Thursday, February 28, 2013

My trip to the Oregon House Health Care Committee

Me testifying at the Oregon House committee hearing. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Let me begin with a spoiler: On Wednesday afternoon, Oregon House Bill 2896 passed unanimously through the Oregon House Committee on Health Care! That means we're one step closer to banning minors under 18 from using UV tanning beds in Oregon.

Now, let me rewind a bit. Earlier this week, I got to drive down to Salem and tell my story about tanning beds and skin cancer to the committee. I was one of three patients who testified (special shout out to my friend Mark Williams, who gave a fantastic testimony). Three experts also spoke in favor of the bill, including world-renowned cancer researcher Brian Druker.

Me and Brian Druker, M.D. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Several friends have asked me if I was nervous at the hearing. Of course I was nervous! I'd never been to a hearing like this before and I had no idea how the representatives would react to my testimony. Plus, I've been following how similar bills have been proposed in other states. Learning about Chelsea's recent experience in Virginia was also a bit disheartening.

Fortunately, as I told my story about using tanning beds and my subsequent melanoma diagnosis, members of the committee seemed engaged and many nodded their heads when I shared how I begged my mom to let me go tanning in 10th grade. Some of the key concerns I expressed in my testimony are:
  • That teenagers are unaware how serious skin cancer can be.
  • Even if they know tanning is dangerous, they may engage in risky behavior because of influence by peers.
  • A large number of high school students use indoor tanning beds, especially before prom and senior portraits. Even smart, high-achieving students are worried about their appearance.
  • Tanning beds use is very poorly regulated. Most tanning salons I visited let me tan for the maximum time and did not take into consideration my naturally fair complexion or that I might burn.
  • Parents are often unaware of the risks of indoor tanning, so they are unable to adequately protect their children. For example, many parents believe it's smart to get a "pre-vacation" tan or that you need to tan to produce enough vitamin D. Medical research suggests that neither of these myths are true.
  • Melanoma rates in young tanning bed users are skyrocketing.
I also gave a detailed description of my melanoma diagnosis, treatment, and the anxiety I deal with knowing I may develop a second melanoma.

Talking with one of the committee members after the hearing. Photo: Jeremy Rush.

Of course, we had to hear from the opposition, which included both a local tanning industry representative and a national lobbyist who flew in from Colorado. It was frustrating to hear them speak, especially when they said things that contradicted what I had said just minutes earlier. Their arguments were predictable: that tanning beds don't actually cause melanoma, that parents should be able to monitor their own children, and that the tanning bed industry strives to encourage "smart" and healthy tanning behavior. Interestingly, the lobbyist's testimony was very argumentative. At one point, everyone in the room held their breath while he sparred back and forth with the committee chair, refusing to directly answer his question about the safety of UV tanning equipment. Ultimately, his testimony persuaded one of the more conservative committee members to vote in support of the bill.

The bill is now headed to the full Oregon House for a vote, so it's not over yet! But I do feel very lucky, not just to be alive to share my story, but also to have been chosen to speak on behalf of so many other people impacted by melanoma in our state. This is all a tremendous learning experience for me, and I hope it becomes another vehicle to raise awareness about melanoma--not just in Oregon--but across the U.S.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stars who didn't fake n' bake before the Oscars

Jessica Chastain is a classic beauty in her elegant nude gown that shows off her naturally fair complexion. Per usual, I'm a huge fan of the red lip. She may have been skipped over for best actress, but in my opinion, she wins best dressed for the evening.

Major props to Jennifer Lawrence for totally wiping out on her couture gown and still looking graceful.

Amy Adams keeps accessories to a minimum with her extravagant ball gown. Her fair skin is the perfect complement to the pale blue gown.

Jennifer Garner chose a bold, berry colored dress that really makes her fair skin pop.

Love her or hate her, Anne Hathaway always looks comfortable in her own skin.

Who was your favorite on the red carpet this year?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's OK Thursday #2

It's been so long since I did my first It's OK Thursday post! Visit Amber's blog to read what everyone else is posting today - it's always entertaining.

It's OK...
  • That it's February 21 and I still feel like celebrating Valentine's Day
  • To take a mini blogger hiatus every now and again
  • To say "no" when you already have too much on your plate (still working on that one...)
  • To spend more time watching TV shows and reading US Weekly on your Kindle than reading actual books
  • To buy spring clothing in the middle of winter
  • To leave your bus pass at home and have to pay for the bus with cash
Your turn. Fess up! What have you been up to this week?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Teen tanning ban proposed in Oregon

I started tanning in high school
so that I looked pretty for prom.
Wow, it’s been a busy week! On Monday morning, Oregon lawmakers proposed a bill that would prohibit minors under age 18 from using UV tanning beds unless a doctors prescription is provided. I had a chance to speak with several local news stations about the bill, and about my experience tanning frequently as a teenager. Here are links to the news segments in case you missed them.

Some alarming facts about skin cancer in Oregon and across the country:
  • Women in Oregon who are diagnosed with melanoma have the highest death rate compared with those who suffer from the disease in any other state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Oregon has the fourth highest death rate for melanoma in the nation.
  • Tanning bed use before age 35 can increase an individual’s risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. 
  • Forty percent of white females between the ages of 16 and 18 visit tanning facilities, according to a 2012 Congressional report. 

Stay tuned for more updates on the bill! If you live in Oregon, be sure to contact your state representative to let them know you support the teen tanning ban.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Treat yourself

Feeling the love

V-day may be all about romance and chocolate and roses, but don't forget about the most important person in your life: you! So whether that means buying a new lipstick or getting a babysitter for the kids this Friday, do something this week for you, by you.

After all, if you don't love yourself, why would anyone else want to?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One year and 96 blog posts later

Last February, I did something completely outside of my comfort zone. I updated my twitter profile, bought a new domain name, and embarked on the daunting new adventure of educating the world about melanoma. I had spent months reading scientific journals about skin cancer and public health campaigns to prevent it, but I wasn't ready to talk about something so personal on such a public forum.

When I hit publish on my first post and posted a link to it on Facebook, I shivered at the thought of my friends reading it. But I fought all urges that told me DELETE DELETE DELETE. I kept it up and posted another one. And another.

I befriended a few other melanoma bloggers, including Chelsea, Carol, Rich, and Al. We all have very different stories to share, but their courage and passion for promoting awareness was (and continues to be) very inspiring.

Over the weekend, I spent some time looking over everything I've written since last February. As I transition into year two, I plan to continue trying new things that push me outside my comfort zone (like organizing the PDX Melanoma Walk this spring!) and hope to continue provoking discussion about skin cancer in young people.

Thank you to everyone who has been following me along the way!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hey girl, hey

You hear that? That's the sound of one gorgeous male celebrity telling you to strip down and do your monthly skin cancer exam. If Ryan Gosling doesn't suit your fancy, here's another reason why you should become more familiar with your skin.

I found my melanoma.

Over the years, especially if you're using tanning beds or spending a lot of time in the sun, you can (and probably will) develop new moles, freckles, and sun spots. One of the signs a mole is potentially malignant is if it's changing shape or evolving. My cancerous mole appeared out of nowhere at some point when I was in college - I wasn't paying too much attention.

Eventually, I realized that having a mole appear out of nowhere could potentially be dangerous, so I went and got a skin exam at the dermatologist. Turns out, I made a very, very smart decision.

I'm not the only one who found my melanoma. Several other people I've met both online and in the "real world" have been the ones to notice something was abnormal, or changing and they made the life-saving decision to go see a doc.

So make a point of taking a careful look at your skin each month. I usually do it right before or after a shower. The American Academy of Dermatology provides some guidelines on doing a self-exam, but the most important advice I can give is know your own body. Abnormal to you may not be abnormal to someone else. Visit a dermatologist if you're unsure. Melanoma is scary, but it's much easier to treat if you catch it early.