I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to put on sunscreen. But I can’t, so I’m going to channel that energy by encouraging others to get their skin screened this month, which happens to be Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
I’m an avid outdoorsman. Like many Minnesotans, I’ve spent the majority of my life outside – hunting, fishing, or exploring all the beauty Mother Nature has to offer.
I think back to my fishing trips when I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s. I focused my preparation time on preparing my boat, packing my tackle box, sharpening my hooks, and loading up the cooler with food and drinks for friends and family – but I rarely thought about sunscreen. I was aware of the risks, but with no family history of cancer, I thought I was immune to the dangers of unprotected sunlight exposure.
In November of 2016, I went in for my annual physical at the encouragement of my wife and to leverage the contribution my company would put in my HSA. During my visit my primary physician found a suspicious mole. I was quickly referred to Plastic Surgery Consultants and Minnesota Oncology. A biopsy was performed and I was diagnosed with melanoma. But it didn’t stop there. As part of the due diligence an additional procedure was performed. The doctors also found cancer in my sentinel node. I was in shock. How could this happen to me? In January 2017, I went under the knife one more time and had lymph nodes removed. It all happened so fast.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have been cancer-free for just over a year. I owe my life to the doctor who spotted the cancer and the team of doctors, nurses and support staff that quickly and effectively removed it from my body.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve become a quasi-skin cancer expert, and here’s what I’ve learned:
- Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States.
- Rates of melanoma in the United States have increased over the past three decades.
- This year there will be 91,000 new cases of melanoma in the United States, and 1,400 in Minnesota.
- Melanoma kills 9,000 people each year in the United States.
- Regular use of sunscreen and wearing sun protective clothing reduces your chance of getting melanoma.
Now is the time to be proactive. Minnesota Oncology is making it easy and offering an incredible service to the community: free skin cancer screenings for anyone. I strongly encourage people to attend the first-ever “Screen the Skin You’re In” events on May 14 in Edina and May 21 in Maplewood. These free community events will include free skin cancer screenings, education on skin cancer prevention, safe sunscreen giveaways, and more.
Get screened. It takes 15 minutes, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s more than worth it to avoid enduring what I and those who love me went through.
You can register for “Screen the Skin You’re In” at mnoncology.com. Walk-ins are welcome, but priority will be given to those who RSVP.
John Huhn is a skin cancer survivor from Minneapolis.
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