Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Melanoma, Theories, and Cat Poop

You Can't Prove A Thing!
I’ve recently posted links on Facebook to two separate articles that state UV exposure is directly linked to melanoma.  When I first read each article, I could almost hear the melanoma community mutter a collective…”DUH!”

We’ve all "known" that UV rays can cause melanoma.  After all, we’ve all read the claims from countless sources.  What we’ve not really fully realized is that there has been no PROOF of this.  During the MRF Patient Symposium this past springat UNC, it was stated that sunscreen is proven protection against squamous cell carcinoma, but not from melanoma.  Again, you have to note the word “Proof.”

For the most part, everything is speculation.  Not just in regards to melanoma…but in everything.  Kind of like my current cat poop dilemma.

I have two cats…Ali (pronounced Alley) and BooBoo (pronounced BooBoo).  Both are loving cats, but Ali is a mischievous feline.  He meows and cries for everything…especially for food (which he rarely touches).  He nibbles on elbows in the middle of the night.  He decorates the carpet with randomly placed hairballs.  But he’s also very warm on my feet at night and an overall good kitty.  BooBoo is a quiet cat.  He loves cuddling up to my wife for moments, but often merely keeps to himself.    He’s a smaller cat and Ali often has his way with him…pushing him out of chairs and taking his toys.

We love both of our cats, but every now and then we find a “surprise” on our bed.  This occurs usually if we’ve missed scooping the litter box for a day or two, or have paid close attention to the hamster during its cage cleaning.  We’ve realized this fecal gift upon our comforter is a message for attention.  We also keep our bedroom doors shut at all times now.

We’ve never known which cat deposited the turd, but we have our suspicions.  Ali is usually cowering under the coffee table just after our screams of “delight” fill the house upon discovering the most recent gift.  We’ve also seen him scamper quickly out of the bedroom just before the next find.  All things considered, we speculate that Ali is the culprit.  We did, until we witnessed BooBoo urinating on our son’s bed.

And we wonder why we rarely have house guests.

We still suspect Ali for most of the wrong-doo-doings in our room, but we haven’t had prove.  We’ve had strong evidence to suggest his guilt, but we’ve not yet caught him in the act.  And BooBoo’s surprise curbed our suspicions a bit.

But I digress.

There has been only suggestive evidence that UV radiation and melanoma are linked.  Past statistical studies of tanning bed users versus non-users suggested that tanners had a higher incidence of melanoma, but one couldn’t really PROVE the link.  It’s like never physically watching the cat poop on our bed…scientists just never witnessed the actual link between melanoma and UV rays.

Until recently. 

This is incredible news.  We can finally start using the “P” word (“proof”…not “poop”) when we warn others about the dangers of UV radiation.  When pro-tanning folks preach the benefits of UV rays, we can cite “proof” that shows there are distinct dangers.  Most importantly, this proof opens more doors towards a cure for this nasty disease.

Now if I could only open up my bedroom door without finding a nasty “gift.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

For Aurora

In my younger days, I collected comic books.  Well, actually I wasn’t so young…I stopped buying comics about 10 years ago when I realized that diaper and formula purchases took exhausted my comic book fund.  Not all comics were about superheroes, but I preferred those best.  The one hero I followed the most was the Batman.

The Caped Crusader was different from all the other heroes in that he possessed no super powers.  He had determination and drive…and a real dark side.  He was driven to avenge the death of his parents who were brutally killed during a common robbery.  Their death was senseless to him, and he devoted his life not only to fight crime, but to make sense of his parents’ passing.

Today there was a senseless killing in Aurora, Colorado.  Ironically, the cowardly psychotic bastard opened fire in a crowded movie theater showing the latest Batman movie…The Dark Knight Rises.  He killed 12 defenseless people and injured 59 others.  Afterwards, he was calmly arrested and announced to the police that he was The Joker…the name of Batman’s most notorious nemesis.


George Takei, aka Mr. Sulu of Star Trek fame had this to say about the event:

Many victims of today’s tragedy were fans of science fiction/fantasy.  They stood in line to be the first to see, to be inspired, and to escape.  As a community of dreamers, we mourn this terrible tragedy and senseless taking of innocent life.

