Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Melanoma: Prevent It!

My name and “the Big C” was mentioned in the same breath about 6 years ago.  I was at the most fun part of my annual physical (smirk) when the physician’s assistant said she felt a large lump on my prostate.  After she let me pull my pants up and limp back to the exam table, she told me that I should see an urologist as soon as possible.  About two weeks later, I visited Mr. Long Fingers and he confirmed the same finding…a big ol’ lump.  He scheduled a biopsy within the next couple of weeks to see what could be found.  After fishing around (literally…it felt like fish hooks), he announced a few weeks later that the results were confusing at best.  He wanted to go fishing again with a bigger pole.  After I submitted double the samples and implanted my finger prints onto the metal exam table, we met again another few weeks later.  The results were negative…thank goodness.  Then he muttered…”but the previous confusing results suggest that you are very high risk for prostate cancer.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you had it when you turn 50.”
I’m 49 now.
When I first entered this phase of my life, I did a lot of online reading about prostate cancer.  I think we all do that when we receive some type of new information.  But after he cleared me and announced my potential for revisiting the fishing-hole exam room, I started to read up on prostate cancer prevention.  What I found was, except for a few supplements or vitamins, the best way to prevent prostate cancer was eat right and exercise more.
I can’t say I’ve followed the advice closely.  I’ve tried to eat better and tried to exercise more, but like most other people, I could do better.
But I digress.  My point is there really is no prevention for prostate cancer.  And as I have read a little about other cancers, including breast cancer, the same preventative measures are listed.  Eat right and exercise more.   Cancer in general is just a mystery.  That’s why millions a year are spent on research to find out what causes the disease.  This goes for all cancers…with the possible exception of one.
There are a variety of possible causes for melanoma, but the one main undeniable cause is exposure to UV radiation.  This includes UV rays from the sun and those obtained in tanning beds/booths.  Does this mean that everyone that uses a tanning bed or sunbathes on the beach will get skin cancer?  No.  Did most people (greater than 3 out of 4) that was diagnosed with melanoma get it from exposure to UV rays?  Yes.  We’re talking 75% of the people that have melanoma today probably would not have it had that done one thing in the past.
Prevented it.
And not from simply eating right and exercising more.  They would have prevented it by avoiding the sun’s ray by wearing protective clothing or sunscreen and by staying the heck away from tanning beds.  Right now, we lose about one melanoma patient an hour…24 per day.  Had the 75% that had melanoma due to UV rays simply avoided it by protecting themselves, 18 people would not have died from the disease today.
There have been great strides in treating various cancers and we hope that one day, there is a cure for all.  But until that day, the best way to remain cancer –free is to not get it at all.  There’s no set rule for most cancer…but for melanoma and skin cancer, there is.  Do yourself a favor by wearing sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds.  You CAN prevent melanoma.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Been a Year...But I Know He's Watching

I have incredibly mixed emotions about today, November 15.  I’m greatly saddened that my only brother passed away from melanoma one year ago today.  And yet, in carrying on his campaign to raise melanoma and skin cancer awareness, I have “met” so many wonderful people and felt that I’ve contributed to the cause and grown as a person.  Don’t get me wrong…I would trade this great experience with BITNP in a heartbeat to have Jeff back.  But alas, that’s not to be.  So today, I choose not to commemorate his death, but honor the life he’s continued to instill in me.  I miss him…and think of him every day.  But I also know that he’s with me.  In fact, he told me so.
I used to keep another that shared random thoughts.  Some were funny…some were touching…many sucked.  But I enjoyed writing.  I never really knew what to write about...only that I enjoyed sharing my thoughts.  I had no real focus to my work, and I really only had one full time reader.  That was Jeff.  His passing is one reason I haven’t written in that blog for about a year.  My last posting was about…well, I’ll let you read it.  I’ll edit it a little, but the following is basically what I shared about a year ago:
If you’ve read some of my Facebook postings, you know that I engage in a hobby known as geocaching. Basically, geocaching is a global scavenger hunt. The location of hidden objects can be found on the website, If you type in an address and find the link to a map, you’ll see that there’s most likely a hidden object nearby. There are about 5,000 “treasures” hidden within a 10-mile radius of my house. In fact, there are well over a million such treasures, or caches, hidden world-wide from county parks or city blocks and even the International Space Station. I bet there’s one near you!

