TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As an anchor and reporter at KGUN 9, I thought it would a good idea to share an important and personal story with our viewers. I’m taking a closer look at melanoma skin cancer because it's something near and dear to my heart.
I lost my brother Terran less than two years after discovering that he was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. At the time, my family and I had no idea of what melanoma really was or how deadly it could be.
Terran died on October 1, 2012, after a short and hard-fought battle with melanoma. He passed away just one month after finishing his final round of chemo. The cancer came back with a fierce vengeance and quickly took over his body.
Another shocking detail about his story is that he was relatively healthy before we knew about the diagnosis and the issues all started with an injured toenail after someone stepped on his right foot at work. He went to the doctor after about a month of dealing with it and got the bad news it was stage four and he started treatments.
Terran was only 34-years-old and newly engaged with a whole life ahead of him. Before he died, I made him a promise that I would educate as many people as possible about what happened to him, the dangers of melanoma and sun exposure. I have continued to share his story and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I wear a melanoma awareness wristband everyday in his honor.
In my quest for answers about melanoma skin cancer I met with a team of 6 experts from the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona. The group of experts included Dr. Clara Curiel, Robin Harris PhD, Dr. Audrey Baker, Dr. Jim Warneke, Dr. Monte Shaheen and Georg Wondrak PhD. The group works as a team to give patients a full circle of care.
Through my conversations we discussed a wide range of topics on melanoma and the first was early detection.
"They're all correlated with some exposure so the more sun you had earlier in your life, the more intensity the more sunburns you had, it increases your risk of getting skin cancer,” Dr. Curiel said.
Dr. Clara Curiel is the Co-Director of the Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona; she says there are two types of melanoma that you should be aware of.
"They're called melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancer accounts for most cancers. The second cancer is melanoma, and it originates from a different cell which is known as melanocyte which is the one in charge of producing pigment that protects our skin to protect from UV rays," Dr. Curiel said.
Aside from the usual suspects like moles, there other signs, and locations on your body you should keep an eye on, because melanoma can occur anywhere on the inside or outside of your body.
"Your palms and soles and some protective areas are less likely, but it can still happen there. That's a misconception most people think that it can happen in areas that's exposed to sunlight, but that is not the case," Dr. Curiel said.
According to Dr. Curiel melanoma is deadly and aggressive, and time is of the essence about two- percent of cases are linked to genetics.
"Biomarkers can be a marker of risk to look for specific signals in your cells that can identify if you are at risk of developing for example a genetic disposition. There's also a biomarker for treatment, you can have a specific signal in your cell. It can tell if you are susceptible to a specific therapeutic approach," Dr. Curiel said.
The doctor also gave an explanation on what the stages of the cancer really mean.
"Stage one stage two is confined to the skin and hasn't gone beyond the layers of your skin. Stage three means lymphatic your lymph nodes. The melanoma has traveled from your skin to the nodal basin. Stage four is distant disease the melanoma has spread beyond the skin and lymph nodes," Dr. Curiel said.
The key is to pay close attention to your body because it can mean the difference between life and death.
"Look at all parts of your body and anything that is really changing, doesn't look like anything else on your body. Its behaving in a different way and it continues to grow continues to expand," Dr. Curiel said.