May is Melanoma Awareness Month, in the spirit of which Save Your Skin would like to lend a reminder about sun safety in the form of Christian Mosley, a member of our board. Christian is not only the Head of Client Success at Chimp, a company that facilitates fundraising for charities, he’s also a Reservist in the navy and an outdoorsy thirty-four year old. Christian’s time in the sun has come back to haunt him recently, with the presence of stage 1B melanoma in a mole on the top of his head. Christian had been aware of this mole for a while; a barber pointed it out to him when he was joining the military twelve years ago. Forgotten about, this same mole reappeared in the summer of 2014, when it began to bleed on a sailing trip. Christian then saw a Doctor and a Dermatologist, both of whom identified the mole as melanoma. Two surgeries later, the mole was gone and Christian was left with what he described as “a row of staples down the back of my head”.
Christian told me that his encounter with melanoma was an “emotional experience”, and explained how the surgeries caused him to cancel his summer plans, and interrupted his normal activities; even smiling would “put pressure on, and stretch, the incision”. While these outdoor activities can be pointed to as a contributing factor of Christian’s melanoma, he claims that he always practiced sun safety. He was conscious of skin cancer because of the history of melanoma in his family, which made him genetically prone to the disease. “I would say that most of the time I was proactive,” Christian told me, “but I still definitely had some bad burns, and I didn’t always wear hats. I think that contributed to it.” Melanoma can develop in many ways, which can slip past people who are aware of sun safety. One common error is the assumption that a good track record of wearing sunscreen makes the occasional tan, or burn, forgivable; an assumption that Christian hearkened to by asserting that there’s no such thing as a “base tan”, or a “good burn”. Christian also cites not always wearing hats as a contributor to his own melanoma, telling me “I think that I neglected the top of my head because it’s not an area that you’re conscious of when you’re considering sun protection”. The top of the head, along with the ears, neck, back of the hands, and tops of the feet, are the most commonly forgotten areas during sunscreen application. The top of the head is especially at risk without the protection of a hat, and, as Christian noted: “you don’t think to put sunscreen in your hair”.
Christian’s story demonstrates how easy it is for certain aspects of sun safety to fall between the cracks, even when you think you’re protecting yourself. “When you’re a male in your twenties, you think you’re invincible”, he told me, “I thought I was doing everything right.” In addition to sun safety, it is important to consider the history of skin cancer in your family, and, if you have moles, to get them checked frequently. Of skin cancer awareness, Christian thinks that, “people need to be more proactive and less reactive”, a shift that is demonstrated by his attitude towards moles. Christian told me that, before his diagnosis, “I did have the moles checked out, then I forgot about it for a while. But they can change.” Having learned this fact the hard way, he now visits his dermatologist frequently and has had other moles removed. Looking for a “wider, collective mind shift” in regards to sun safety, Christian meditates on the military attitude towards sun burns as a guide: “if you get a sunburn in the navy, it’s a chargeable offence. It’s considered a self inflicted wound, and it interferes with your duty”, an anecdote that demonstrates the preventability of sunburns, and their potential consequences.
Christian is not just making a call for sun safety, but is putting this mind shift into action. After being diagnosed with melanoma, Christian went to the internet (“a horrible place to go”) for guidance. Fortunately, google brought him to Save Your Skin, and put him in contact with Kathy. “It really felt like I was talking to someone who was not only super informed, but also cared,” he told me, “She [Kathy] was really able to give me perspective that I was unable to get from the medical community.” Christian joined the Save Your Skin Board in September 2014, and has been working on the solidification, internally and externally, of what he calls the ‘core values’ of the foundation. When I asked him what these core values are, Christian told me that he views Save Your Skin as a “patient-centric” organization. “It’s okay to do a lot of stuff,” he said, “but what is really important is that you have a primary focus. And with Save Your Skin that focus is patient-centric. Patients first. That is how Save Your Skin differentiates itself in the charitable marketplace.”
While it is fortunate that people who want to put “patients first” like Christian exist, it is unfortunate that they often have to encounter a disease before they learn from it, especially one that is as preventable as melanoma can often be. Hopefully this Melanoma Awareness Month can generate the “collective mind shift” that Christian hopes for, with a better consciousness of sun safety and other preventability measures against skin cancer.
Written by Taylor