Caches are rated 1 to 5 for both difficulty and terrain with 1 being the easiest. Seeing as I’m not a rock climber or scuba diver, I tend to look for ones rated 1.5 or easier. Whenever I travel out of town, I can load the latest cache locations into my GPS along with previous logs from other geocachers and a description of what I’m looking for. Caches can range in size from smaller than a thimble to a rather large water-proof box. I’ve found all sorts, although there are some types that are more common than others.

A 35mm film canister makes a perfect geocache container. Other geocachers hide the caches for others to find. One simply places a log inside for geocachers to record their find and perhaps adds a coin or little trinket as a reward. All caches contain a log on which the finder will sign his or her geocaching name (mine is MountieAl). Most small caches contain only a log. The “treasure” is in the hunt itself, not the end prize. Anyhow, one takes this small container and hides it in a tree stump or other such place. One very common hiding location is within a light pole in a parking lot. Most poles have a metal or plastic skirt at the base of the pole which can easily slide up, thus making a perfect hiding place for smaller caches underneath. And yes, most cachers will giggle when announcing they’ve found a cache “under a skirt.”

Jeff read a few Facebook postings of my initial geocaching finds and asked me about the hobby. After I described it, he started looking for some in Ohio, especially while walking his dog. I remember the first day he found one…he called me on his cell phone asking questions and giving me updates. He was so thrilled at the first find, and I could tell he was hooked. “Jadestep” was introduced to the geocaching world. As he always did with things that interested him, he quickly became very involved in the hobby and even helped organize a few Geocaching gatherings. He started to become one of the more involved geocachers in the Akron area.

When Jeff and I attended my step-mother’s family reunion in June, we made sure to go on a Hurricane, WV area “cache run” together. We found about eight caches that day…a record for me at the time. When we finished, my dad commented that geocaching was the first thing Jeff and I had done “together” in a long, long time. And it was true…somehow this silly little hobby bonded us closer than we’d been in years.

During that trip, Jeff commented that he had wanted to hide his own on a guardrail near the Walgreen’s in Hurricane. He always liked puns and many geocaches were given such titles which would also offer up a clue to the hide. His idea for this cache was “Guarding the Wal.” Jeff was always quite clever. Sadly, he never got to hide that cache.

Before I traveled to WV for Jeff’s funeral, I loaded the caches along my travel route into my GPS as I usually do. Granted, I had no intention of making this a caching trip, but seeing as how he loved to geocache, I thought it appropriate to be able to find one or two during the trip...perhaps at a rest area along the highway or near a restaurant during a lunch or dinner break. But honestly, my mind was far from caches as I drove up the day before his funeral.

On the morning of the funeral, I decided to take the car out to fill up with gas while the rest of my family prepared for the somber day. As I drove past that Walgreen’s in Hurricane, I noticed an icon on my GPS indicating a newer cache had been hidden near the drug store only a couple weeks prior. Again, I hadn’t planned on seeking any caches, particularly on the day of Jeff’s funeral, but curiosity got the better of me. I drove past the guardrails and into the parking lot. The GPS directed me to a light post on the parking lot edge, with a sign attached stating “Area Under Video Surveillance.”

I pushed a few buttons on my GPS to read about the cache and look for any clues. What I read gave me chills. I jumped out of the car, lifted the skirt (giggle) and grabbed the 35 mm film canister. There was only a log inside, as suspected, and I signed it “MountieAl for Jadestep.” I returned the cache to its hiding place for others to find and then sat back in the car with my heart racing. Tears started to well up as I drove off.

It wasn’t the content of the cache, nor even the coincidental location of this geocaches that had me rattled.  It was the title of this geocaches that had me shaken…and yet smiling.  The name?

 “Big Brother Is Watching.”

(true story…100%)

So you see, my brother DID tell me that he’d be with me.  He’s watching my life’s path and guiding me.  And that’s why on this day…a day that marks a year since feeling great sadness, I feel great joy and confidence.

I miss you big brother…now let’s go find another cache.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A History Lesson

