During May's Melanoma Month, Save Your Skin Foundation is reminding you to protect yourself from skin cancers.
The patient-led non-for-profit organization that connects skin cancer patients with medical resources across the country also brings awareness to various types of skin cancer and preventive measures that Canadians should consider.
“I would never have thought that my days as a child at our local lakes and oceans, and my days at the softball diamond, would have turned so deadly for me,” said B.C. resident Kathy Barnard, a survivor of stage four malignant melanoma who founded the organization in 2006. “I was very lucky I had the one-and-only treatment that was available to me in Canada.”
Barnard said her son had been in contact with a doctor from the United States who wanted to bring a clinical trial to Canada for her, but Barnard had to find a facility willing to administer the treatment.
“I was lucky to find my neighbouring province of Alberta welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “I was given two clinical trials there on compassionate access, and I’ve been clear since 2007.”
The not-for-profit now works in advocacy and prevention for skin cancer, while also aiding patients with finding the resources they need for treatment.
“What I think makes us very unique is we have the ability to help navigate patients throughout the country,” she said. “Right now, ocular melanoma is on the rise. We only have two provinces in Canada that have a treatment under compassionate use available, one in Ontario and one in Alberta.”
“When ocular melanoma patients are diagnosed, their treating physician will send them over to our organization and we will literally, financially, and emotionally get them to the centre they need for care, so we will pay their flights, accommodations … whatever it takes to get that patient timely access to medication.”
Barnard urges Canadians to take preventive measures, such as wearing at least 30 SPF sunscreen and UV protective clothing, limiting exposure to sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and seeking medical care for any skin abnormalities.
“Melanoma is now the seventh most common cancer in Canada and the fourth most common among people ages 18 to 29,” she said. “It is one of the few cancers with incident rates on the rise among Canadians.”
“Early detection and prevention is key in this type of cancer. No cancer, including melanoma, can ever be prevented with 100 per cent certainty,” she said. “The good news with melanoma is that the risk factors are well known, so steps can be taken to dramatically reduce your risk of developing this disease.”
Barnard said that she plans to follow in Australia’s footsteps and begin advocating for infrastructure that can help protect Canadians from the sun.
“I follow a lot of work they do in Australia because we know the incidence of skin cancer in Australia is very, very high,” she said. “They've started changing lunch hours; they make sure their playgrounds are protected.”
She is seeking support from municipalities across the country to provide sun protection in facilities.
“If you ever would like the opportunity to work on some of those kinds of projects with me, I would be thrilled. I would like this year to be running some pilot projects with sunshades, and see if we can shade up two or three facilities, (so when we) tell people to come out of the sun we have a place for them to go.”
More information about the Save Your Skin Foundation may be found here.