Monday, March 25, 2013

The Voice of Melanoma Awareness

You’ve read my blog post “Real People of Melanoma."  You’ve seen the calendar of the Faces of Melanoma.  You may have walked Miles Against Melanoma.  And now, there is a Voice for Melanoma Awareness.

Two weeks ago, Chelsea of Adventures with My Enemy…Melanoma announced that she would be appearing on The Dr. Dan Show.  This is a radio show out of Austin Texas’ 93.9KJCE-FM and Talk Radio 1370-AM which airs at 9:00 AM Central Time every Saturday morning.  I tuned in and was very much pleased to have discovered this show.

The host is Dr. Daniel J. Ladd, Jr. who is board-certified in dermatology and Mohs surgery.  In short, he knows all about melanoma and skin cancer.  Recently, the Skin Cancer Foundation inducted him into the Amonette Circle Membership which ”signifies a commitment to skin cancer education to patients and demonstrates great leadership to fellow physicians.”  His co-host is wife Lurleen Ladd, founder of the Shade Project in Austin, TX which provides shade units to playgrounds and parks throughout their area.  Both are very knowledgeable and sympathetic to those who have been touched by melanoma and skin cancer.

Dan and Lurleen Ladd (Source: Facebook)

Chelsea was the main guest two weeks ago.  Last week they interviewed Shonda Shilling, wife of baseball great Curt Shilling.  Shonda is a melanoma survivor and founder of TheShade Foundation.  She’s a celebrity AND big wig in the melanoma awareness community…no slouch of a guest at all.

Granted, Dr. Dan’s show is not all melanoma all the time.  Per his Facebook page, the show is about all aspects of health.  “Dr. Dan is an advocate for contemporary, holistic health practitioners in Austin. Future shows will spotlight the many, exceptional doctors that believe that whole body, preventative care is the key to life-long health and topics will include solutions for healthy living ranging from what to do when you feel tired and lethargic to how to treat those sore muscles from your weekend exercise, to how to prevent suffering from seasonal allergies so common here in Austin.”  At the same time, his expertise is dermatology and he usually has some good words to share about sun and skin safety.  Whether featuring a tanning-related fashion disaster in their “Good, Bad and Ugly” segment, or their end-of-show give-away of free sunscreen, the good doctor is sure to raise his listener’s melanoma awareness.

I encourage you to support Dr. Dan Ladd and his wife Lurleen in three ways. 

First, listen to his radio show every Saturday morning at 9:00 AM Central time (10:00 Eastern time).  Here’sthe link to listen to the radio station online.  If you miss it, they post a podcast of the entire show later in the day (so you can still catch Chelsea’s interview from a few weeks ago!)

Second, “Like” his Facebook page.  I’d love to see his “Like-count” reach very high levels.  (I’m sure his radio station would as well).

Finally, and most importantly, Lurleen’s Shade Project is nominated for the Merz Aesthetic's STAND AND DELIVER contest.  If she wins, her organization will receive a significant amount of money to be used for additional shade projects in the Austin area.  Visit the Shade Project's website and cast your vote today...and do it again every day.  Promoting sun safety, whether it be in your town or in Austin, Texas is something worth spending a few minutes a day to vote for.

Please give Dr. Dan a listen and share your thanks for giving a voice to melanoma awareness!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Anti-Tan the Same as Anti-Sun?

Whenever I read an article about anti-tanning legislation on a local news website, the “comments” section is filled with those opposed to such a ban.  They cite that government should not dictate parental rights (yet we have age restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol as well as many others).  Some mention that tanning beds provide valuable Vitamin D to a population that’s seriously deficient (it doesn’t).  Whatever the argument, I typically write it off as the person being misinformed.  I sometimes offer up a response, but I’ve also learned that once someone has an opinion, it’s pretty difficult to change it. 

However, there’s one misconception I see over and over that just floors me.  “Anti-tanners want to ban sunshine!”  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Sure, one can get an unhealthy dose of UV radiation from the sunshine, but one needs to understand the difference between exposure in a tanning bed versus exposure under the sun.

As you probably know, there are two types of UV rays emitted by the sun.  UVA rays go deeper into the skin and typically don’t burn.  They cause the inner skin to darken or tan.  They also cause the skin to age more quickly (UVA –UV Aging) and cause DNA damage.  UVB affects the surface if the skin more and causes sun burns (UVB – UV Burning).

