Friday, May 31, 2013

I Hate Cancer...All Cancers

Fxck Cancer:  Respect the Rays
Because of my campaign name (“Black is the New Pink”), I was recently asked, “What do you have against breast cancer?”  My answer is, “everything…I hate breast cancer.”  In fact, I hate all cancers.  But what I think the person meant to ask me was, "What do you have against breast cancer AWARENESS?" 
Absolutely nothing.  Yes, I suffer from pink envy as many others do from different cancer communities, but I hate all cancers, therefore I love all efforts to raise awareness and funds to fight all cancers.

When I was a kid, cancer was something other people got far away.  Then a little girl named Emily who lived across the street got brain cancer.  She was only a year or two older than me.  Because this was my only real exposure to cancer, as a child I thought cancer was strictly a brain disease.  And I learned that it killed little girls.

Of course as I grew up, I became aware of other cancers, and fortunately it didn’t touch our family.  No, heart disease haunted our family medical history…cancer was for other people.

In 2003 or 2004, that all changed.  My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking.  Her prognosis was not good.  Around the same time, my brother was initially diagnosed with early-stage melanoma.  Half of my original family of four was suddenly stricken with cancer.  Mom died in 2005 and later that year my urologist stated that I possibly had prostate cancer.  I went through two painful biopsies to determine that I was clear…for the moment.  In 2010, my brother’s melanoma had returned and he died within months.  Within that same period, I had cousins stricken with other cancers…throat and breast.  Now these past few weeks, I’ve learned of breast cancer diagnoses for a distant relative and a colleague.

I hate cancer.

The reason I’ve taken up the fight against melanoma rather than lung, prostate or breast cancer is that melanoma is SO misunderstood.  “It’s just skin cancer.”  “I’ll get it cut out.”  “A base tan is a healthy thing.”  No other cancer seems to be surrounded by as much ignorance as melanoma…and this ignorance (and stupidity) can lead to death. 
The only other cancer I can think of that has a history of such public ignorance and misinformation is lung cancer with respect to smoking, but that awareness battle has been won.  People now know and understand that smoking is bad.  Right now, the majority of the population seems to be dangerously unaware of how serious melanoma can be, how easy it can be to get, and how simply it can be fought.  I want to be a part of that cultural change.

But make no mistake, I hate all cancers…every single one.

Many thanks to my friend Timna of Respect the Rays for allowing me to use her photo.  (If you haven't read her blog or followed her on Facebook yet, do so immediately!)  Her Fxck Cancer hat and pose matched my mood perfectly as I was composing this post…I just had to use it.  Thank you Yogina Princess.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Personal Take On Sunscreens

No pun intended, but sunscreens have been a hot topic lately.  Which ones work better?  Are they safe?  Are there any that don’t smell like…well, sunscreen?

Consumer Reports (CR) just came out with their most recent review of sunscreens.  (Note, I am not allowed to post a link to their website, but I found a good article which reviews the list for me here).  I usually use CR as a great resource, but I noticed they only rated 12 different sunscreens.  Popular brand names such as Banana Boat and Aveeno were not even included.  I have to wonder what criteria CR uses when selecting various sunscreens.  Their top rated lotion was the Target Brand, “Up and Up Sport SPF 30”...the brand I personally use.  I can tell you from experience that it’s an effective sunscreen, but despite the “fragrance free” claim, my daughter often states that "daddy smells like sunscreen."  While CR rated the spray, I primarily use the lotion.  I do occasionally use the spray when time is short or kids are squirmy.  (More on spray-versus-lotion later).

One sunscreen they rate poorly is Neutrogena Wet Skin SPF 45+.  I bought a spray can of the Coppertone version of wet skin (note that the sprays run out VERY quickly).  Again, I found this to be an effective sunscreen, but after the initial application, I looked like I was greased down for a body-building competition…something I would NEVER win.  I didn’t just glisten in the sun; I probably raised the UV factor in my general area due to the reflectivity of my skin.  As my wife said, I looked varnished.  I doubt I buy this product again.

I was a little disappointed in Consumer Reports’ small list of sunscreens, but another group recently posted their preferred list.  The Environmental Working Group posted their sunscreen guide, but with a different take.  They were as concerned about toxicity of the chemical contents as they were with effectiveness.   Their list is a LOT longer than 12 products…which leads me to wonder if they truly performed any tests on the effectiveness.  CR used real people, applied sunscreen, exposed the subjects to UVB and then UVA rays, and measured accordingly.  I couldn’t find such details on the EWG website.  (If you find their test methodology, please let me know).

