| Amanda Herzberg
Recently, author David L. Stanley shared his book, Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, with Sunology. We not only had the pleasure of reading what he calls, this "cautionary tale," but we were also fortunate enough to chat about his motivations for writing this powerful book as well as the post-cancer changes his battle with Melanoma has inspired. He shares life lessons we can all learn from, before we have to learn the hard way.
How has Melanoma changed your perspective on Sunscreen use and overall sun safety awareness?
When I was younger, I was the poster child for what not to do for sun safety. It was the 1970s and 80s. Hats were a fashion statement, not a protective device. So now, 30 years later, I pay the price for my ignorance.
Now, I wear SPF 30-45 whenever I’m outside and nag people, especially my younger friends, to do the same.
What was your main objective in writing the memoir, Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle?
If you’ve read my book, you know that my year of melanoma was really miserable. When I was sick, there were no immunotherapies. It was biopsies, more biopsies, and surgery. The point is, my whole experience was avoidable. Sure, there are some genetic markers for melanoma, and then there are the odd cases like Bob Marley’s acral lentiginous melanoma, but mostly, it’s simple. Avoid or block UV exposure. My book is a cautionary tale.
To explain the second part of why I wrote the book, I need to take you back to Mr. Rogers. He always told the story about when he was a boy and he was scared and his mother said, “When you’re in a scary place, look for the helpers. There are always people helping when it’s scary.”
Well, when I had melanoma, I was sometimes brave, but mostly I vacillated between scared and terrified. I’m told some of the funniest and most terrifying moments of the book are when I describe my times of panic and anxiety. Both together sounds weird, but it’s true. So, the second part is that when you have cancer, of any kind, you will be scared, and nearly everyone around you will be one of Mr. Rogers’ helpers, if you let them.
As a cancer survivor, what is most important to you as you reflect on this experience?
I lead a charmed life. We all lead charmed lives. My original lesion was just in front of my left ear, near that nubbin of flesh called the tragus. My wife is a nurse, she leaned in to kiss me, just at random, and stopped short when she saw a weird ‘freckle.’ Two different colors, saw-toothed on one edge, a classic of the ABCDE* type. I got good initial care, I was turfed to the melanoma clinic at the University of Michigan. Cath doesn’t spot that lesion, there’s the possibility of a whole different outcome. I would never have seen it. The surgery would’ve been much more devastating, and that’s assuming that surgery would’ve solved the problem. My dermatologist flat out said, given how fast the lesion grew, if I’d waited two years, I’d have been a dead man.
What is the number one thing you think everyone must know about Melanoma?
I believe there are three things. First, melanoma suffers from a lack of press. We’ve bought into this myth of “tanned skin is sexy skin.” We’ve allowed the unregulated growth of tanning booths. More new cases of skin cancer of all kinds are now caused by tanning than new cases of lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking. That’s according to a meta-study published by JAMA Dermatology.
Second, people need to learn that melanoma is an entirely different beast. Most of us, in our lifetime, will develop a basal cell carcinoma that can be easily removed in the doctor’s office. Not a big deal. But melanoma is an efficient killer. One person per hour per day in the US alone. Because the body’s pigment cells, the melanocytes, and our brain cells arise from the same basic tissue layer early in development, melanoma is desperate to get back to the brain. When that happens, you get brain tumors, and that’s what kills you.
Third, sun exposure is cumulative, and it takes less than you’d think. Five nice sunburns as a teen and young adult double your chances for melanoma as a middle-aged adult. But, the fix is simple. Like the Aussies say, “Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide.” Slip on a shirt. Slop on some sunscreen. Slap on a hat. Seek some shade. Slide on some sunglasses. So easy, isn’t it?
Stanley's book gives a deeply personal perspective on what a skin cancer diagnosis really means and offers every reason you may need to be conscious and cautious when it comes to sun exposure. But more than anything, he has written an entertaining and compelling memoir that's tough to put down. We hope you'll take the time to find it on Amazon, and enjoy the read! *ABCDE is in reference to some of the more pronounced warning signs in relation to melanoma detection: A) Asymmetry, (B) a border that is uneven, ragged, or notched, (C) coloring of different shades of brown, black, or tan and (D) diameter that has changed in size.