Your body is an amazing thing.  When there is danger, it has a way of warning you.  If you touch something that’s hot, your skin feel s pain and you instantly pull away your hand.  But what if you couldn’t feel that pain?

Imagine going to a dentist and you have your mouth numbed with Novocain.  Before you leave, the dentist warns you not to drink anything hot or to bite your lip.  He issues this warning because he knows that while you can’t feel the pain, you can damage your lips or mouth. 

Your body has a natural mechanism to protect itself from too much sun exposure.  When UVB rays from natural sunshine start to burn the skin, the body announces that it’s time to seek shade.  Without those UVB rays, the body has no way of detecting when it’s time to get out of the sun.  That’s where the danger lays in tanning beds versus sunshine. 

There are no UVB rays in most tanning beds, so your body won’t get burnt.  However, the UVA rays still penetrate your skin and cause serious damage.  In fact, the amount of UVA radiation from the bed may actually be many times more intense than from natural sunlight!  When you leave the tanning salon, you won’t feel the pain or the burn, but the damage will be there.  It’s like drinking scalding hot coffee with a numb mouth…you won’t feel the pain, but the damage has taken place.

This is not to say that the sun is entirely safe, but this doesn’t mean that we fear the sun and expect it to be shunned.  What we do is respect the sun. 

Those who have been adversely affected by the sun (whether it be from melanoma or aged skin) have every right to fear the sun.  But for many, they’ve learned to respect it rather than fear it.  They have learned that it’s important to wear sunscreen when enjoying the sun’s warmth.  They know it’s best to seek shade between 10AM and 4PM when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.  They know that wearing a hat provides additional protection.  Believe it or not, they enjoy the sun very much.  They embrace the sun.  They also know the limits in which to enjoy and learned to respect it.

So are those opposed to tanning in beds also opposed to the sun?  No.  In fact, we encourage you to enjoy the sun, but to be safe within in.  Just realize that a tanning bed offers much different dangers from the sun and they should indeed be avoided.  Tanning beds are NOT the sun…not at all.

Sources:  American Cancer Society, Skin Cancer Foundation, Melanoma Research Foundation, and plain ol' common sense!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Loved One's Influence

Preface:  The following thoughts are intended to be politically neutral with no biased towards or against gay marriage.  (I know I have readers that have strong opinions at either end of this discussion).  While I have my personal opinions on such matters, I always try to maintain a neutral tone in my posts so as not to detract from the main message of melanoma awareness.  With that being said, I share an analogy in which some may claim I’m comparing being gay to having an awful disease like melanoma.  This is in no way the case.  My thoughts merely compare one’s point of view when influenced by a loved one’s situation or life event…whether it be homosexuality, a cancer diagnosis, or possessing any other trait.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio recently announced that he has changed his position against gay marriage.  His history shows a very aggressive campaign to block any chance of any homosexual couple engaging in any formal, law-abiding union.  However, today Senator Portman revealed that he now supports gay marriage.  Why?  His son has recently stated that he is gay.

The senator stated that he did a lot of research and consulted with his pastor before he had a change of heart.  Obviously his love for his son inspired him to partake in such research, but this leads me to wonder if his previous stance was based solely on his personal opinion and not on any research at all.

I’ve seen this before.  I’ve experienced this before.

Prior to 2004, I knew very little about skin cancer or melanoma and really had no clue about any such relationship to tanning.  Sure, I knew that getting a lot of sunburns was probably a bad thing for one’s skin, but I also remember the tanning bed operator telling me that tanning beds emit “only the safe UV rays that don’t burn.”  (Yes, I visited a tanning salon for about a one month period back in the late 1980’s.  My distain for potentially laying in other people’s germ-laden sweat caused me to cease the practice more so than the potential for skin damage).

In 2004, my brother announced that he had melanoma removed from his back.  He told us that the doctors determined that the cancer had not spread to his lymph nodes.  Everyone sighed in relief and assumed that his melanoma was totally eradicated.  Silly ol’ skin cancer…such an inconvenience and so easy to remove.

In 2010, Jeff’s melanoma returned and, as most of you know, he passed away in November of that year.  Jeff never visited a tanning booth only because they didn’t exist in his youth.  But he did aggressively “sunbathe” in the summer using only baby oil and iodine as his tanning oil.  So did I.  His illness and subsequent death prompted me to do some extensive research in melanoma. 