I took a look at my same Target sunscreen on the EWG list.  They rate the UVB protection as “SPF 30” (which leads me to believe they are simply trusting the manufacturer’s SPF label and NOT testing) and the UVA protection as moderate (CR rated it as “Very Good”).  The main flag on the EWG site was that my sunscreen has a high toxicity level (7 out of 10) due to the inclusion of the chemical sunscreens oxybenzone and Vitamin A.

Animal studies have shown that oxybenzone (which is used in 80% of sunscreens) may have some effect on hormones.  Other studies have indicated that the risk of obtaining skin cancer far outweighs the risk of using sunscreens containing oxybenzone.  Vitamin A, or retinol has been shown to cause skin cancer in mice.  Again, there are conflicting studies to mitigate the risk of use.  In short, the jury is still out and the choice is yours.

Many folks stand by using only physical sun blocks such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide.  These minerals provide a physical barrier to block the UV rays while the aforementioned chemical sunscreens absorb the rays.  In the old days, physical sun blocks were associated with the white noses of beach lifeguards.  (Makes you wonder how many lifeguards got skin cancer while having perfectly healthy noses).  Nowadays, these minerals are processed in nanoparticles which leave little or no white film when applied to the skin.  The only problem with nanoparticles is that they are so small, they could absorb into the skin and potentially reach the lungs or blood stream.  There have been no issues found yet with this scenario, but when this very subject was mentioned at an MRF Symposium at the University of North Carolina, the doctor who was speaking said that he personally avoids lotions containing nanoparticles…as do most of his colleagues.

Speaking of small particles, the potential dangers of sunscreen sprays is a growing concern.  As I mentioned before, I occasionally use sprays on both me and my kids.  My kids are older and they hold their breath and close their eyes.  I never spray them (or me) in a closed room…and never near a smooth floor.  (We discovered that spray sunscreen can be VERY slick on a smooth floor!).  We spray either on our back deck or our garage so as not to leave a cloud of spray lingering in the house.  And this is the very concern…whether or not the residual spray is safe.  Probably not.  (The same might be said for spray-on tans as well….a topic for another day).  One “spray” that I use is Banana Boat Body and Scalp pump spray for my, um, more exposed scalp for when I go into the pool and have to remove my hat.  There is no residual spray in the air and it seems to keep my scalp protected.
You may notice that many sunscreens have a Seal of Recommendation by the Skin Cancer Foundation.  It was recently revealed that the SCF does not rate all sunscreens, but only those from companies within their Corporate Council.  They give a little more information here.  In short, there are most likely some pretty valid and reliable sunscreens available that do not have the Seal of Recommendation, so don't judge a product by it's inclusion of the seal.  Another interesting observation is that the specific page about the Seal of Recommendation program is sponsored by Target...the maker of the CR top rated sunscreen.  Hmmm.

So what sunscreen should one use?  My choice (and possibly not yours) is to stick with the basic lotions, but still seek one out that doesn’t have so much of the sunscreen smell.  I will probably still keep a can of the spray stuff handy for quick applications, but I’ll avoid the one brand of “Wet Skin” unless I want to start glistening for a living.  I’ll not use sprays as my primary sunscreen choice.  I plan to avoid the nanoparticles if I can.  The speakers at the MRF symposium seemed less concerned about the chemical sunscreens and far more concerned about the nanoparticles…I think I’ll trust their instinct.

One additional thing I discovered over my recent vacation is that sunscreen, if applied liberally and reapplied every 2 hours, is still not 100% effective.  Despite such application, my forearms are still a half shade darker than my shoulders.  Do not rely on sunscreen as the only weapon against UV rays.  Wearing a hat and shirt and seeking shade are equally if not more important than wearing sunscreen. 

Monday, May 27, 2013


I’ve been told that the definition of insanity is performing the same task over and over while expecting a different result every time.  I would think that “stupidity” would fall under a similar definition.  Perhaps stupidity is acting the same way over and over while ignoring the eventual risks and consequences.  If this is the case, then I’m definitely stupid.

I have extremely high triglycerides…the secret cousin of cholesterol.  For that matter, my cholesterol is pretty high as well.  All of my uncles have all had a heart attack, my dad had two nearly blocked carotid arteries, and my mother had a stroke.  To say that I have a family history of cardiovascular issues is putting it mildly.  I’m very much aware that I’m a walking heart attack, yet I just ate a cheese burger with fries for my holiday dinner.  In fact, I love pizza, Italian food and Mexican food.  And since my work schedule is usually very busy, I tend to rely on processed food to feed me at lunch.  See?  I’m stupid.

