Saturday in a walk to raise money for melanoma research and awareness.  Fighting the disease is the goal…walking with these incredible people will be a great side benefit.  As one (yet to be met) friend stated, “You’ll see a little bit of everything…running, walking, sitting, hugging, and crying!”  I would be willing to bet plenty of smiles, too.

Every moment leads to another moment.  Every action has a reaction.  Every decision defines your future.  One tragic moment that occurred two years ago today has led me with great anticipation to a joyous event in two days.   Who knows how many incredible moments will be forged for the future this weekend?

I miss you Jeff.  And thank you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Happens to the Tanning Beds?


Sometime last year, I shared that our family hair stylist closed downthe tanning portion of their business.  Two tanning beds, one tanning booth, and one leg tanner were shut down!  However, the machines have remained in place for over a year.  I finally decided to ask why they still haunted the back section of the building (although gathering dust rather than causing cancer).  I was told that the owner was having trouble getting rid of the machines.  Apparently, there just is not as many people starting up tanning businesses as there used to be.  I suppose this is a cause for celebration.  Or caution.

I wondered where one tries to sell unwanted goods.  In the case of personal garage sales, the newspaper classified would be the logical choice.  But then again, classified ads are becoming a thing of the past thanks to internet sites such as Craigslist.  So, I decided to take a peek and see if maybe closing tanning salons were offloading their equipment on Craigslist.

Most definitely yes.  Here’s a sample of today’s ads:
 
 
In short, it looks like at least one tanning bed is posted per day in the Raleigh area alone.  When I dug in a little more, the prices range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars.  Overall, the cost was relatively cheap compared to new units.

Out of curiosity, I decided to respond to a few of ads.  I used an alias name (Mel Carson) and mentioned that I was shopping for a tanning bed for my daughter and asked if there were any regulations regarding radiation control.  (Yeah, I felt dirty typing the emails)  Here’s the most detailed answer I received:

There are no regulations if you have a personal tanning bed in your home. Of course, you know to never exceed 20 minutes in a tanning bed in one day. The bed does have a 20 minute timer on it and a built in fan. You can set the time for as little as 2 minutes to 20 minutes. Always start out slow, usually 7 minutes to see your skin reaction. Then gradually increase to the full 20 minute time frame. It takes a 220 amp for hookup. I use tanning bed cleaning solution that I buy at Sally's beauty supply store, it's really cheap.  Me and my daughters have really enjoyed it, but they are older now and have new interests, lol! The bed really is good, we have one bulb out but it really hasn't made any difference with tanning. Bulbs are ordered on line when you replace them. I would just keep tanning until I needed more replaced which should be a while!

I was pleased that this person mentioned time limits and some sense of caution, but very displeased to read that her daughters were “older now and have new interests.”  To me, this says her daughters were in their teens, maybe even early teens when they used the bed.  Not good.  I was also surprised to read that Sally’s sells the tanning bed cleaning solution.  Tsk tsk.  But I digress.

I was suspicious about there being no regulations for home tanning beds, so I contacted the North Carolina Radiation Section of the Division of Health Services…the people who regulate tanning salons.  They confirmed that there are no regulations for those individuals who own tanning equipment for personal use.

This doesn’t surprise me.  Despite regulations on cigarette and wine sales, it’s legal to make your own at home for personal use without any type of home inspection.  I’m not opposed to that at all…I once made my own beer from a kit.  It tasted like crap, but I made it.  But my concern is that folks who are able to buy these industrial tanning beds for pennies on the dollar will not properly monitor their own use.  Also, they’ll not properly maintain the equipment causing all kinds of potential risks to their own health.

