Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dr. Nemesis I Presume

There is a short list of “opposing doctors that I can recall.  James Bond had Dr. No as his nemesis.  Austin powers had his Dr. Evil.  And now, Melanoma Warriors have their own opposing doctor…but it’s not who you think.
Dr. Mehmet Oz recently made a comment on his show about rethinking the use of tanning beds for certain health benefits.  He did use the words “not for tanning,” but it was too late…molemates everywhere were shocked and disappointed that Dr. oz would even suggest stepping near a tanning bed.   He later wrote a blog on his website to reassure all that he still has a strong stance against the use of tanning beds, but that he was nevertheless intrigued by what his guest, a doctor, had to share.  I personally believe that Dr. Oz was merely offering up encouraging conversation with his guest so as not to create a negative impression on his show.  The only problem is, when Dr. Oz talks, many impressionable viewers listen, and that was the danger of his comment.  The guest’s comments however were indeed intriguing, but I was appalled by the suggestion to use such devices for therapy.  Dr. Oz’s guest was Dr. Joe Mercola.  Remember that name.  He is the nemesis to Melanoma warriors, not Dr. Oz.
Dr. Mercola is described as a cutting edge and often very controversial medical expert.  Such doctors in the past have been met with skepticism and criticism, only to later be hailed as cutting edge and innovative.  To some extent, Dr. Atkins of the famous Atkins' Diet was such a person.  Many claimed success following this diet while nutritionists all debunked his no-carb approach as hogwash.  Now, lower-carb (not no-carb) diets are suggested more so than low fat and one wonders if this trend would have taken place had not that crack-pot Dr. Atkins been stubbornly promoting his diet.  So is Dr. Mercola destined for the same path to higher praise?  I’m not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination, but with regard to his views on tanning beds, I think not.  Why?  He sells them
Dr. Mercola sells tanning beds.
That says it all.  But does this one entrepreneurial venture alone make him our nemesis?  No, but there’s more.  On three separate occasions, the U.S Food and Drug Administration warned Dr. Mercola and his company to "to stop making illegal claims regarding his products' ability to detect, prevent and treat disease."

I ran across an article from the good Dr. Mercola titled “A Surprising Cause of Melanoma.”  He cites a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology which suggests that “the sun is likely nothing more than a scapegoat in the development of melanoma, and the sharp increase may actually be ‘an artifact caused by diagnostic drift.’”  In other words, people are being misdiagnosed with melanoma skin cancer even when they have only a minimal, non-cancerous lesion, and these diagnoses appear to be skewing disease rates significantly.  In short, he seems to be claiming that melanoma rates are not truly increasing.

The article goes on to discuss the importance of Vitamin D, the benefits of UVB rays to produce such vitamin D, the “best time” for UVB absorption (high noon to 1:00), and, surprise, the use of safe tanning beds…which he sells.  He also suggests participating in a Vitamin D deficiency study…for a fee of $60 per year.

Admittedly, both his appearance on The Dr. Oz Show and this article are intriguing...and maybe, just maybe medically sound.  But I don’t buy it.  Again, I’m not a medical professional, but I think there needs to be a lot more study on such claims.  I believe that people should enjoy life in the sun, but with caution by using sunscreen and avoiding the hottest part of the day.  I believe in taking Vitamin D3 supplements (but not too many).  And I believe I’ll side with the more established organizations who claim UV radiation from tanning lamps cause cancer, such as the American Academy of Dermatology, The Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the Skin Cancer Foundation and many others.

Dr. Oz, please air a public statement about the error of your previous “rethinking” and I’ll forgive you.  Dr. Mercola, until your theories are substantiated by mainstream and respected medical groups, keep your tanning beds to yourself.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Earlier They Learn, The Less They'll Burn