There was evidence to suggest that tanning beds were safe and that they were a great tool in providing Vitamin D and treating seasonal affective disorder.  However, there was overwhelmingly more evidence to suggest that tanning of any kind has a direct link to skin cancer and melanoma, and that tanning beds are even more dangerous.  After such research, my stance was clear and I vowed to make others aware.

It took a loved one’s encounter with melanoma to inspire me to do the necessary research on melanoma and allow me to come to my own personal conclusion (some would agree…some would disagree).  It took Senator Portman’s son coming out to inspire him to do his own research and come to his own personal conclusion (some would agree…some would disagree).

Several state legislative bodies across the country are considering proposed tanning ban bills.  North Carolina is one such state.  So far, House Bill HB8 has passed through two subcommittees, but not without some opposition.  One representative (Marilyn Avila) has been on both committees and has voted against the bill each time.  She has stated that she has done some research and has concluded that there is no strong scientific evidence of a link between melanoma and tanning.  She also has stated that banning tanning beds would cause unsupervised teens to scamper into the sunlight to seek a tan that’s not properly regulated or monitored.  She claims that she’s done her research, so I have to respect her opinion, even if it differs from mine.

I would never wish melanoma upon anyone.  But I have to wonder…would her stance change if a close family member revealed that they had melanoma after using tanning beds?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Happy Birthday Dad!

I just spent about an hour writing about my dad.  I typed about how good life was for my family during my childhood.  I wrote how proud Dad was as my brother and I both graduated college and started our own lives.  I conveyed how life got tougher as my mom got sick and died and then five years later, my brother also passed away.  And then I stopped…read what I wrote…and I couldn’t write more.  I was writing as if my dad was no longer here.  But he’s alive and well in Florida, living the retired life with my step-mom and with good friends close by.  I just visited him last week and I know he’s doing well.

The point of sharing this here in this blog is, frankly, to wish him a Happy 79th Birthday today (March 12).  (Yep, I forgot to send him a card).  The second is to introduce my dad as someone who’s been touched deeply by melanoma. 

My dad is an amazing guy.  He’s done so many cool things that have inspired me.  Little things like taking care of the local park grounds when no one else would, despite never being asked to do so.  Like driving around the neighborhood replacing remove heavy manhole covers that prankster teenagers removed the night before.  Like shoveling snow off of a neighbor’s driveway because he was the first out there doing so.  Like working on his ink drawings as hard as he worked on his drafting projects because drawing helped him cope and relax.  Very little things that Dad did made huge impressions on both me and my brother.  And he continues to be as impressive.

When Jeff was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma, Dad traveled the 3 hours between his home in West Virginia and Jeff’s home in Ohio many times.  During Jeff’s last weeks, Dad stayed there constantly.  He knew what was going on with Jeff.  Dad had seen what cancer can do when he watched my mom fight lung cancer during her last year.  It was not an easy time for Dad…and the scars will last for the rest of his life.  His scars from melanoma are not from a surgical knife, but they run just as deeply. 

Dad’s doing well.  He misses my mom.  He misses Jeff.  I saw him tear up during a touching feel-good commercial while watching TV.  I do the same thing as such ads bring up deep emotions mores than they used to.  But I know he’s as happy as he can possibly be now (even with the “Estep Temper” we both share).  And that makes me happy.  I have the deepest appreciation and gratitude for the dad I have…and I hope to one day, even as I’m 50 years old now, to grow up to be just like him.

Happy Birthday Dad!

I wrote a little more about my dad back in 2006 when he wrote a memoir of his youth called, “Growing up in a Nitro.”  You can check out the blog'll have to scroll down past the post titled "Happy Alloween"...which turns out to be a pretty neat tribute to my brother as well, so you might as well read it, too! 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Time Flies! Two Years of BITNP

In a few hours from now, time will leap ahead one hour.  I think it’s a most appropriate day for me to be amazed at how time flies.  A little more than two years ago, I first put my fingers to keyboard and shared my thoughts in this little blog called “Black is the New Pink.”  I can hardly believe that it has been two years!  In fact, the anniversary passed me by 4 days ago without me even realizing.

