Kerrie's personal story
Growing up, I had a pool in my backyard. I lived in that pool every summer. But living in that pool every summer meant I got blistered sunburns at least once a summer. When I got that blistered sunburn on my shoulders, I would throw on a shirt until it healed and then swim without one again.
On April 20, 2012, I sat across from my primary care doctor and heard I had melanoma. The spot I had removed about a month previously was supposed to be nothing. It was a big, black, ugly skin tag looking spot that had come up about six years before I had it removed. I had had a similar spot removed before this one started to grow and it came back as a benign spot, so I thought I had some odd cells that needed somewhere to grow. I did not know that a new spot was a sign of melanoma. If it was not for an upcoming cruise and the fact it was on my upper shoulder/neck area, I would not have had it removed. That cruise ended up saving my life, and all those blistered sunburns that I thought nothing about at the time came back to haunt me.
After the shock of my diagnosis of stage IIa melanoma, I started to dig in and learn about melanoma. I wanted to know what to expect, what to look for in terms of recurrence or metastasis, and, most importantly, why. What I learned was that I could have done things when I was younger that would have helped prevent me from having melanoma, and now regret not doing. We heard about skin cancer, but it was not a big deal. No one talked about melanoma and possible death.
Since I learned that there was little I could do now and there was much I could have done when I was younger, I started the River Valley Skin Cancer Alliance, and in partnership with the Reynolds Cancer Support House, have been going into high schools to talk to health classes about skin cancer and melanoma. I talk to them about what to look for, what causes it, and, most importantly, to stay out of tanning beds and away from all tanning. I have talked to over 2,000 students over the last couple of years. I am hoping to save at least a few of them from being in my situation.
I also worked with state politicians to pass the bill to allow students k-12 to use sunscreen without a doctor's note. The next thing is to get a bill passed to raise the age for tanning bed use to 18 in Arkansas, a bill that was defeated a couple of years ago. I am going to do what I can to try to reverse the trend of the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with melanoma.