A new study by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York states that pre-adolescent kids (pre-teens to teens) are not regularly using sunscreen, despite the fact that many had suffered earlier sunburns.  It was noted that the kids (yes, kids) felt that they looked better with a tan.  In fact, some claimed that they looked healthier with a tan.
This has to change. 
There are many great skin cancer awareness PSAs and anti-tanning campaigns, but most seem to be aimed at teens and young adults (mostly women).  That’s not a bad thing at all, but I think this new study shows that education needs to happen earlier.  I’d personally like to see it start pre-pre-teen…beginning in early elementary school.  Or earlier from the parent to their child!  When a child is taught to look both ways before walking across a street, or not to talk to strangers, he should as routinely be taught about sun safety.  A child probably won’t understand skin cancer or wrinkly skin, but they might listen when one explains that the sun can provide bad sunburns.
My nine-year-old daughter asked me this past summer if the sun was bad.  She had seen my efforts regarding this blog site and the BITNP campaign and simply assumed that the sun must be bad.  I explained to her that the sun was life-giving and provided energy and warmth.  The sun is good!  “So why are you telling people to stay away from it?”  I tried to explain UV rays and got a blank stare.  Then I thought of an analogy.
“Think about water.  Is water good?”
“Yes…because you need to drink water and you can swim in water and the plants need water.  So yes, water is good!”
“But what happens if someone that doesn’t know how to swim goes into deep water?” 
She stared…thinking deeply.  “Well, I guess water is bad?”
“No…water is good, but you have to be careful around it.  If you aren’t careful, water can be trouble.”
“So…wearing sunscreen in the sun is kind of like wearing a life jacket in deep water?”
I couldn’t have worded it better myself.
I don’t know if my kids (both now 9 going on 18) will maintain daddy’s respect for the sun.  They’re entering pre-teens and already becoming a little rebellious.  But having taught them early in life, they have a fighting chance.  I would hope that they do not succumb to peer-pressure and that they stay away from tanning beds.  Better yet, I hope they become mini-advocates against tanning.  She’s in Girl Scouts now and has already asked me if there’s something she can do to help out BITNP within her troop.  Atta girl.
I’ve been working on a presentation for pre-teen classrooms…or Girl Scout troops.  It’s a work-in-progress and I hope to have at least a working draft in May when I plan to speak to the troop.  But for now, there are some great resources for educational material from the Melanoma Education Foundation and the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation.  Check them out and try to spread the word to the kids in your life. 
The earlier they learn, the less they burn.  And yes, I just made that up.  :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Talking About D Facts

Nothing gets the ire up on someone that’s been affected by melanoma more that another person defending the use of tanning beds.  The defender will usually mention that a “base tan” helps to protect from further sun damage (wrong).  But more often than not, they put on their most confident face when they mention the need for Vitamin D.  Recently, there were two very different talk shows which had guests that both used the Vitamin D Defense.
Dr. Oz has a medical talk show that has millions of followers.  He is an Oprah spin-off, so he can do no wrong in the eyes of those viewers.  One episode earlier this month had a segment called “Why you should not trust your doctor.”  His guest for this segment was Dr. Joe Mercola, a doctor that has cutting-edge but rather controversial suggestions regarding health.  He suggested to ignore the family physician’s advise to take Vitamin D supplements and to use tanning beds instead to absorb the vitamin more effectively.   After Dr. Oz expressed concern (echoed by moans in the crowd), Dr. Mercola went on to explain that the beds should be “safe”…meaning they should emit mostly UVB as opposed to the more dangerous UVA rays.  After some more discussion, the beloved Dr. Oz stated that he would “rethink” tanning beds.  He did mention that he had no interest in suggesting them for tanning, but that he felt there could be some benefits.
The American Academy of Dermatologists immediately responded with the following statement:
“The AAD is disappointed in a recent statement from Dr. Oz that he is rethinking the benefits of using tanning beds to obtain vitamin D. Research shows that using tanning beds increases your risk of skin cancer. If you would like to express your concern, post a comment on the Dr. Oz webpage (directly beneath the video). We hope you'll help the AAD correct this misinformation that may lead the public into thinking that indoor tanning is a healthy activity.”
Dr. Oz has since issued a follow-up statement including the following:
“My beliefs are firmly aligned with those of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): Research shows that ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning prematurely ages skin and can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to skin cancer. The bottom line is both UVA and UVB rays cause cancer.”
The second talk show was “Chelsea Lately.”  Her guest was Pauly D of “Jersey Shore” fame.  He’s the one that seems to be most addicted to tanning.  I watched a little of an episode recently in which he came back from Italy (to film a season of the show) where they had no tanning beds.  He literally ran into a tanning salon yelling “Emergency, Emergency!” and requested to tan in their most intense booth at maximum time, and then have a second session.  On his appearance on Chelsea’s show, his skin was indeed fully tan and became the topic of conversation. 
After Chelsea suggested that he spray tan rather than use tanning beds (quoting the fact that one has a 75% more chance of getting skin cancer after using tanning beds), Pauly D responded “No, no, no…there’s Vitamin D in there!” 
Vitamin D is the tanorexic’s best defense.  Dr. Mercola suggests using tanning beds and Pauly D touts it as the healthy reason to get the glow.  But what’s the real story?
The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great section on Vitamin D.  However, one argument that the tanning industry often mentions is that such foundations are funded by sun lotion companies and thus the studies are biased.  So I consulted the Mayo Clinic website to find supposedly unbiased facts.  They mention the benefits of Vitamin D, or in other words, the reasons to have sufficient Vitamin D in your system:
“The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It is used, alone or in combination with calcium, to increase bone mineral density and decrease fractures. Recently, research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.”
They mention that, yes the sun is a significant source of Vitamin D…perhaps the best source.  However, they go on to say that “as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent (Vitamin D) deficiencies.” 
10 minutes! 
The Mayo Clinic goes on to list fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil as other sources of Vitamin D. ( I personally take Vitamin D3 supplements at the advice of my general practitioner.)  Nowhere, I repeat, NO WHERE in the Mayo Clinic information was there mention of tanning beds.
This information was repeated in other medical info websites.   Not those that are accusingly sponsored by sun screen companies, but legitimate medical organizations.  (Although the Skin Cancer Foundation IS legit…but that’s an argument for another blog)
So my conclusion (and remember, I am NOT a doctor…please consult one for real advice) is as follows:
  • It's important to get plenty of Vitamin D.
  • The sun is a great source of Vitamin D, but only 10 to 15 minutes a day is needed.  Any more than that (unprotected) can be dangerous and cause sun damage.
  • One can boost his/her Vitamin D intake with supplements (about 1000 iu per day) and proper food.
  • Tanning beds are NOT a healthy source of Vitamin D. 
The next time you hear someone advising you to use tanning beds for Vitamin D, ignore them.  And share with the D facts.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Real People of Melanoma