My parents and brother were stupid as well.  They smoked…a lot.  My mom died of lung cancer, but her life-long fight with lupus contributed as much to her passing as her smoking.  Still, if I had a dime for every time she (or Dad or Jeff) said “I know cigarettes are bad for me…”  How many times have you heard this?  Yeah…stupid.  At least Dad wised up and stopped smoking, as did Jeff.  After Mom died.  Sometimes a real hard slap in the face is what’s needed to get rid of stupid.

While on vacation last week, I witnessed other acts of stupidity.  Many folks at the pool or beach were lying out in the sun with basically no sunscreen.  What most of these people were applying was tanning oils and lotions with little or no SPF.  There was one remarkably attractive woman sitting near me at the pool with glistening skin that was three or four shades darker than her natural skin tone should have been.  She’ll look like a leather couch before she’s 30 years old.  She might be a rocket scientist for all I know…but she’s stupid.

Not long ago, I might have called such folks ignorant because they might not have been aware of the dangers of tanning…but that’s no longer a valid excuse.  Most “sun care” displays at stores now mention the benefits of sunscreen. 
This one is at Wal-mart
While skin cancer isn’t always listed, “aging” is certainly a scary enough word for most young tanners.  And if the displays don’t convey the message, certainly the news nowadays about tanning legislation and the dangers of UV rays have been heard.  No, today’s tanner is not ignorant, he’s stupid.

You might say that some are misinformed.  After all, the tanning folks tout the health benefits of tanning.  I’ve discussed this before…and to believe such nonsense is not a matter of being misinformed, it’s a matter of being stupid.

A friend of mine knew that telling me to stop eating such foods would not work, so instead of repeating this request over and over and expecting me to change, they decided to beg me to see a doctor.  Rather than discuss weight (I’m not a big guy anyhow) or my diet, the doctor showed me the lab report on my blood work, then explained how if the numbers increased to a certain amount, I could expect a heart attack or worse.  This opened my eyes more than the constant bickering from loved ones.  I began to take medication and started to take more notice of my actions.  I still have a ways to go, but believe it or not, I’ve come a long way over the last 10 years or so (my fries were baked tonight and I had fresh vegetables as an additional side).

We can’t tell a tanner to stop tanning.  If we repeat the message over and over to the excessive tanner, we’ll be engaging in insane behavior.  Instead, we need to ask him…beg him…to see a dermatologist for a full skin screening.  If he's lucky, the doctor will never find a suspicious spot and he can go on with his potentially destructive behavior.  If he's not as lucky, then perhaps he'll catch the cancer early enough to treat.  Otherwise, he’ll eventually receive that dreaded slap in the face of a loved one’s death…or a dire diagnosis.

We can’t stop stupidity, but perhaps we can take the sane route and convince those who tan (and those who don’t) to get regular skin checks.  Emphasizing that might be the best way to beat the stupid out of a loved one.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Teens Teaching Teens

No one can relate to young people better than young people.  And most people can’t communicate with teenagers any better than other teenagers.  That’s why it does my heart good when I see where teenagers are taking on the task of making other teens aware of skin cancer and melanoma.

Last February, I introduced you to Kelsey.  She was a 19 year old girl (I suppose 20 now) who had been fighting melanoma since she was 14.  She was brave enough to post video blogs to discuss her battle in order to raise awareness in teens.  This past March, I discovered another girl in Michigan named Lily who started a non-profit organization called “Skin for theFuture” which distributes sunscreen to families in need.  Both of these girls are beautiful and typical kids doing incredible things.

A couple of days ago, I found an article about yet another group of kids in Alabama who began a campaign called “Shield Your Skin.”  In honor of a teacher at their high school who died from melanoma this past year, the Writer’s Studio students created this campaign in one week’s time!  Their efforts include a public service announcement, a website, a YouTube video, and presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  They’ll cap off the campaign on May 10 by collecting loose change from students and donating the total to the Relay for Life teams from their high school.  They were hoping to have up to 100 Twitter followers to their Twitter account @ShieldYourSkin_ (don’t forget the underscore)…as of right now they have 305.  According to their website, “If you just learn something from this site and apply it to your daily life, we’ve accomplished our goal.”


If you read or hear of other teens taking on the task of teaching other teens, please share it!  Tell others…tell me and I’ll share it.
Teens teaching teens to be sun safe and tan wary.  I love it!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Melanoma Awareness 101

You may think you understand melanoma…that you are “aware” of melanoma.  I’d be willing to bet that most folks feel this way because a “friend/relative had a melanoma removed by a dermatologist, which left a big scar.  He seems to be okay now.”  If this is your case, you are not aware of melanoma.  Are you aware that your friend/relative has a 30% chance of melanoma returning, and probably to a more serious level of cancer?  Are you aware that melanoma KILLS one American every hour on average?  Are you aware that melanoma is the MOST COMMON cancer for young adults age 25 to 29?  Knowing these facts is only the first step of awareness.  To be truly aware, you need to understand the PDE of Melanoma…Prevention, Detection and Elimination.