What does all this have to do with melanoma or skin cancer?  Nothing really.  I suppose parallels could be written on senseless loss of life, or of how our fight against melanoma in the name of loved ones mirrors that of Bruce Wayne avenging his parent’s death.  Yet, sometimes you just have to go off script and recognize an event that affects us all. I fight every day for those have passed after fighting their battle against melanoma, but tonight I honor those who had no chance to put up a fight at all.

I still have my old collection in the attic.  I guess that means I’m still a dreamer.  One day I’ll show them to my kids and let them discover the drive and determination of one man against the world.  Maybe they’ll be inspired to take up a cause in their lives…hopefully without the passing of a loved one.  That’s the dream I have now.  Hopefully in a more sane world than we have today.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

There's an App for That...

The University of Michigan officially announced the development of a new App for the iPhone and iPad which allows users to screen for skin cancer.  The App prompts the user to take 23 different photographs which would provide a baseline for comparison.  Periodically, the App will remind the user to take photos again…then a comparison can be made to the baseline.

At first, I was a little skeptical of this new App, called UMSkinCheck, because I thought it was supposed to make a diagnosis.  It doesn’t.  From what I understand (I don’t own an iPhone), it provides the user with sample photos of melanoma so as to compare with known bad lesions.  It also quizzes the user to make an assessment of his/her risk of melanoma.  Finally, I believe it reminds the user that it’s time for a skin check with the dermatologist.  At least I hope this is true.

My dermatologist explained to me that everyone has their own version of a “normal mole.”  A spot that may be normal to me might be abnormal to another.  It seems that “normalcy” is defined as to whether one has several moles that match.  “Look for a mole’s partner,” says my doctor.  “If you find a match, particularly close by, then you probably have no worries.  But if the mole is unique to your skin (has no partner), make sure to see the dermatologist.”

This is where I have some problem with UMSkinCheck.  It’s quite possible that one may have melanoma and it not match the sample photos provided.  (My brother’s second bout of melanoma was simply thought to be a dry patch of skin).  Or vice versa, a mole might seem suspicious based on the samples, but it turns out to be one’s “normal mole,” thus causing undo worry.

Another potential issue is that the 23 photos require you to be completely naked.  And it requires someone to take the photos.  Okay, I can see where this could be a fun experience, but it might make the recommended frequency of every 90 days or less a little difficult to achieve.  Plus, I’m not sure I’d want 23 photos of my naked body on my iPhone.  Rest assured that UMSkinCheck is password protected.

I think the primary benefit is that it establishes a database of photos whereby one can make comparisons.  I’m sure there could be some variance in lighting, focus, and distance which might distort the photo from previous pictures, so I hope they have some pretty clear guidelines on how to take a photo.

It’s good to see a device available that encourages people to check their skin.  A monthly self-exam is recommended by many sources, so this may prompt folks to make this a habit.  But self-exams should be considered a supplement to an annual skin exam by one’s dermatologist: a real person, not an App.  He/she is the true expert and should know your skin a little better than the phone. 

If you’ve downloaded the UMSkinCheck App, please share your thoughts.  Offer up a review and I’ll be happy to share it in this blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just Four More Months!

On November 17, a special event will take place that YOU can be a part of.  Folks from across this land, including myself, will be gathering in Charlotte, NC for the AIM Walk for a Cure…a cure for melanoma. 

For those of you unaware of the Aim at Melanoma Foundation, they are the largest non-profit international organization focused on increasing support for melanoma research; promoting prevention and education among the general public and medical professionals; and providing comprehensive and easily accessible melanoma resources for patients, survivors and caregivers.  (Thanks Wikipedia).  In short, they do good things to help fight melanoma from all angles.

AIM is also the leading advocate for state legislatures to initiate tougher tanning laws.  They were the primary influence in making California the first state to ban tanning for minors.   I was pleased to offer my own support and efforts to assist AIM in spreading this initiative at the North Carolina State Legislative Building a couple months ago.

There are certainly other noteworthy foundations to fight melanoma, such as the Melanoma Research Foundation and the Skin Cancer Foundation…both of which I try to give some efforts each year towards their continued efforts.  But this AIM for a Cure Walk in November is my primary focus for the next few months.

The Reverend Carol sums up my involvement better in her blog about the event…but in short, she, Rich McDonald, Chelsea Price and I started a Facebook discussion about starting our own melanoma fund raiser.  Seeing as how we’re separated by many miles, we soon realized that it was an effort too large for the four of us to tackle…so in swooped Anne Bowman, Chairperson of the Charlotte Chapter of AIM at Melanoma. She offered her assistance to help, but we soon realized that it was best if we simply promoted and supported the walk she was already organizing in Charlotte.  The four of us decided to combine our blogging efforts to spread the word and from what I understand, the projected attendance is already quite high.