The point of this post is not to warn folks against buying used tanning beds. (Those who will do so don’t read this blog anyhow).  While we’re advocating the elimination of tanning beds (at least preventing use by minors), let’s not forget that raising awareness about the dangers should be our most important mission.  The only way to prevent the redistribution of the cancer coffins is to educate folks as to why such usage is a bad idea.  Changing a cultural mindset is a daunting and frustrating task that could take years, but it’s a task well worth taking on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Candidates and the Tanning Ban Bill


Back in June, I was fortunate enough to join a few others to talk with North Carolina state legislators about the tanning ban bill to be reintroduced next term.  Also known as the Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act, article a2 of section 2 reads, “The operator (tanning bed owner) shall not allow a person 13 years and younger less than 18 years of age to use tanning equipment without a written prescription from the person’s medical physician specifying the nature of the medical condition requiring the treatment, the number of visits, and the time of exposure for each visit.”

While I’d rather either do without the physicians’ prescription part, or require such to be administered by a licensed radiologist only, I find the amended statement very promising. After all, the original bill stated 13 years and younger and someone must have said, “whoa…let’s make it under 18.”  Kudos to this person!

Anyhow, during my rounds, Rob the Lobbyist introduced me to a gentleman who was supposedly my district representative.  The meeting went well and he even stated that “going to a tanning salon seems stupid anyhow.”  He was a definite vote to pass next year’s bill.  But there was one problem.  The gentleman was miles apart from my personal political views and there was no way I would have ever voted for him in the past.  I faced a dilemma…do I vote for a sure-fire vote against tanning, or do I compromise all my other political beliefs?

As the upcoming election approached, I decided to write my representative and his challenger.  Well, it turned out that Rob the Lobbyist was wrong.   The gentleman I spoke with is NOT my district representative after all.  Regardless, I decided to write to all four candidates up for office in my district…two running for State Representative and two running for State Senator.  Here’s what I wrote:   

Good evening,

The Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act, NC Senate Bill 471, will most likely be reintroduced in some form during the next term.  It states that persons less than 18 years of age would not be allowed to use tanning beds without permission from a physician.  What is your stance on this bill?  Do you oppose it, support it, or support with change?

Thank you in advance for your answer.

I tried to make it sound as neutral as I possibly could.

Of the candidates, two of them answered…one Rep candidate and one Senate candidate.  The Representative Candidate responded the very next day as follows:

Thanks for reaching out to contact me.  I am not familiar with the bill or topic you have asked about and before I could give you an opinion I would need to hear the pros and cons from both sides.  So to answer your question, I don’t have enough information to answer your question if I support or oppose at this time.

I respect his answer and I appreciate his quick answer.  And I promise you, he WILL receive some information from me soon.  In fact, I met him at the early voting site yesterday and he remembered our email exchange.  We talked only briefly (it was freezing outside) but he seemed very receptive to anything I could present.

The one Senate candidate responded a few days later as follows:

My apologies for the delayed reply; it has been a crazy week with the start of early voting.  I have done some initial research and have had some discussion on this topic.  It appears as though there is a link between increasing incidence of skin cancer and the use of tanning beds in the teen years.  As such, it is likely that I would be in favor of legislation that would prevent the use of tanning beds by persons under age 18.  With respect to more specifics of the legislation, I would need to have further discussions.  Is there any material you could share with me that would expand my knowledge further?  I would appreciate anything you would be willing to send.

Thanks so much for reaching out to me on this important issue.

Whoo hoo…perfect answer!

I’m happy to say that I share many of the same political values as both of these candidates…so they both got my vote.  I’m disappointed, however that I didn’t hear from the other two candidates.  I may not have voted for them anyway, but their silence strongly encouraged a vote for each of their opponents.

The point of this post is not to share my meager political outreach for this election…but to encourage yours.  You have only a week left to vote (or less if you’re voting early) but I encourage you to contact your candidates to get their take on the tanning issue in your state.  Many of these candidates have no opinion yet and your voice can make a huge difference.

Vote!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Suburgatory and Tanning


I seem to have limited opportunity to watch television anymore, but one show I try to watch each week is “Modern Family.”  I think it’s hilarious and it offers a nice little 30 minute escape.  After the show I return to reality by cleaning up the dishes or doing the laundry or performing some other real-life task.  I usually leave the room with the TV still on with no intent of really watching it. 