Melanoma is statistically and medically linked to UV radiation.  While exposure to these rays is not the only cause for melanoma, it is a primary factor in 86% of all melanoma cases, and one that’s very preventable.  The general rules to protect you from UV rays are:

·         Wear sunscreen.  Use an SPF of 30.  Remember that no sunscreen is waterproof or sweat proof, so reapply every 2 hours!  And make sure to apply A LOT of sunscreen…a small dab will simply not do.

·         Wear protective clothing.  While long sleeves and long pants are not comfortable in the hot summer, there is clothing that provides a UV protection factor (UPF).  Search for UPF Clothing on Google to find various suppliers such as UVSkinz and Coolibar.

·         Wear a hat.  Make it a floppy or wide-brimmed hat to protect the entire head and neck from all angles.  A baseball cap will help, but make sure to cover the neck and ears with sunscreen!

·         Wear sunglasses with proper UV protection.  Melanoma can occur in places besides the skin, such as the eyes.  Were you aware of that?

·         Stay in the shade!  When visiting a pool or beach, find an umbrella.  At the park?  Sit under a tree or shelter.  Don’t shun the sun, but seek shade to protect your skin.

·         Stay out of the sun during peak hours.  The sun is at its brightest (therefore emits the most UV rays) between 10AM and 4PM.  One rule of thumb…if your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s rays are at its most intense.  Try to do outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon.

·         Avoid tanning salons at all costs.  Tanning beds emit the most harmful UV rays at higher doses.  There are no true health benefits to tanning beds despite what the tanning industry might claim.  Read here for more info about “healthy claims” of tanning salons. 

As stated, not all melanoma can be attributed to UV radiation.  There is evidence that melanoma can be linked to family history.  For uncontrollable risk factors, please check this link.  Knowledge of your risk factors is as much prevention as sunscreen.

This is probably the most important factor of melanoma awareness.  Are you aware that you’d have a survival rate of 97% if your dermatologist found melanoma on you at Stage 1 or 0?  Those are pretty good odds of survival.  But are you aware that your survival rate plummets to a frightening 15% or lower when diagnosed at Stage 4?

Schedule yourself for an annual full body skin exam with a dermatologist who specializing in skin cancer and melanoma.  And I mean FULL body check.  As I stated before, melanoma may be found in places other than those tanning locations like the back and legs.  I have friends who have found melanoma on the soles of their feet, their scalp, their finger or toe nails and even their genitals.

Besides the annual skin exam, perform a self-exam every month.  Check for spots and moles per the following ABCDE guidelines:

A – Asymmetry.  A normal mole should be symmetric in that one side looks like the other.
B – Border.  A mole’s border should be smooth and not jagged.
C – Color.  Check that your mole’s color is a light brown, or at least consistent with other moles on your body.
D – Diameter.  A normal mole’s diameter is less than the diameter of a pencil eraser.
E – Evolving.  A mole that changes in size, color or shape, or starts to bleed, needs to be looked at by a dermatologist.

Make sure you check your entire body and use a hand mirror.  It’s also not a bad idea to have someone help you out. 

Remember that early detection is key, and perhaps the most important factor of melanoma awareness.

It wasn’t long ago that a diagnosis of late-stage melanoma was a death sentence.  However, there have been incredible strides in the last couple years on melanoma treatment.  New drugs and therapies have been approved by the FDA, and more appear to be on the horizon.  But we have a long way to go.

Are you aware that of the seven most common cancers, melanoma is the only one whose incidence continues to increase annually?  Did you know over 76,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, and that over 9,400 people will died of melanoma in 2013?  Despite the recent advances, we have a long way to go to find a cure to eliminate this cancer. 

All cancer research needs money, and melanoma research is vastly under-funded compared to other cancers.  You can help raise funds by attending a fund-raiser.  Organizations such as AIM at Melanoma and the Melanoma Research Foundation hold walks in cities around the country throughout the year.  Other organizations hold pub crawls, wine tastings, concerts and many other events in an effort to raise money for melanoma research and awareness.  Check out this link to discover an event nearyou!  Your awareness and efforts will help to eliminate melanoma

So now you know…now you know that melanoma is more than a scar on a friend/relative’s back.  It’s a cancer to be taken very seriously and one for which the entire country needs to be aware.  Share this blog post and enlighten others.  Share your awareness on how to prevent melanoma.  Share your awareness on how to important early detection is to fight off melanoma.  And share your time and awareness to help find a cure and eliminate this awful disease.

Be aware.
(Primary source of data to support this piece:  Skin Cancer Foundation)