“You’ve come a long way baby!”  Remember that slogan?  It was for Virginia Slims cigarettes…a tobacco product marketed for women.  The concept was that smoking was traditionally a man’s privilege, but not a woman’s.   However with Virginia Slims, smoking was not only acceptable, but fashionable and chic.  “You’ve come a long way baby!”  (Check out the old TV ad)  It was a successful marketing campaign that echoed the Women’s Rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s and probably created many fashionably sick women.
But women weren’t the only demographic targeted for smoking needs.  Remember the Marlboro Man?  What better icon of masculinity…complete with cigarette in his mouth.
As we look back now, I think most of society realizes the fallacy of such claims.  Smoking leads to lung cancer or other devastating health conditions…it was a bad thing and still is.  Of the friends I have that smoke, every one of them has muttered “I need to quit someday” as they light one up.  It’s a bad habit…it’s a proven medical killer…and even the smokers know it’s a bad thing.  My mom smoked practically all her life.  Bel-Air was her brand.  She died in 2005 of lung cancer.
I know this is a skin cancer and melanoma blog site, but it’s also Lung Cancer Awareness Month.  This cancer is the biggest cancer killer.  And it’s possibly the nastiest of all.  Please keep those we’ve lost or those struggling with the disease in your thoughts and offer support of some sort.  And don’t blame them for smoking…it used to be the fashionable thing to do.
I’d usually stop my thoughts here, but I’d like for you to think about lung cancer a little longer…and the parallels to melanoma.  Smoking was fashionable.  Tanning IS fashionable.  The tobacco industry was quick to point out the “cool” aspects of smoking.  The tanning industry currently touts the cosmetic benefits of a glowing tan.  Years of awareness campaigning and class action lawsuits made all of society realize the truth about smoking…even the current smokers realize it’s a bad habit.  What about tanning and its relationship to melanoma?  Is it time to repeat history?

Occupy Tanning, Inc.

I’m not an economist…if I were I’d probably not be living paycheck to paycheck.  But I suppose the whole thing with “Occupy Wall Street” is that the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots…the 99% versus the what’s under scrutiny.  I guess they’re protesting to create change and a wealthier society.  I’m sure it’s far more complicated than that, but that’s my general take.  But as interesting as some of these protests are, I witnessed and took part in another impromptu “Occupy” campaign.
A few days ago, someone posted parts of a Q&A page from a tanning company’s website.  Tropi Tan shares a lot of “information” about the tanning process.  Here’s what they say about “why do we always hear that tanning is bad?”
Tanning is an important issue to the dermatology industry because skin cancer represents the only subject that its lobbyists can promote as critical or life threatening. Unfortunately, in their zeal to scare consumers into their offices, lobbyists for the dermatology industry have twisted the facts and exaggerated many research findings. They continue to mislead the public about the dangers of tanning, whether indoors or outdoors.

There is also the issue of the “Almighty Dollar.” The fear of the sun generated by dermatologists feeds a multi-billion dollar industry lead by huge special interest groups who conduct and promote most of the research on skin cancer. Lobbyists for pharmaceutical firms that sell billions of dollars worth of sunscreens and SPF cosmetics have teamed with the dermatology industry to promote a misinformed campaign of sun abstinence.

Conversely, there is no major industry except the indoor tanning industry that makes money by promoting the positive effects of sunshine. The indoor tanning industry consists of small companies that can’t match the marketing power of the multi-billion dollar "sunscare coalition."

Over the last few years, thousands of indoor tanning professionals have supported an organization – the Indoor Tanning Association – which was founded “to protect the freedom of individuals to achieve a suntan, via natural or artificial light.” This organization is currently working to develop a national advertising campaign that will increase public awareness of “smart” tanning, the importance of avoiding sunburn, and the many positive effects of regular, controlled UV exposure.

Nowhere on this “information” page do they mention that…um…well…tanning is bad because it significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.
So, where does the “Occupy” part come in?  Once this was posted on Facebook within the linked group of melanoma warriors and “mole mates,” it spread fast like…well…you know.  One person suggested visiting the company’s Facebook page and giving them a piece of our collective mind.  And boy did we ever!  Within minutes, their page was visited by many folks with some sort of relationship with melanoma.  Facts were posted.  Opinions were shared.  And the company’s “Get an hour’s tan for only $1.05” really came under fire.  For a little while there, we all Occupied Tanning, Inc.  Not surprising at all, our comments were all deleted by the next morning.  But I’d like to think that someone read one or two comments and thought twice about tanning.
Personally, I wasn't trying to put anyone out of business...but merely offering the other side of the tanning story to anyone that might be considering a $1.05 tanning session.  The tanning industry has a legal right to stay in business, but the consumers have the right to all the facts as well.
Many people will see the Occupy Wall Street protests on TV and switch the channel…others will observe more casually like I have.  But one or two key folks might hear their message and take action to make change.  The protestors won’t be the one’s making the change…but they are the people attempting to inspire change.  And that’s where change starts…from ideas and inspiration.  Perhaps our little “Occupy Tanning, Inc.” inspired one person that could lead to a healthier society.
Keep sharing the message!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Someone Will Hear You

