A few years ago, a close friend of mine from college was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. It was surprising to say the least. Charlie was in his 30s and didn’t fit the profile. But you can throw the stats out the window as far as I’m concerned. If Charlie can get skin cancer, any of us can.
It was a long and tortuous road (I’ll let him tell his story below), and thankfully here we stand and he is 7 years cancer free. He is one of the lucky ones.
No one I know takes sun protection more seriously than this man. And he is passionate about spreading the word. So when I heard that Coolibar was a sponsor for this year’s Summit, naturally I asked if he was familiar with the brand. Turns out, he is a huge fan. So I asked if he would mind sharing his story, as well as why he invests in high UPF-rated clothing like Coolibar’s. Below is an excerpt from a recent blog post he wrote. I hope you are as moved by his story as I am.
In October of 2009, my wife, who cuts my hair, noticed that the mole on the crown of my head “just did not look right” and told me to please go see a dermatologist asap.
I went to the dermatologist, and she removed a significant chunk of my head for biopsy. Despite her calm demeanor, I do not think it came as much of surprise to her when the biopsy results came back positive for malignant melanoma — and, to make matters even worse, there was evidence that the cancerous cells had moved to my lymph nodes.
Who out there is married? Children? One of the things I want to share, and I hope hits home, is that melanoma is becoming a young person’s disease. New studies shows the number of melanomas found among women under 40 years old increased more than eight-fold between the 1970s and 2000s. Cases of melanoma among men under 40 also increased more than fourfold during the same time period.
I point this out in conjunction with that fact that when my doctors at MD Anderson looked me over, we all agreed I did NOT have many of the risk factors. I am not particularly fair skinned. I do not have a preponderance of moles. I always had a lot of hair and wore hats all the time — and I still got cancer.
The standard course of treatment for someone with my stage of disease in 2009 was surgery followed by radiation and then a year of interferon-alpha. The radiation, they warned me, would do a number on my hair. Indeed, I have a permanent and large bald spot that, even in progressive Athens, GA, is a little out there in terms of haircuts.
Everyone preps you for how rough the Interferon treatments will be, but the intensity of suffering truly cannot be described. I do know that only about 65% of patients finish a full course of treatment. I think trying to maintain an active lifestyle helped with the fatigue and at least gave me some quality sleep. But even the best days were still pretty bad.
And so here I am in 2016 — nearly 7 years later. This is what I know and what I want to tell others. Cancer takes. It takes your dignity. It takes your patience and your sense of control over your body and your life. It tries to take your hope. In the dark places of my mind, I worry that it has halted my career and maybe lurks in my children’s DNA.
As a survivor, it is important for me to not only give back to the cancer-fighting cause but to educate others about prevention. Because I am an avid cyclist, one way I do it is by participating in cycling events that raise money for cancer research (you can follow along or donate to the cause at www.pelotonia.org/georgia or www.pelotonia.org/carabello1014). The other is by spreading the word about sun protection through posts like this and protecting my own family.
So after my diagnosis, my wife and I started thinking about how to not just protect my now partially-bald head but to protect our kids. There is a considerable amount of research that shows that sunburns we get as children often do enough damage to our skin that they become cancers later in life. Being “sun smart” is part of the solution for our family. We still want to be active outside, go to the beach, enjoy swimming but we just have to take a little more time to prepare for those adventures. Having products like Coolibar–a line first introduced to me by my dermatologist–with high UPF rated shirts, pants and hats make the preparation so much faster and we are confident when we hit the trail or the pool that we are meeting our responsibilities as parents but not leaving our kids afraid of being active in the sun.
Below are some of our current favorite Coolibar items. But above all, the most effective sun protection is the one you will actually use.