When we began the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) in 1999, we briefly considered throwing our support to the research side of skin cancer. However, we ultimately concluded that for us specifically, the best way to make a difference was to focus exclusively on melanoma education. We’ve maintained that focus for over 18 years, and the results of our efforts continually prove that we made the right decision.
The MEF was created by our founder after he suffered the tragic loss of his son Dan to melanoma at 26 years of age. As we began reaching out to other victims of this disease and their families, we quickly became aware of a few very disheartening truths. Most melanoma patients possessed little-to-no knowledge about the affliction prior to developing it or, even worse, until it progressed too far to stop.
Moreover, we discovered that most middle and high school health and wellness educators were also uninformed about melanoma. As such, they don’t ever mention anything about it in their health classes. That is a huge opportunity lost, because the odds of developing melanoma skyrocket in our mid-20s. How can we expect children and adolescents to understand (or to simply be aware) of the risks associated with exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays if they’re not provided with the information?
Research is a short word with a chasm full of different definitions; particularly when it’s associated with medical science. We wanted to accomplish as much as possible with our limited finances, and we had a choice. We could’ve given our support to “research”, but to be honest what does that even mean? Does anyone who’s ever dropped a dollar into a store’s countertop jar to benefit a given disease know where that money goes? Or how much of that dollar will actually get to where it’s most needed? Sure, it feels good but there’s nothing tangible about it. You don’t even really know how much of a difference you’ve made, if any. Even worse, you’ll never know.
Like the legendary Jonas Salk, the medical scientist who rid the world of the scourge of Polio, sooner or later some group of scientists working for some massive pharmaceutical company are going to take down melanoma. But what if it’s later rather than sooner? And what about all the melanoma victims who’ll die in the meantime of a disease they could’ve easily avoided had they only known? What we could contribute to the development of new skin cancer medicines and technologies would be akin to tossing a Dixie Cup full of spring water into Lake Superior.
On the other hand…
What if, instead, we directed our attention to reaching teachers about the importance of melanoma education in the classroom? If successful we could make a tremendous difference through bypassing the post-acquisition treatments and cutting skin cancer off at its’ source.
There’s infinite wisdom in the old adage ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. And over these last 18 years we’ve exceeded our greatest expectations. The melanoma lessons our website offers are now being taught in over 1,700 middle and high schools spread across 49 U.S. states.
What helps is that, as deadly as it can be, melanoma has a few vulnerabilities that are easy to exploit- and also easy to instruct others about. If caught early enough, a simple doctor’s office excision carries a 98% cure rate. And melanoma is one of the few potentially fatal diseases that loudly announces itself ahead of time with skin changes, blemishes and discolorations. These can then be found during a short, monthly skin self-examination.
We’ve taken numerous surveys and have had countless conversations. And we’ve heard time and time again from students, teachers and our website’s visitors that they’ve all found early melanomas they would not have paid any attention to were it not for their MEF education.
One day, melanoma will be swept away into the dustbin of medical history where it belongs…
…but until that joyous day comes, we will continue to honor Dan- and the millions like him -by aggressively working to deny skin cancer as many victims as we possibly can.
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