While the first year was fantastic, I have to say that year two was even more incredible.  Prior to my first anniversary, I had met the Rev. Carol who is an incredible presence in the online melanoma community.  I’ve been fortunate enough to cross her path a couple of more times since then, but also extremely blessed to have met so many others.  Anne, Timna, Chelsea, Rich, Tara, Donna, Mark…the list goes on!  The first two, Carol and I met while lobbyingfor the anti-tanning bill at the NC Legislative building last year (and Anne continues to be a major force in this year’s campaign!)  The others I met at the amazing AIM for aCure Walk in Charlotte in November.  There are so many others I’ve virtually met online and via Twitter…far too many to mention.  I have highlighted some of these folks in individual blog posts (such as Hillary and Lily) while I’m sure I’ll introduce the world to others soon.  I hope to meet many more in the coming year and beyond!

To “celebrate” my second year of blogging, I’d like to do the same thing I did last year by reviewing my Top 10 most read blog posts from Year Two.  But before I get to the countdown, I’m amazing by the staying power of some of my older posts.  Real People of Melanoma continues to be read almost daily and is still, by far my most read blog.  People still seek out Eric Sizemore and TinaSullivan.  And of course, people still search for my T-shirt.  (By the way, I’m trying to find a cheaper distributor/manufacturer…I’ll share more on that in a few weeks…I hope).

So here’s the Top 10 of Year 2:

I wrote this the day before I joined Carol, Anne and Timna at the North Carolina Legislative Building to lobby the anti-tanning bill (the fight is still going on!).  I had thought that if a representative wanted to know the facts about indoor tanning versus the myths, I could simply say, “Read my blog.”  I’m not sure if anyone did, but I still think it’s a good piece on tanning facts and myths.

I had fun showing a more humorous side…although there’s really not much funny about cleaning up cat poop and pee from previously nice furniture!  (By the way, I have two almost-new bean bags available to give away…please ignore the smell of cat piss.)  Yet the real thrill of writing this piece was sharing some good news of a definitive medical link between UV rays and melanoma.  Previous links were primarily statistical and not as strong…a fact the tanning industry used to jump all over.  But as of this writing, that all changed.  It seems the tanning industry has started to crumble ever since.

I had the great pleasure of meeting with some folks who organized an MRF Walk right here in Apex, North Carolina in honor of their two daughters, Amanda and Corey.  My personal schedule has prevented me from helping out much this year, but I hope to start pitching in soon for the 2013 walk to be held in October again.  I’m pleased that this piece continues to draw in readers, but I have also learned that there’s a Playboy model by the name of Amanda Corey.  Even if that’s the reason Google leads people to this site, it’s a convenient way to spread the word about melanoma awareness!

When I read that the director of the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” had died after a bout of melanoma, I felt it appropriate to honor the Oompa Loompas which have become an iconic caricature of extreme tanners.  I also paid tribute to Rich McDonald who runs the Hotel Melanoma and has an amazing gift of converting classic rock lyrics to melanoma based lyrics.  It took me forever to write one modified verse of the Oompa Loompa song…I don’t see how Rich can knock out so many songs so quickly.  Well done!

I wrote this piece in response to a Today Show segment in May which features Joseph Levy, sun tanning industry spokesperson and guru.  (Yes, the same Joe Levy who nearly killed the bill currently in the NC General Assembly.)  Mr. Levy made a comment that sun is essential, like water…a necessity of life.  I decided to share that water can be dangerous and that sunscreen was analogous to wearing a life jacket.  I doubt Mr. Levy would have listened, but I hope others did.

This was my first “Facebook first, Blog second” posting.  Meaning, I posted a question on Facebook, asking where on one’s body melanoma appeared.  I received a tremendous response and decided to share the results in my blog.  My results came very close to actual diagnosed locations as shared from the Melanoma Education Foundation.  The point of this piece was to make sure you get checked…from head to toe!

This was a “letter” I wrote to the breast cancer community after seeing pink ribbons on tanning products or in tanning salon promotions and after tanning sessions were offered as a door prize at a breast cancer awareness event.  My point was that we all fight against cancer and that I was merely asking them to help fight our cancer by preventing such promotions in the future.  I hope that the high readership of this blog helped to accomplish this.

#3 – Black Salve

This one continues to amaze and confuse me.  I ran across a video where the smarmy girl announced a “natural cure for skin cancer and melanoma.”  This cure is Black Salve…a corrosive compound that eats away the flesh.  There are multiple accounts of the dangers of this product (it’s banned in the US and its primary manufacturer operates out of Ecuador) so I wanted to bring this to light.  Amazingly, most people who’ve read this posting seem to support the use of black salve.  I posted a question on Facebook and several of my readers stated that they’d be tempted to try it.  I’m not a doctor, but based on my reading, I wouldn’t advise using it.  Then again, I don’t have melanoma so I’m not capable of understanding the limits one would go to eradicate the disease from their body.