This post is meant to be read by those who think skin cancer is no big deal. 

"It can be cut out and then it’s gone."
"A tan is more important than worrying about simple skin cancer."
"I have to die of something, so it might as well be skin cancer."

Have you muttered any of these words when reading an article about the dangers of tanning?  Have you walked into a tanning salon, defiant of the literature received on skin cancer?  Well, feel free to continue doing so, but please take a few minutes to read this post. If you still have the urge to go tanning or avoid having that mole looked at...fine. 

What I want to do is introduce you to some real people.  I started to blog almost a year ago as a way to cope with my brother's death.  Yes, he died of melanoma (that's the nastiest skin cancer in case you didn't know)...and I promise not to make this a sappy read and bore you with his details.  But in the process of blogging and sharing my thoughts, I've come across some real people that have had real experiences with skin cancer.  These are not “models” or medical anomalies showcased as freak shows…these are real people facing different kinds of skin cancer every day. 

Christina has skin cancer on her face.  It's not any type of massively deforming tumor or obvious cancer other than a few spots on her face, but its real cancer nevertheless.  Really, it appears like it's just a condition on which one can treat with a topical cream.  And that's kind of what's Christina went through a few months ago.  She was required to apply a topical chemotherapy to her face for two weeks every year.  Yes, chemotherapy.  It's not the blood infusion type that conjures up the awful images of "real" cancer...just a simple skin application…one that peels away the face, quite literally.

She said in her blog that the pain was unreal...and at night when she slept (something she was unable to do most nights) her face literally stuck to her pillow.  It hurt to smile...it was excruciating when she yawned...it pained her to talk.  She's a teacher…so she had to teach through the pain.  Her face is mostly healed now, but the next year and round of chemotherapy will come only too soon for Christina.

Karen is a mother who noticed "an ugly freckle" on her leg.  See it here on her right calf?

Frankly, it looked like a simple mole seen on many people. She had a dermatologist look at it and discovered it was Stage 2 melanoma.  (Stage 4 is the worse).  She had the mole "simply cut out" successfully...here's what her "simple cut out" looked like right after the mole removal.

You see...when they "cut out" any skin cancer, they cut out a large area because skin cancer spreads.  It spreads FAST!  A small 3mm mole may result in a several inches cut and scar along one's leg, chest, neck or face.

Another real person is Chelsea, age 24.

