By Robin Lawrence, Director of Marketing, Evansville Cancer Center/Vantage Oncology and Melanoma Survivor
American Academy of Dermatology Gold Triangle Award, 2005, 2006 & 2007
Environmental Protection Agency's Shining Star Award, 2005
Indiana State Medical Association Patient Advocate Award, 2005
SHAPE Magazine, 'Women Who Shape the World,’ December 2006
I can vividly remember hearing those three terrifying words like it was yesterday ‘You have malignant melanoma.’ Shock, devastation and fear completely consumed me. It was at this point when I knew that what I decided to do next was what would define the rest of my life.
As a farm girl raised in southern Indiana, I spent much of my time out in the fields on hot sunny days and was part of the generation that used baby oil and iodine to get a good tan. After graduating high school, I started competing in bodybuilding competitions and began using tanning beds to sport the dark tan that was so popular in this sport.
Needless to say, my sun-worshipping lifestyle caught up to me. In March 2002, I was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 42. The question I kept asking myself was ‘Why me? After looking back on my life, I realized I had only myself to blame. What I also realized after I had been diagnosed was that as educated as I thought I was, I knew very little about the dangers of tanning or the threat of melanoma.
While the news struck me like a bolt of lightening, it also sparked a fire inside me to help those who are at risk or are battling this deadly disease.
As the Evansville Cancer Center Marketing Director, I wanted to illustrate the ugly side of tanning by showing others my own personal battle scars from melanoma to help educate others.
These kids, especially the kids who use tanning beds, do not realize the damage they are doing to themselves. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is the tan they have today could ultimately cost them their life. Like is many of us, we are blinded by vanity and misguided information. The media has done a wonderful job of ingraining into our brains a tan is a sign of beauty and health.
To change perceptions and attitudes about melanoma, it was absolutely critical that I reach out to the community. As a result, I have conducted more than 400 presentations in middle schools, high schools, universities and for the public to increase awareness about skin cancer. From health fairs to community swimming pools, I distribute every piece of educational information about melanoma I can find along with packets of free sunscreen for young sun seekers.
What people need to realize is melanoma is the fastest growing cancer of any type of cancer there is. The incidence rate has increased by 690% in a 51-year period, according to the American Academy of Dermatology the next being liver cancer at 295% and lung cancer at 294%. It’s because of our lifestyles with use of tanning beds and the depletion of the ozone layer putting us at greater risks than ever before!
During my outreach efforts, I have met several special people with melanoma including some who weren’t as fortunate to have the same outcome as mine. I met a 24-year-old mother of two who died two months after being diagnosed with melanoma. I had a chance to talk to her before she passed away and videotaped our conversation to share her story with kids to let them know that the only difference between her and me is that I’m alive because of early detection.
So what keeps me motivated is my own fear, realizing for the most part this is a very controllable cancer. But the key is and will always be education!