The show that follows “Modern Family” is “Suburgatgory,” a show about a teen girl named Tessa and her dad who moved to a Stepford Wives type of suburban town called Chatswin after having lived in New York City.  It seems like a cute show but it just doesn’t fit my schedule except as background noise as I check the kids’ homework or clean up some cat puke off the carpet. (Yes, this is real life in the suburbs).

However, the show has caught my attention the last two weeks.  On the first episode of the season, Tessa (played by gorgeous-skinned ginger Jane Levy) returns back to Chatswin after spending the summer in NYC with her grandmother “while everyone was cultivating Stage 3 skin cancer at the Chatswin Country Club.” When this line was stated in the dialogue, the camera showed two of the series stars sun bathing poolside at the club while the housekeeper desperately tried to spray sun screen on their skin. 
 
 
Very subtle, but considering that many of the town’s residents are portrayed as self-serving and shallow folk, it was actually a very good commentary.  I hope those that watched it caught the real message…sunbathing is stupid and causes cancer!

The second episode was a Halloween show.  I didn’t catch a lot of it, but apparently there was a rumored witch in town.  The witch followed Tessa throughout the episode and in the end it was revealed that she was merely a nature-loving feminist with opinions opposite of one of the town’s main residents. 
 
 
The haggard-looking lady said, “I’m just a 45 year old woman who hasn’t had any work done.”  Tessa questioned, “Only 45, eh?” to which the witch replied, “Yeah, I did a lot of sun.  I didn’t know how damaging it was back then.”

Having not watched this show during its freshman year, I’m not sure whether such anti-tanning comments are common or even intentional, but I have to applaud the writers.  Such subtle, almost subliminal jokes and statements like this are just as effective against tanning as a 30-minute PSA.  If this show includes a little dig against tanning even every other episode, fans of the show will start to think the same way.  Imagine if other shows and popular movies would work in similar messages!

Thank you “Suburgatory” and keep making those digs at tanning.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hillary Quinn Kind - A Simple Gift


I was going to write a few thoughts about melanoma and politics, but the news of Hillary Quinn Kind’s passing has really affected me.  There’s no way I can write about anything else.

For those of you who may not know, Hillary Quinn Kind was the melanoma warrior featured in the Stand Up 2 Cancer special that was broadcast not long ago.  On the night it aired, I took my kids to their grandparents’ house for a sleep over.  Even though I was recording the show on my DVD as I drove, I was a little disappointed at not watching it live.  When we arrived at my in-laws, the TV was on.  I (rudely) asked if I could just switch the channel briefly and check into the broadcast.  As I did, the melanoma segment started.

If you didn’t catch it before, here’s Hillary’s story.

 

I was struck by this girl’s beauty, strength and courage in the face of obvious adversity.  The discussion she had with her doctor was real and heart breaking.  It was courageous to hear her say “maybe if it’s not me surviving, maybe they will find a cure and I will have helped them.”  But what touched me emotionally the most was to watch her sky-dive (thus knocking off an item off her bucket list) to the haunting tune of “Simple Gifts.”  (The tune has a special place in my heart already).  I still barely hold back the tears when I watch it.

The fight against melanoma…the “just cut it out skin cancer”…had a face for the world to see.  It had a representative story.  And in the middle of my in-laws’ family room, I could hear the entire melanoma community cheering.

Like so many others, I “friended” Hillary on Facebook…and she was kind enough to accept.  We never corresponded, but I watched her posted life as she continued to fight.  She never really discussed her illness as I recall, so it came as an absolute shock when I read that she passed away last night.

My first thought…dammit.  My second thought…was a smile.  Strange, I know.  It was partly due to knowing she was no longer in pain, and partly knowing that we have another strong-willed angel looking over us.  I hope that other people, besides the melanoma community recall her touching story from the broadcast…and I hope they get word of Hillary’s passing so that they can get the full emotional message of melanoma’s wrath.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Rest in Peace Hillary Quinn Kind.