Several bloggers and Facebook friends have already committed to attending.  I encourage you to do the same.  It doesn’t cost anything to participate, but AIM asks that each participant generate $50 in donations via their website.  So, even if you can’t attend (and I wish you would), you can support others that are.  If you’d like to support me and my family, please click here to get to my donation page.  If you’d like to support someone else, please contact them.  Either way, you have the opportunity to participate in potentially the largest melanoma awareness and fund-raising event in North Carolina.  Wouldn’t it be great to make it the largest ever?  It’s possible...with your help.

Again, please consider offering a donation to my donation page, or donating to another.  But better yet…just meet us all in Charlotte.  November 17, 2012.

Be there!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pardon me Miss, but...

I'm sure this is Copyright Disney...don't sue me.
I’ve never been one to go out and make conversation…at least not when I thought I might seem out of place.  I’ve always been quite shy when it comes to speaking for fear that I’d say something stupid or perhaps appear as a fool.  I guess that comes with a lack of confidence.  I’ve always been an expert wallflower.

I used to be a pretty good wing man.  I guess when it’s not my own neck on the line I could speak up pretty well.  Most likely it was my confidence that I could make my buddy look more like an idiot than me that drove me.  But when it came time for me to speak for myself, I would freeze.  When I’d see a beautiful girl from class during lunch, rather than comment on how her eyes have enchanted me all semester or how seeing her smile simply makes my whole day better, I’d say something more on the line of, “Hey, did you know that cows have four stomachs?”  Yeah…that’s me…Mr. Improv.

I’ve mentioned before the conversation I had with my tanningco-worker.  That was a little difficult for me at first, but since I already had a decent business relationship with her, I found it easy to speak and voice my suggestions for her to see a dermatologist.  (I still doubt she’s had her skin checked…) When it comes to speaking with people I don’t know, I find myself quoting bovine facts again.

Writing this blog has given me some confidence.  I’ve been able to be a voice and share information I’ve read.  When teamed up with Carol, Anne and Timna at the NC State Legislature Building last month, I had a slow start but discovered that talking to strangers wasn’t so bad.  I’ve discovered that I’ve become a decent wingman to melanoma awareness.  However, this last weekend I blew it.

My family and I were out shopping for school supplies (my kids are on a year-round schedule).  At one store, I noticed a lady in her 30’s or 40’s wearing shorts (as we all were on this 100+ degree day), and I focused in on a rather large mole on her back calf.  It wasn’t a big ol’ hairy mole ala the Austin Powers movie, but a noticeably larger spot nevertheless.  I wanted to say something to her, but figured she was already aware of her mole.  Plus, I felt a little uncomfortable stating, “Hi lady, I was checking out your legs…” in front of my kids.  So, I watched her purchase her supplies and leave…and I felt awful.  I felt myself fade against a billboard of…wallflowers.

I’ve since known what I should have said…so here it is…

Pardon me Miss, but I’d like to ask you a question.  I apologize if I seem nosy or insensitive, but I noticed that you have a mole on the back of your leg.  It could be nothing at all, but I have some friends who thought the same of similar moles only to find out later that it was skin cancer or melanoma.  So if you don’t mind me asking…have you been to a dermatologist?

If she would have reply nicely, I would have given her one of my cards (yes, I carry BITNP cards) and pleaded with her to please see a dermatologist and to email me and let me know how things turn out.  If she would have looked at me as if I were crazy, I would simply have apologized for intruding and wished her a good day.

Next time, I’ll be the wingman and not the wall flower.

Postscript:  I typed the majority of the above on June 9, but didn’t finish until June 10.  I JUST noticed that there was a very similar conversation on Facebook right now.  Here’s a few of the comments (it seems we all have this same dilemma):

When I was in high school a lady actually came up to me in a fast food restaurant and told me to get a mole checked. I wish I had listened.

I notice tans and sunburns more than moles, but I don't say anything or else my sister calls me a "melanoma nazi".

