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May is Melanoma Awareness Month in New Westminster

When the sun comes out, be sure to be safe and take steps to avoid skin cancer – the most common cancer in Canada
Heat wave (Getty)
The Save Your Skin Foundation urges residents to take action to prevent skin cancer - on sunny and not-so-sunny days.

Kathy Barnard never dreamed her childhood days of playing softball at Moody Park could one day put her life at risk.

Barnard is the founder of the Save Your Skin Foundation, a non-profit organization that she and her family founded in 2006, in an effort to ensure that anyone diagnosed with melanoma would not have to travel this journey alone.

“In 2003 I was diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, and by 2005 it had spread to my liver, lungs, adrenal glands and kidneys, and I was given six months,” she said. “I never would have thought that my days as a child at our local lake or my days at the softball diamond at Moody Park would turn so deadly.”

According to Barnard, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers – with one in six Canadians born in the 1990s expected to get skin cancer in their lifetimes. She said there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the number of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.

The City of New Westminster has proclaimed May as Melanoma Awareness Month.

“Melanoma is now the seventh most common cancer in Canada and the fourth most common among people ages 15 to 29,” she told city council at its May 9 meeting. “It is one of the few cancers with incident rates on the rise among all Canadians. Exposure to UV radiation through exposure to sunlight, tanning beds and sun lamps appears to be a major risk factor for melanoma.”

Skin is the largest organ in the human body – and the one that people can see, Barnard said.

“Early detection and prevention is key to this type of cancer,” she said. “No cancer can be eradicated but it can be prevented. There are risk factors that are well-known so steps can be taken to dramatically reduce the risk of developing this type of cancer.”

In an effort to raise awareness about skin cancer, Barnard offers the following tips about how people can protect themselves this summer:

* Always have sunscreen with you so you can apply it whenever an unplanned outdoor activity arises.

* Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever you are outdoors, even on those greyer days.

* Wear protective clothing, long sleeves, hats and sunglasses.

*Look for changes in moles or new moles and see your doctor immediately if anything is suspicious.

* Try and limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

*Never use a tanning bed.

* Get a cancer-related checkup by a doctor, including skin examinations, every three years between the ages of 20 and 40 and annually for those 40 and over.

“If you see something suspicious, see your doctor right away,” she stressed.

Barnard thanked the City of New Westminster for being a leader in helping to spread the word about melanoma and the need to be safe in the sun.

“Thank you for proclaiming May as Melanoma Awareness Month and for helping us spread the word about this type of cancer,” she told council. “New West was the first municipality to proclaim, about four years ago, and this year we have 16 municipalities from across Canada. So thank you so much New West for being a leader.”

The Save Your Skin Foundation is committed to playing an active role in reducing the incidence of skin cancer in Canada, and to supporting Canadians living with skin cancers.

“We are dedicated to fighting against non-melanoma skin cancers, melanoma and ocular melanoma through education, advocacy and awareness initiatives across Canada,” Barnard said. “Save your Skin provides a community of oncology patient and caregiver support throughout the entire continuum of care from prevention and diagnosis to survivorship.”

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