There are days when I have to wonder if anyone is listening to my rants and thoughts regarding Melanoma Awareness, and there are days when I know that steps are being made in the right direction.  This week had both.
A few days ago, a lady made a comment on one of my Facebook photos.  The picture showed my first BITNP prototype t-shirt, and hers was one of many varying comments.  This comment stood out in that she mentioned that she had a t-shirt graphics business and invited me to check out her website.  Having long neglected my t-shirt requests, I immediately visited the site.
I won’t mention the name of the business…if you really want to look it up, go dig in my Facebook page.  But the gist of the business’ name was “Acme Printing and Tanning.”  Yes…you read the second part correctly.  She not only was in the business of printing t-shirts, she also owns two tanning beds!  To her credit, she stated that they run the tanning salon with strict rules and allow no one under 18 to use the equipment.  I told her that while I support the right for adults to visit a tanning bed, I couldn’t condone the act, thus cited a conflict of interest for doing business with her.  And while our “business” correspondence was cordial, I couldn’t help but wonder if she even read the content of my FB page.  And if she did, does that mean my message isn’t getting through?
Today, I attended a local annual tradeshow at which my company and I participate.  It’s more of a chance to network with colleagues around the area, compare notes and just experience some decent professional fellowship.  Of course, I had met with many of the sales guys in attendance over the years, and many knew of my brother’s passing last year.  Most of the condolences had long past (which I was glad about) and it’s been business as usual for the last few months.  For those with whom I’d had lunch in the past and shared casual conversation, I most likely mentioned this BITNP blogsite and my FB page.  I never really thought much about it…it was simply small-talk between business discussions and a little chance to get the word out.
Back to today’s tradeshow, I made my rounds before the show actually started to visit with a few of my closer colleagues.  Most exhibits had bowls full of candy, a stack of brochures, and some trinket like a pen or mouse pad with their company logo.  When I approached one colleague, he and his associate were placing little bottles of lotion and hand sanitizer on the table.  After the handshake, he smiled broadly and said, “Well, what do you think?”  I joked that he should stick with selling printed circuit boards rather than get into the lotion business  when he told me to take a closer look.  It was hand lotion…and as I read the label, he said, “I thought of you as we picked this out…it’s SPF 30.”  He went on to describe to his associate that my past conversations inspired him to get checked recently (he had “a spot” removed…nothing serious he said) and mentioned this blog.  I couldn’t help but smile the rest of the tradeshow.
Later in the day, one of my close colleagues and friends back at my workplace called me.  She just left the dermatologist and gave me a report.  She has very light-toned skin and freckles, so she was a little worried.  She’s probably one of my biggest offline supporters (and a regular reader of this blog), so I was relieved that she had a clear check…and happy that she visited my same dermatologist.  (How she was able to get an appointment within a week is beyond my comprehension).  She thanked me for inspiring her to visit the dermatologist… and I thanked her for getting checked.
I’m not posting these stories to toot my own horn…but to inspire you to do the same.  You might encounter a few (or many) people that just don’t seem to get it.  But before you realize it, people DO get it.  People may not always seem to listen…but they hear.  And hearing the message requires that someone deliver the message.  So please…wear your sunscreen, get yourself checked if you haven’t and deliver the message!  Someone will hear you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


A new device called MelaFind was approved by the FDA this week.  This device includes a scanner and a computer program that analyzes images of skin lesions.  Apparently, MelaFind missed only about 2% of those spots that were later biopsy-proven to be amazing success rate!
According to one article, one drawback is that the device has a high rate of false positives.  About 90% of the time, spots that MelaFind identified as suspicious turned out to be benign.  This seems alarmingly high and would cause undue stress on the patient, but apparently a panel of dermatologists had an even higher rate of false positives.
The FDA passed MelaFind by a slim 8 to 7 margin with the primary resistance being the high false calls.  Ironically, I mentioned photo-mapping of moles to my dermatologist yesterday and he digressed into a few comments about the non-reliability of digital imagining techniques.  It seemed that his opinion was that technology had not yet caught up to the trained eye.  What this told me is that, despite this device being available for use, my dermatologist would most likely not use it. I would imagine other dermatologists would be hesitant as well.
So I suppose this is a good news bad news scenario.  The good news is, doctors have another tool to assist in the fight and diagnosis of melanoma. The bad news is that it may lay dormant and rarely be used.  Let’s hope whatever decision your doctor makes is the best decision for YOU.
Finally, the best news out of this…melanoma is once again a headliner in the medical news.  This has been a banner year for development in the fight against melanoma, and any mention on the news helps raise awareness.  Remember, the best weapons against this disease is awareness and prevention.

Checking Out My Birthday Suit

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