After my brother passed away from Stage IV melanoma, I had questions; simple questions really. What is melanoma? How does one get it? How does one prevent it? How can I know if I have melanoma? I browsed many websites and read many articles from different perspectives. The answers I formulated were relatively simple as well. I was astonished that my own ignorance of melanoma could have been easily eliminated by some simple information, so I decided to share my findings with others through my efforts in “Black is the New Pink.” My guess was that sharing such simple messages would enlighten others and that would be that. There would be no opposition to simple fact, right?
It got far more complicated than I ever imagined. For each simple message, there has been some type of opposing and obstructive point of view. Pro-tanning. Anti-sunscreen. Big Pharma Conspiracy. There have been times that I wondered if sharing the message was worth the hassle.
If I was to imagine a conversation to summarize the message and opposition, it would probably go something like this:
Me: Melanoma is a skin cancer…
Them: Oh thank goodness!
Wait…what? What is good about that?
Well, melanoma is just skin cancer, so it’s not a really big deal.
No, that’s not true. Melanoma is a skin cancer, but it’s so much more. It’s one of the most deadly and aggressive cancers that exists.
But you can just cut the melanoma out…right?
Yes, if caught at an early stage, but it can spread to other organs very quickly and be very deadly.
But it’s not as deadly as other cancers.
It’s true that there are more cases of other cancers, but one person dies of melanoma every hour. While most cancer deaths are decreasing, melanoma deaths are on the rise.
It can’t be all that deadly…I’ve never heard anyone famous dying from it.
Have you heard of Bob Marley? He died from melanoma that occurred on his toe.
Yes, I know who Bob Marley is, but I thought you said melanoma is a skin cancer. How could he have got it on his toe?
Melanoma is deadly that way. It can spread all over or even form in places other than the skin, such as the toe, the eyes, the genitals…all over.
So what causes it?
Many things, but mostly it’s caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
Yeah, but tanning beds are safe because they’re controlled.
No they’re not. Some tanning beds can emit up to 12 times more radiation than the sun! It’s my hope that legislation will pass across the country that would ban minors from artificial tanning.
I believe the government should have no right to dictate such things. The parent should be responsible for determining whether or not a child can visit a tanning salon.
Many parents simply don’t understand the dangers of tanning. There are many young adults who have melanoma now because their parents allowed them to go tanning as teens. Such age-limiting laws have been in effect for years to protect children from parents’ uneducated decisions. Alcohol, smoking, pornography, driving, gun use…the list goes on. Tanning is no different.
But I’ve read that tanning beds are good for you. They give you Vitamin D.
That’s not true. Most tanning beds emit UVA rays which have nothing to do with Vitamin D production. There are some UVB beds, but dermatologists recommend using diet and supplements to increase your Vitamin D.
What about psoriasis or seasonal effect disorder? I hear that tanning beds cure those.
No they don’t. The National Psoriasis Foundation does not endorse the use of tanning beds, and SAD is treated by a different kind of light.
Well, at least you can get a base tan from a tanning bed and that will provide you with protection while you’re on vacation.
Not really. In fact, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Even a base tan is a sign of skin damage. The most SPF a base tan can provide is around 2 or 4, which is hardly enough to protect you at all.
What about people with naturally dark skin? Don’t they have some built-in SPF?
It’s true that the darkest skin has a natural SPF of about 12, but again, constant exposure to UV radiation can cause damage over time. While lighter skinned people are more susceptible to melanoma, those with darker skin can get melanoma as well. In fact, the darker the skin, the harder it is to find. That’s why melanoma is usually deadlier in darker toned skin…it is often difficult to find at an earlier stage.
Melanoma is not just a white person’s disease?
No. Again, I mention Bob Marley.
Wow. So, I guess you want to ban the sun as well?
Not at all. I love being in the sun! But you really need to protect yourself from the UV radiation.
Why? The sun is as natural as water.
True, but you’d wear a life jacket in deep water if you didn’t know how to swim. The same concept applies to the sun and sunscreen.
But sunscreen is dangerous! There are chemicals in sunscreen that have been shown to cause birth defects and other problems.
True, there are such chemicals in some sunscreens, but they’re at such a low dose that there is no danger. The studies that showcase the dangers use so much more sunscreen on a mouse than would ever be applied proportionally to a human. Even so, there are sunscreens available without those chemicals.
But if more people are using sunscreen yet melanoma is still on the rise, doesn’t that mean that sunscreen might be causing melanoma?
No. The problem is that people are using sunscreen incorrectly. They put it on at the beginning of the day and never reapply it.
They don’t need to if they buy a high SPF. An SPF 30 lotion will protect me for 30 times longer than without sunscreen. That means if I burn in 15 minutes, I can put on SPF 30 and be safe for…um…15 times 30 equals…um…450 minutes which is equal to 7 ½ hours! So I just need to put it on in the morning!
You’re right about the meaning of SPF, but what you forget is that sweat and water causes the lotions to wear off or wash away. Sunscreen needs to be applied every 2 hours or after you’ve been swimming. And you need to cover your entire body thoroughly.
But I use water proof lotion!
There’s no such thing as water proof lotion. The FDA ordered that all such claims be disallowed. You can use a water resistant lotion, but even that will wash off in water and sweat.
So all I have to do is wear sunscreen and I’ll be protected from UV radiation?
Well, it’s important to understand that sunscreen doesn’t provide all the protection. Make sure you wear a hat, wear sunglasses, wear tight knit or UPF clothing, and stay in the shade when possible.
Okay, I think I understand all of that. So how do I know if I have it?
First of all, see a dermatologist.
No thanks…they’ll cut me open just to make a buck!
Dermatologists are in cahoots with “Big Pharma.” They get kick backs from the sunscreen companies and encourage the dermatologists to cut out the occasional mole in order to scare patients into using the sunscreen. It’s a big conspiracy.
<sigh> I don’t have an argument for that except that I know many doctors that are honest people and their chief concern is treating the patient. Some doctors may cut out moles more aggressively than others, but many lives have been saved when a biopsy comes back with unexpected positive results. I strongly urge you to see a dermatologist.
Can’t I just check for spots myself?
Yes you can…along with an annual visit to the dermatologist. Many recommend that you check yourself monthly by following the ABCDE method. I’ll send you the details of that later.
Okay, I think I get it. But I have one more question. Why do you say “Black is the New Pink?” Do you have something against breast cancer awareness?
No…the title represents the wish from my brother that the melanoma awareness campaign might one day be as successful as the pink breast cancer awareness campaign.
Okay, that’s fine. But why black? The black ribbon is supposed to represent when someone is mourning and more recently, as support for “Black Lives Matter.” I thought the color for skin cancer was orange.
Unfortunately, we have a dual-color campaign. Traditional skin cancer awareness sometimes uses orange to represent the sun’s role in skin cancer. Those who have been touched by melanoma typically embrace the black color because the literal definition of melanoma is “black tumor.”
So if I understand you right, melanoma is a deadly, aggressive skin cancer that anyone can get mostly from UV radiation which comes from the sun or tanning beds. I need to protect myself by staying away from tanning beds, and using sunscreen when outdoors, along with wearing other protection. I need to see a dermatologist every year to get my skin checked and I should check myself every month or so to see if there’s anything suspicious.
Yes…it’s that simple!