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July 1, 2006

Would You Bare Your Body To Fight Skin Cancer?

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woman standing in a bikini in times square

Photo Credit: Andrew Hetherington/Andrew Hetherington

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"A MOLE KILLED MY DAD"

Carrie, 31, Marie Claire senior editor, New York City

GROWING UP, I WAS A TOTAL DADDY'S girl. We had the same blonde hair and blue eyes, and he called me and my sister his "darling daughters." He was involved in ways a lot of fathers aren't; he took me on my first trip to Europe- just the two of us-when I was only 13. We toured a castle in Liechtenstein, danced at a disco in Austria, and visited a lot of German churches. That's about all I remember-that and flirting with the boys in our tour group. But my dad was proud to have shown me Europe. When we got home, I ran for student-council president of my middle school. On the morning of the election, my dad was driving me to school. Imagine my surprise when the morning DJs at the most popular radio station said, "And hey, all of you at West Hills Middle School, don't forget to vote for Carrie Sloan!" My dad had called them. I was outwardly mortified- and secretly thrilled. We lived in Michigan, and one day that winter, my dad slipped on some ice and fell. The pain in his side didn't go away, so a few months later, he went to the doctor. I remember the night in May we all sat down at the kitchen table, and my parents told me and my sister the news: Dad had cancer. It all stemmed from one mole on his side-a big, funny-looking one we'd made fun of him for. A doctor once told him he could remove it for cosmetic reasons, if he wanted- but he never did. Now, it had led to bad things: The cancer had eaten clear through his rib-the X-ray from the fall he'd taken had revealed that. He also had a tumor in his brain. The doctors told him he had stage-IV melanoma-the most advanced stage of skin cancer. He was scheduled for brain surgery almost immediately. I remember standing in the white, sterile room at the hospital early that morning, as a young doctor read the list of potential risks from surgery robotically: brain damage, paralysis-death. When I looked up at my dad, our blue eyes were filled with tears. After the surgery, he looked horrific, like a benevolent Frankenstein. His head had been shaved, and the scar ran nearly the length of his skull. Because of the trauma from the surgery, he had bruises every color of the rainbow-and two black eyes. It was hard to look at him. Then the seizures started. One day I was in his hospital room, talking to him, when suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head, and he knocked his food tray clear across the room. My mom ran out screaming. I stood rooted to the floor. After that, he never really recovered. When he tried to talk, he stuttered unintelligibly, and my sister and I- then 10 and 15-tried to re-teach our dad how to speak. He underwent radiation and was put on the list for an aggressive experimental drug. In the meantime, I'd bring my homework to the hospital each night to sit with him. Just five months after he was diagnosed, I was home asleep one night while my mom stayed over at the hospital. When the phone rang at 7 a.m., I knew instantly what it meant: My dad was gone. Now I monitor my own moles vigilantly- and friends make fun of the way I "waste" sunscreen applying multiple coats, but it's for my own peace of mind. I also spar with doctors about mole removal. "It's not necessary," one will say every so often, when a particular mole is only slightly suspicious. "Take it off," I say. If my dad had just removed that one funny mole, he would probably still be here today.



SKIN CANCER: A NEW EPIDEMIC

Over half of all new cancers in the U.S. are skin cancers. In fact, the number of cases in America is increasing so rapidly, the American Academy of Dermatology recently declared skin cancer an unrecognized epidemic. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that the incidence of basal-cell skin cancers in women under 40 tripled between 1976 and 2003. "What's even more worrisome," says Alysa Herman, M.D., a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, "is that people being treated for skin cancer are dramatically younger and younger."


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