It’s interesting to see what key words or phrases in Google led people to my blog. “Does melanoma hurt” has been such a phrase that has popped up many times.  I attempted to answer as best I could and many of you shared your insight.  That question still comes up weekly as one of the key words in Google.

Hillary Quinn Kind was the melanoma warrior that was featured in the Stand Up 2 Cancer special on television.  In an instant, she became the face of melanoma.  The entire melanoma community went crazy for her and her story touched so many others.  Melanoma had taken its step to the forefront of the cancer stage beside others and its face couldn’t have been more beautiful.  But in October, Hillary passed away.  I’d never met her or corresponded with her, but I was deeply affected by her death.  Apparently, so were many others as this is the second most popular post I've written overall! The haunting song of “Simple Gifts” that was played during her video on SU2C also has a very personal meaning to me regarding my brother Jeff.

And that’s the reason for this blog…Jeff.  While I wish every day that Jeff was still with us, in some ways his bout with melanoma became a blessing for me.  He inspired me to carry on the message of sun safety.  He inspired me to talk with people I may never have met.  He has given me purpose beyond what I felt I needed.  As I stated last year, I will continue to write this blog and spread awareness of this awful disease. I will write my legislators to ban tanning for minors…not only in Jeff’s memory but to protect my own children.  I will share his story and I will share the story of many other warriors.  I will feel great joy when I hear of a warrior’s…a friend’s…success in fighting melanoma.  I will feel great sadness at word of one’s struggle or passing.  And I will cry every damned time I hear “Simple Gifts”…even when played by the WVU Marching Band.

Thank you for continuing to read my blog and follow me on Facebook.  I hope the day comes when we’ll never have to mention melanoma again.  Until that day, let’s keep fighting…together!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

One Girl's Action to Spread Sun Protection

Sunscreen is expensive.  This is one major drawback for getting people to use sunscreen correctly if at all.  I personally use cheaper, yet effective brands (as rated by Consumer Reports or other such rating organizations).  My medicine cabinet is currently stocked with several bottles of Target brand sunscreen.  It’s greasier than I’d like, but it does a great job at keeping away those nasty UVs.

But do I apply a golf ball-sized amount on my skin…every two hours?  Admittedly, usually not.  When I go out into the sun to work or play, yes, I put on a lot of sunscreen and I reapply it regularly.  But during the winter or during work days, I fail to apply as much as I should.  I need to get better.  Yet I would imagine I’m much better than most. 

This is one main reason that people should apply SPF 30 sunscreen.  The general “rule” of SPF is that the number dictates how much more time you can spend in the sun before you start to burn.  (I’ll comment about “burn” versus “exposure” in another blog post soon).  Logically, one would think if a burn starts after 15 minutes, an SPF of 8 is all that’s needed since one should reapply after 2 hours.  But the fact is, SPF designation occurs in a lab and is based on a large amount of applied sunscreen…the aforementioned golf ball-sized amount.  Most folks apply much less, meaning your SPF protection is far less than what the bottle suggests.  Your SPF 30 may now be only an SPF 10 or even less.  And since most people will not reapply in 2 hours, your SPF goes down even more.  See where I’m leading?

But back to my original comment…sunscreen is expensive.  If I were to use the amount recommended every day, I’d probably go through 2 bottles of sunscreen per week.  A presentation I attended last year suggested that a family of four could likely spend more on sunscreen during a week-long holiday than on the vacation itself!  So in these tough times, how are we to convince the world to spend a decent chunk of their income on sunscreen?

Today I read an inspiring article about a girl in Traverse City, Michigan that started a non-profit organization called “Skin for the Future” which in part distributes sunscreen to families in need.  Lily Ambrosius has collected enough to buy 750 3-ounce bottles of sunscreen which will be distributed in the Traverse City area.  Because of her efforts, many families will have a little more knowledge, and a bit of sunscreen to become more sun safe.

How friggin’ cool is that?  Read the full article here.

While May is Melanoma Awareness month, NOW is the time to start educating and helping folks.  The tanning industry is licking their collective chops as teens line up to tan before prom and graduation.  Teens and young adults are about to venture to sunny climates for spring break.  Please follow Lily’s lead and help other’s out, through education, advocacy, or simply offering someone a bottle of sunscreen!