She's had surgery to remove the cancer from their skin and lymph nodes, but has had to continue the fight because melanoma has a nasty habit of spreading...even when it’s thought that it’s been completely removed.  In fact, there’s as much as a 30% chance of recurrence of melanoma for those who had it before.  You can that here see that her neck and under her arm have been scarred...but she's also had to go through quite a few other procedures.

In short, it's not been a fun ride for Chelsea.  She’s doing pretty well now, she's had many days of being very sick and has had to spend a lot of time and money going to a cancer center in New York for her treatment.

Oh yeah, that's a good point...tanning sessions might be expensive, but it's nothing compared to the expense of having cancer.  We’re not talking hundreds, but thousands of dollars.  For Stage 4 melanoma patients, there’s one drug that costs $30,000 PER DOSE!  And if you think insurance will cover everything, you better think again.  Not only does each person here have to battle cancer each day, they have to battle insurance companies even more so.

Here's another lady named Tina.  I have no cancer photos of Tina...just this nice one with her and her daughter. 

Tina was doing pretty well, but then her melanoma returned, got nasty, and spread to her bladder.  She said it was a very painful experience...and it caused other complications.  Tina passed away a few months ago...leaving her daughter and husband to continue fighting the insurance companies.

I have one more lady to introduce you to...Amanda.  I admittedly haven't talked to this girl like I have the others, but her story is pretty powerful.  Here's her photo before she got skin cancer.

Here's her photo after the tumors invaded her face and body.

There’s really not much more I can add that the photos don’t already say.  You can watch this video to see more of her story.  Amanda died at age 31.

Skin cancer doesn't affect only pretty young women.  In fact, more guys suffer from the disease than women.  However, many guys just don't share their photos and thoughts as much as women do.  You know how guys are...tough as nails.  But Eric decided to share his entire battle on You Tube.

He discovered his cancer as a mole on his ankle...like so many others.  He fought for a long time, but the cancer just kept on coming.  It invaded his lungs, spine, brain and his entire body.  Now I apologize for the graphic nature of this next photo...but I wanted to show you a photo of Eric's leg...not long before he died.

Yes, that’s his leg.  His flesh was literally rotting away as his grapefruit-sized tumors penetrated his skin.  But believe it or not, Eric was "lucky" in that he became paralyzed from the chest down and couldn't feel this painful condition.

Again, these are REAL people...not rare medical subjects, but real people encountered online while I wrote my blog.  Each has his or her own story, battles and losses and some successes.  I wanted you to meet these people because even the best skin cancer Public Service Announcements convey pretty people that look normal.  They share their story of survival, but you really don’t get a good feel for the true pain they went through. 

Your chance of getting skin cancer is pretty high...about 1 in 5.  Admittedly, melanoma is the rarest form of skin cancer, so you have less chance of getting that...about 1 in 50.  But after you’ve seen these real people that have battled melanoma, it’s easy to see how one should do everything in their power to prevent it.

There are two main things to remember with regards to preventing melanoma.  First…avoid the UV rays.  It’s obviously impossible to avoid the sun completely, so wear sunscreen EVERY day…no matter the weather.  And do NOT use a tanning bed.  It’s concentrated UV rays and there’s absolutely nothing healthy about it.

Secondly, visit your dermatologist annually and check your skin yourself monthly, if not more often.  Early detection is key!  Get to know your skin and notice any changes.  If you see something suspicious, don’t wait the year…see your dermatologist now!

Wear sunscreen and get checked.  It’s that simple to avoid becoming one of the real people of melanoma.

Post Script:  I appreciate those who shared their photos for this blog post.  I believe I received permission to use all these photos over the last few months.  If I am mistaken, please contact me at fightmelanoma@live.com and I will remove ASAP.  Thank you again. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Care and Keeping of Your Skin

We took our twins to the pediatrician last week for their annual check-up.  They're both nine years old, so the doctor asked us if we'd had a talk with my daughter regarding upcoming changes in her body.  We had to some extent, but he recommended some assistance from a book by the American Girl folks called "The Care and Keeping of You."

I then asked the doctor about such literature for my son and he shrugged.  Apparently there are a couple of books out there, but none as good as this one for girls.  I suspected that I'd play the role my father had when he tossed me a Playboy during my adolescent years and stated, "Here...figure it out.  But ignore Page 47...that never happens to anyone."

