Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cut It Out: Anderson Cooper and I Aren’t the Only Ones with Skin Cancer

Time is bolting by with March Madness already upon us and some great basketball being played— love that edge-of-your-seat overtime rush. All this interspersed with the political volleyball of the race for the presidency.

Even with all this going on, EIC is hard at work, launching depiction endeavors on a myriad of health issues with the creative community. We are focusing on work to bring greater attention and understanding of bipolar disorder, diabetes, PTSD, depression and other health and social issues. We also have been active on Capitol Hill, announcing our D.C.-based plans for 2008, and we are grateful for such a positive response from members of the House and Senate.

One of the more challenging endeavors of our work at EIC is taking on long-established norms. A prime example is EIC’s management of the Sun Safety Alliance, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing and raising awareness about skin cancer. Check it out at I have been involved with this organization since it was founded, and have learned that because of the tan-is-beautiful norm in our culture today, it is essential to continually communicate sun safe practices.

Lauded CNN anchorman and intrepid journalist Anderson Cooper just had his face sliced to remove basal cell carcinoma, a type of non-melanoma skin cancer that happens to be the most common form of cancer in the United States. I am glad that positive reports are stating that it was all cut out. But what does “all cut out” really mean?

Now here is juxtaposition…three-time Olympian Jeff Nygaard, the Bret Favre of Professional Beach Volleyball also has gone under the knife for melanoma, the skin cancer that kills. Fortunately, Jeff caught his cancer before it did irreversible damage to his health. In fact, he is so well recovered that you can catch him on tour this season. But skin cancer isn’t behind him: Jeff is using his voice to remind sun and beach lovers that the time you take to be realistic about the harmful effects of too much sun could save your life.

Jeff and I have been working together recently to raise awareness about skin cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer and one that is almost always 100% preventable. I salute Jeff for speaking out about his own bout with melanoma. His passion to steer young people away from risky exposure to UV radiation is heartfelt and he is voraciously taking on the challenges of defying tanning (or burning) norms that have been established for decades, and seem to have grown in popularity over the past few years. You can read more about how the reality of melanoma hit home for Jeff as he shares his story in this spring’s Sun Safety Alliance newsletter.

In case you’re wondering why I care so much about skin cancer, I have a confession to make.

I have gone under the knife three times to rid myself of the pesky squamous cell carcinoma, the second most prevalent form of skin cancer. You will be hearing a lot about skin cancer prevention from EIC and, yes, I take this effort personally. Trust me, once you are facing the life-or-death consequences of something that could have been prevented by wearing a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen, you wake up. Think about how a deep golden brown tan today may cost you years of your life, and years of time with your children and other loved ones and hopefully you will wake up too, if you’re not already awake to this disease, which scars and kills millions of people.

UV radiation affects everyone, from news anchors to athletes, and everywhere in between. Had I only known that all my unprotected fun in the sun would result in cuts and stitches, I would have lathered up with sunscreen regularly, hung out in the shade more, wore a hat, and compromised my vanity for healthier skin and a healthier life. As I get younger at heart, my skin is getting older than it needs to be, all because of sun damage.

Keep an eye out for our work on skin cancer prevention. We will be bringing sun-safe animated characters to preschoolers, survivor messages to adolescents, supporting moms to take a stand for safe sun practices, and working to create a future where common sense rules. I encourage you to learn, don’t burn. Help to prevent skin cancer for your own sake and the sake of your friends and loved ones….the norm can change from people damaging their skin and health to being sun safe. Australians have been on to this for years. Now it’s our time to help prevent a highly preventable and deadly disease—skin cancer.

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