Staff members share the most surprising things they’ve learned since joining The Skin Cancer Foundation.
Did you know that one in five Americans will have skin cancer during the course of a lifetime? It’s OK if you didn’t — this statistic isn’t necessarily common knowledge. Asking anyone at The Skin Cancer Foundation, however, would be akin to asking if they knew their own phone number. Even those of us who have been with the Foundation for only a few months are now intimately acquainted with facts about skin cancer, and many of us have found ourselves blurting out statistics to unsuspecting friends and family.
We weren’t always this way, though. We all started somewhere, and the knowledge that seems second nature now was once foreign to us. While some facts about skin cancer and sun protection are fairly obvious — you should protect yourself with sunscreen, for example — many other things were unexpected, even to those of us who have decided to make a career out of fighting skin cancer. So, we asked our staff: “What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since joining the team?”
“Before I joined the Foundation in 2008, I thought wearing a T-shirt when I was at the pool would protect me from sunburns; little did I know how ineffective that is! Since working at the Foundation, I have discovered what UPF means and now own a whole universe of UV-protective clothing, from fashionable button-down shirts and slacks to the latest in sport (bicycling) gear.”
— Paul Melia, Director, Production & Technology
“When I started working at the Foundation in 2010, I had no idea that UVA rays could penetrate window glass. Mark Teich, our executive editor, told me to look closely at the furniture in my apartment that received direct sunlight, to see if the fabric was faded. Sure enough, one arm of my living room sofa was shades lighter than the rest of the sofa. Mark said to me, ‘If that’s what the sun does to your sofa, imagine what it’s doing to your skin while you sit there.’ That was quite a shock! I’ve since moved my couch to the other side of the room.”
— Becky Kamowitz, Director, Marketing Communications
“I had too many sunburns as a kid and wish I’d known then what I know now about sun protection. I had no idea till I worked at the Foundation that having more than five sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma. I’ve also learned that not all schools make it easy for kids to protect themselves with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and shade during recess or outdoor sports. I hope that will change.”
— Julie Bain, Health and Science Editor
“Before working at the Foundation I thought I had to choose between living an outdoorsy life or protecting myself from the sun. I had the wrong impression that I needed to stay indoors and hide from daylight. Now, I know that if I take a few moments to apply sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing before heading outdoors, I can do all the things I love: beach days, running, picnics in the park and hiking. Sun protection is a healthy habit that goes with any lifestyle!”
— Brian Hanley, Marketing Manager
“Skin cancer isn’t just an older person’s disease. I’ve known a few people with skin cancer but all have been over the age of 65. Working here and hearing from so many young people who have been diagnosed with melanoma has definitely been eye-opening.”
— Victoria Stovall, Digital Content Manager
“When I started at the Foundation, I was shocked to learn that 90 percent of visible skin aging is caused by UV radiation. I had no idea how much the sun affected the appearance of my skin, even when I wasn’t getting a tan or sunburn. I always thought there wasn’t really much I could do to prevent wrinkles and age spots, and that I would just have to start using antiaging creams once I began seeing them. Now I know that by making sunscreen a part of my daily routine, I’m taking action to keep my skin healthy and glowing before signs of aging crop up.”
— Ali Venosa, Communications Coordinator
“When I first started at the Foundation in 1992, I had no idea that the sun produced two types of cancer-causing UV rays — UVA and UVB. Back then, most scientists thought that only UVB radiation caused cancer, because that was the main sunburn ray, and as a result, sunscreens mainly just protected against UVB. Now we know that UVA rays play a major part in skin aging and can also cause skin cancer. The concept of broad-spectrum sunscreen protection — against both UVB and UVA rays — only emerged as more and more studies showed that UVA could also cause skin cancer.”
— Mark Teich, Executive Editor
“When I joined the Foundation, all I knew about melanoma and skin cancer was from my father’s terrible experience in the early 1980s. He underwent massive surgery to remove a large lesion from his arm and stray cells in his lymph nodes. I was never aware of how deadly melanoma is, or that my genetic risk was higher because of my father’s history with the disease. And I had no idea what basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas were. I’ve always used some sun protection since I burn easily, but now I make sure I never leave the house without putting on sunscreen!”
— Elena Gaillard, Graphics Coordinator
* This article was first published in the 2017 issue of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal.