By Tori Ziege
From the depths of what can only be described as yet another harsh New England winter, summertime has sprung.
Cue sunny mornings working in the garden, sunny afternoons laying out on the beach towel and yes—sunny days enduring the constant reminder to put on sunscreen.
We’ve all heard it, we’ve all ignored it, and we all know it: when the waves are beckoning, beach wins over block every time.
The Melanoma Education Foundation knows this too.
Although it’s as much a proponent of sun protection as any health organization, MEF has long reconciled with the notion that—for one reason or another—people, especially teens, are resistant to the idea of wearing sunscreen.
That’s why Steve Fine, the founder and president of the Melanoma Education Foundation, has strived to find another solution since 1989: the year after his son Dan died of the disease that gave the foundation its namesake.
“Our strategy is what we learned from my son’s and from talking with many other families of melanoma victims: that they didn’t need to die” Fine said. “They died because they weren’t educated about melanoma.”
Focused on early detection and recognition of melanoma through the use of a 10-minute monthly body self-scan, MEF’s education program has worked its way into 1300 high schools and middle schools—including 48 states—nationwide.
Now, the Massachusetts-based skin cancer organization is urging the public to take notice of its message as it continues further expansion into secondary schools.
“Almost every melanoma death could have been prevented by early self-detection,” Fine said. “Which means that there are nearly 10,000 deaths in the US from melanoma each year that could have been prevented.”
Melanoma is an unusual skin cancer in that it doesn’t always need high amounts of sun exposure to form. Fine said that even areas of the body that have never been exposed to the sun can still be at risk for melanoma—making self-detection even more pertinent.
The Melanoma Education Foundation works in targeting high school and middle school students by offering free lessons that the organization has developed. The videos at the heart of the lessons won Gold Triangle Awards from the American Academy of Dermatology.
It’s a critical time to reach students, elevated by the fact that melanoma is the second most prevalent cancer found in people ages 15-29, and the leading cancer in ages 25-29.
“Education is the key,” Fine said. “Before the time that we started offering our program, most students graduated from high school without any knowledge of melanoma. That could be a death sentence for some of them.”
Instructors can register to teach lessons at melanomaeducation.net, where they’ll be prompted to view a training video, followed by a lesson plan and videos for educating students.
But the general public also has a role in promoting MEF—and the prevention of melanoma—in more ways than one.
Parents can encourage teachers and principals to adopt the lessons in schools where they are not currently being taught, and anyone can educate themselves at the foundation’s user-friendly education website, skincheck.org. For those parents who are unsure, a list of schools using the lessons is available at melanomaeducation.net.
MEF also offers several fundraising events—from raffles, to comedy to dinner shows, to triathlons, to family fun walks—for those who want to see the organization continue to grow.
A full schedule of events is available at skincheck.org, in addition to a form for interested volunteers.
“We’re in 1300 schools right now, and we’d like to be in 13000,” Fine said. “But we need help for that to happen.”