I struggle with this ALL THE TIME! I don't say anything because I can't think of a tactful way to say that to a stranger

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Request for Information

Today was an interesting day with regard to one's skin.  My wife had an appointment with the dermatologist this afternoon.  I've been off work all week having a staycation and watching my kids between grades (they're in year-round school and get only one week between grades).  We all offered to take my wife to the appointment as an opportunity to get out of the house and hit Starbucks afterwards for some iced frappacinos! 

When we arrived at the doctor's office, the kids broke out their iPods, thus becoming the iZombies I've grown to accept.  My wife picked up a copy of "Carolina Woman" magazine and pointed out a really good article on sunscreen (I may share some of that on my Facebook page).  Earlier in the week, I was contacted by UV Skinz to give them a call and talk about my blog a bit.  After my wife was called into her appointment, I figured what better opportunity to discuss melanoma awareness than on the phone from a dermatologist's waiting room!  I placed the call, which lasted about 30 minutes.  I'll share more on this conversation in a later blog, but I will say that many folks listened in with great interest.

At the end of the call, my wife came out from her appointment.  She had scheduled her apointment to address her rosacea, and also to follow up a previous biopsy on her back of a dyplastic nevi.  The mole was shaved and sent to pathology about 3 or 4 months ago with negative results, and was a little tender still to the touch.  What she discovered was that the nevi was growing back.

It's located on her left shoulder blade and her dermatologist has recommended that a plastic surgeon cut it out and send off.  It wouldn't be a mild shaving, but a true cutting out..."with stitches" as my wife whispered.

My initial reaction was to encourage her to arrange an appointment right away.  But I could see that she's scared.  The fear is not so much for any potential towards skin cancer, but mostly for the surgery itself.  She has a lot of questions and does not like the prospect of being cut into to a point of requiring stitches.  She's a daycare teacher and she's worried that her ability to lift will be hampered.  And she's worried about the pain.

As she goes off to work tomorrow, I told her that I could call the plastic surgeon's office and ask some questions.  I've encouraged her to do the same...but I think her fear is blocking her from potentially making such calls.  I asked her if I could convey her situation in my blog and Facebook page...perhaps ask others to share their similar stories.

So here I am.  My wife Kim (Kim, meet the BITNP readers...readers, meet Kim) is wondering about the following.
  • Does such an extraction of a dysplastic nevi hurt?  Do they numb it?  Are you awake during the procedure?
  • What is the recovery like?  Do you have to stay off work for a while, and for how long?
  • What kind of stitches are used?  Does it hurt to get them out?
  • Are there any complications involved?
  • Should she have the procedure done?  (I know the answer to that...but I'm asking anyhow).
If you'd like to answer here, that's fine.  You may also answer on my Facebook page...or sent a reply to my email address at

I thank you...and Kim thanks you as well.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Birthday Gift to Jeff

My focus today is on my children as the twins turn 10 years old today.  But at the same time, I take a little moment to realize that today would have been my brother, Jeff’s 57th birthday.  He took great pride that his niece and nephew “chose his birthday” to enter this world, so I’m sure he’s still looking down, beaming with pride.

I wondered what I would have given him for his birthday had he still been alive.  Chances are it would have simply been a birthday card and a phone call.  We never were big on gifts.  He also probably would have told me to spend the money on my kids.  He was unselfish that way.  But the other day, I discovered something that would have made him jump for joy…making it one fantastic birthday gift.

Jeff and his wife lived in Alabama several years ago.  I never had the chance to travel down to visit, so I never knew his neighbors or friends from the area.  Still, Jeff and Debbie had a way of being a part of the crowd…hosting parties, helping other people, attending neighborhood events…they were always among friends.  Anyhow, I believe they moved out of Alabama about 10 years ago, give or take a year.

Last week, my cousin Trish posted a photo of Jeff and I (our last photo which I’ve posted here before) on Facebook and offered up memories of Jeff.  Some people chimed in with their own thoughts, including a name I didn’t recognize.  Here’s what Taylor Wesson shared:

I use to live next door to Jeff and Debbie when they lived in Alabama. My mom and Debbie were like sisters so I called them Aunt and Uncle.  Jeff is the reason why I stopped going to tanning beds and I’m the only one out of my friends who lathers on tons of sunscreen.  My friends always question me why I care so much and I tell them about Jeff.  He's always on my mind when I’m outside (plus I’m fair and 18).  I sure do miss him!

Happy birthday brother…you’ve made a positive impact on the world and continue to do so!