News & Press
#GetNaked: MRF Staff Has Skin in the Game
Just when my life was taking off, I had to hand it over to an oncologist. My name is Cassie and I am the Senior Advocacy Officer at the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). In 2011 at the age of 32, I was diagnosed with advanced melanoma.
As a child of the 80s, vigilant sunscreen use and skin cancer prevention weren’t a thing. Even in the 90s when I was in my mid to late teens, I remember going to the beach, putting a mist in my hair to bring out the blond highlights followed by a layer of either baby oil or an SPF 8 with a bronzer on my skin. That was it. Maybe I would reapply the SPF 8 twice, but for many back then, this was it – a quick spritz and you were out all day. With my fair complexion, I would often come home from the beach and river tubing trips with my friends with hot red, and at times, blistering skin.
In my 20s, I became more aware of my paleness and I decided to take a new approach to maintaining a glow and started each season with a “preventative base tan,” often spending my lunch breaks during the month of May in a tanning bed. I would do this for several years and it became sort of a ritual. Before any big trip, or just to fill up a Saturday with a friend, I would sit in a tanning bed and try to achieve society’s and my own image of a “healthy glow.”
I floated through my 20s as an invincible young adult. I was young, fearless, in excellent shape and had my whole life ahead of me. What could possibly go wrong?
In January 2011, I felt a swollen lymph node in my right arm. With little concern, I made a doctor’s appointment where they recommended a mammogram just to rule out any breast abnormalities. With no primary mole, it took my care team a month to realize that this was stage IIIc melanoma and not breast cancer. I had no clue what melanoma was but based on the doctor’s reactions I knew that treating this was something of urgency. I underwent a full lymph node dissection, finding melanoma in three out of 36 lymph nodes and completed a year of interferon.
Not knowing what to ask my doctors and perhaps feeling a bit naive for not knowing what melanoma was, I immediately took to the web where I came across the MRF’s website. It was here where I found an abundance of educational resources about melanoma helping me to better understand my diagnosis and treatment options.
In 2014, I joined the MRF and am pleased to say that I lead the organization’s advocacy efforts to mobilize advances in policy and federal funding while representing and engaging the interest of the melanoma community as well as focusing on partnering with industry to amplify the voice of the melanoma community.
My journey with skin cancer didn’t end there. In 2019 I had Moh’s surgery to remove my third squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common form of skin cancer) and live with the fear of a melanoma recurrence daily.
Melanoma is not “just skin cancer” – no skin cancer is “just skin cancer.” It is a big deal and it impacts the lives of millions across the globe and contributes to tens of thousands of deaths each year. I am honored to have survived and be able to devote my career to helping those who have been impacted by this disease.
This May, and in honor of the MRF’s 25th Anniversary, I have skin in the game and I #GetNaked; not for the tanning bed but early detection and awareness, including a yearly skin exam from my dermatologist and ensuring that I am taking just a few minutes once a month to look for any new or changing spots on my skin.
I consider myself on of the lucky ones. If I knew then, what I know now… Think about it, what’s five minutes a month? If I can do it, you can too!
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