After the appointment, we headed for the library as we often do every week or so.  My daughter found the book immediately (we had found a similar one for my son...without a centerfold) and she started to read before we returned to the car.  I had glanced at the table of contents when checking the book out...topics included "Braces," "Bras," and "Big Changes."  I decided to make sure that all book-inspired questions from my daughter would be immediately passed along to my wife as I vowed instead to stop time and keep both my kids at this perfect pre-teen age.  But as we drove home, I heard my daughter inquisitively say, "Daddy?"


"Can I ask you a question?"

I looked at my wife as she casted her "oh no you don't" gaze back at me.  "Sure honey," as my mouth got dry.

"Do sunburns cause wrinkles?"

"Um...yes they do.  Why do you ask?"

"There's a section here on the sun and how it can damage your skin.  It even mentions skin cancer!"

We discussed this as well as the other questions I eventually passed along to my wife (after a hard shoulder punch) until we finally arrived home.  I mentioned "Just Dance 3" as we walked in the door as a successful diversion.  The kids flew to the Wii as I grabbed the book to take a closer look.  Sure enough, at the top of Page 34 was the title "Sun Sense."  The first paragraph read as such:

You may think a tan looks great now, but wrinkles and spots don't look good on anyone.  Doctors agree: there's no such thing as a safe tan.  All skin, regardless of type, is damaged by the sun.  Exposing your unprotected skin can give you a blistering-hot burn and lead to allergic reactions - and skin cancer.

The page goes on to discuss peak times when the sun is most dangerous, an explanation of SPF numbers, and a reminder to apply sun screen even on cloudy and winter days.  What an incredible surprise to find this information in such a well-read (over 3 million copies sold) and recommended book!  It gives me hope that, while my little girl grows up, she'll be getting good advice from others as well as from me and her mother.

As for my son...he just needs to ignore Page 47.

Monday, January 2, 2012

AIMing for November 17, 2012

In late October of 2010, I had a thought of how wonderful it would be to meet some of the fellow bloggers in the Hotel Melanoma world.  I have read dozens of blogs with many of the writers sharing inspiring and moving thoughts.  Some have become good “virtual friends” while others have sadly passed away in their fight against melanoma.  Still, I wondered what could happen to bring some of us physically together.
Literally that same evening, I received an email from Rev. Carol Taylor, founder of the Melanoma Prayer Center and the Melanoma Grief Chapel, as well as writer of the blog “Attitude of Gratitude.”  She was asking if I’d be willing to join her and two others (Chelsea Price of “Adventures With My Enemy Melanoma” and Rich McDonald of “Hotel Melanoma”) in organizing some type of fund-raising event.  Wow…talk about timing.
We had collectively decided to organize a fund-raising walk…but eventually realized the logistical challenge of four people across the country trying to organize one single event.  I’m not sure we could have pulled it off, but then Rich (I think) suggested that maybe we should pull together our efforts and support an already existing event.  Brilliant!  As it so happened, Chelsea was about to participate in the AIM for a Cure Melanoma Walk in Charlotte.  Based on her incredible experience, and the support and assistance from event organizer Anne Bowman, it was decided that we would work towards raising money for the 2012 AIM for a Cure Melanoma Walk!  But best of all, we’d all finally be able to meet one another.  Even Rich said he’d come in all the way from Colorado!
I’m happy to announce that a date has been set for the 2012 walk…November 17, 2012.  I’m sure we’ll have more details as the date draws closer, and soon some of us may start soliciting donations. Honestly, asking for money has never been my strong suit as (1) I also have many financial struggles and find it difficult to give hardly any money and (2) I’m just not an “asking” person.   But, eventually I will ask for you to either join us in Charlotte, NC on November 17, 2012…or to support one of us as we walk to support the fight against melanoma.
November 17 is the 322nd day of the year.  I am writing this on January 2nd, the second day of the year.  That means you have 320 days to save up to donate.   Saving one dollar a day would allow a donation of $320!  Of course, that's a lot of money to many (including me), so consider setting aside only a quarter a day.  That itself would add up to an $80 donation!  Even a dime a day would add up to $32…so crack open that jar and start dropping in your change today.  In a few months, we’ll be asking for your help.
Last year the Charlotte event raised over $35,000. My personal goal (not endorsed by others yet) would be to exceed $50,000 in 2012.  What a wonderful gift to the world…all from a few coins a day! 
Even more wonderful would be if you could join us in Charlotte!  Putting faces and feeling hugs from all these people we’ve read and shared with would make it the best day imaginable.  I would love for each of you to be a part of it!
I'll have more to share on this event soon.  Stay tuned!