by Natalie Richardson – The Impatient Patient

I was raised with a healthy respect for self-care and skin protection; I have a medium complexion so I “tanned well,” although I did get the odd sun burn and even a weekend of sunstroke at summer camp in my childhood. As an adult I took sun exposure seriously, but I still used tanning beds in the winter and I basked outdoors whenever possible in the summer. My draw to the warmth of the sun overpowered my consideration of the fact that I was putting myself at risk.

I was oblivious to the chance that I could be affected by the main contributor for skin cancer: long-term exposure to UV radiation from time in the sun. I was immortal. I wasn’t arrogant about it, I simply didn’t consider it might apply to me.

Little did I know I would be diagnosed with stage 3b (metastatic) nodular melanoma at the age of 37, in the middle of a busy career and raising twin daughters.

I had been feeling fine, rolling right along, and over the course of a few months a mole that I had had all my life changed colour and shape, and became itchy. Within a week of the mole being removed I was sobbing in the passenger seat of my own car on my way to the first of many consultations I would have with oncologists of all types.

Two years, four surgeries, and eight immunotherapy treatments later I am still recovering from the physical and emotional drain this disease has brought my family and myself. I spend all of my energy on my favourite parts of life, my kids, loved ones, friends… And, a passion for developing awareness of metastatic melanoma and its related issues.

My quest for more knowledge about melanoma led me to seek information and comfort from the internet, and thankfully I found Save Your Skin Foundation. Their positive words “Save the Skin You’re In!” drew me to their website and then to contact them directly via email, and then by phone. They were a beacon in the dark.

Save Your Skin Foundation wants to help people diagnosed with melanoma at any stage to feel they are not alone, and that there is hope for survival. “Together we are stronger,” is their sentiment, and with me it rings true as well. I have had the pleasure of working with them on a few small projects in Ontario, as I was immediately drawn by their warmth, friendly support and experience, and open kindness. I wanted to help them in return.

Last December I was honoured when they asked me if I wished to participate in the filming of a short video which was to be developed for use in a widespread social media campaign to be named #NotJustSkinCancer.

This melanoma awareness campaign is a collaboration of Save Your Skin Foundation and The Melanoma Network of Canada.

It is specifically a response to the complacency in social media toward sun exposure and skin cancer, as reflected in photos and messages using hashtags such as #SkinCancerHereICome and #SkinCancerDontCare, posted by social media users laughing about getting a sunburn or commenting on a fun day at the beach.

These grossly misinformed or blatantly abusive comments in social media do not amuse the families and friends of skin cancer survivors.

With this campaign we have a chance to discuss that and to inform others, perhaps help save youth from fates such as ours.

Several melanoma survivors gathered to share their stories on film. We were interviewed individually and we had time to interact together, and to react to a unique form of art with hand-made paper engraved with messages taken directly from social media users sites.

Melanoma Awareness Campaign_IG1

The photos taken of this artwork are self-explanatory, and the discussion we had when filming was heart-wrenching. For example, the piece most compelling for me was the comment “I NEED a tan… sorry Mom #SkinCancerDontCare”

I care! As a mother, I care. As a daughter, I care. And I can tell you my mother cares, as she is living my melanoma experience with me.

I left the session feeling the gravity of the emotion in our group about the given topic, but I also left feeling hope and a renewed sense of possibility for survival.

Survival not only for myself and my new friends, Susan, Caroline, and John, but also for those who may be reached by this video and may take new consideration for sun safety and realise that skin cancer is not a joke or something to be taken lightly.

Now this video and its message is coming to light, and we can create positive influence by spreading a new and far more effective hashtag: #NotJustSkinCancer It is a platform for discussing the fact that this disease is serious and life-altering; no sunburn is worth the trade-off.

It is not JUST skin cancer, it IS skin cancer.

See the awareness video for #NotJustSkinCancer

Natalie Richardson