Friday, December 30, 2005

Famed oncologist dies of melanoma

After initially beating melanoma seven years ago, Dr. John Murren was rediagnosed with melanoma in November. After fighting cancer for others, Dr. Murren himself succumbed to it on Wednesday. He was 47. Dr. Murren and his brother Jim Murren founded the Nevada Cancer Institute in 2002. Dr. Murren served on it's board and recruited many of the institute's researchers. The Murrens lost their father to melanoma in 1990.

From the Las Vegas Sun:
A renowned Yale University oncologist and cancer researcher, John Murren specialized in studying the effectiveness of cancer drug therapies and advancing the use of new treatments, said Jim Murren, president and chief financial officer for MGM Mirage.

Jim Murren said his brother held the vision behind the Nevada Cancer Institute.

"... It was John, and solely John, who was the inspiration and really the genesis of the Nevada Cancer Institute," he said. "It was John that encouraged the titans of the cancer world to come to Las Vegas because they knew and admired and respected him."

Dr. John Murren, 47, died Wednesday morning at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., after losing his own battle with melanoma.

The Murren brothers lost their father, Connecticut state Rep. John Henry Murren, to melanoma, a rare but more deadly form of skin cancer, in 1990 at age 59.

John Murren specialized in the treatment and prevention of lung cancer. He was chief of the Yale Medical Oncology Outpatient Clinic, director of the Lung Cancer unit at Yale Cancer Center and had one of the largest practices at Yale, treating thousands of patients each year.

Because of his influence, the Nevada Cancer Institute is already involved in more than 30 clinical trials this year that will include about 150 patients.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Older white women with skin cancer history at greater risk.

If you're a white woman over 50 with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer you're in a high risk group for contracting melanoma... regardless of how much sun you're exposed to.

From Northwestern University press release:

"This study adds a history of the relatively favorable non-melanoma skin cancer -- in and of itself -- to the list of known risk factors for melanoma in both sun lovers and shade dwellers alike," said lead author Carol A. Rosenberg, M.D., assistant professor medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Rosenberg is also director of Preventive Health Initiatives, a senior attending physician at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare and a researcher at The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The study found that postmenopausal, non-Hispanic white women aged 50 to 79 years with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, such as basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer, but no other malignancies were more than twice as more likely to develop cutaneous melanoma over a period of 6.5 years compared with women who had no history of non-melanoma skin cancer, no matter how much sun exposure or other lifestyle variables they have experienced.

"Our study further defines melanoma risk in post-menopausal women and, it is hoped, will sensitize the medical community to this risk, serving as a catalyst for development of new routines of follow-up and patient assessment to facilitate earlier detection of melanoma," said Rosenberg.

"This skin surveillance imperative may serve to be lifesaving in predisposed women," said Rosenberg.

If you've had it already you're at greater risk.

We've heard this before and this is hardly earth-shattering news but a recent report in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that you're at a greater risk for getting a second melanoma if you've already had one. If you aren't already extra vigilant after recovering from your first melanoma, you obviously should be.


From Reuters:
Individuals diagnosed with a first malignant melanoma of the skin have a significantly increased risk of being diagnosed with a second malignant melanoma, according to a report in the current issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

$30 million donation for melanoma research

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

A little-known millionaire has donated $30 million towards finding a cure for melanoma and hopes other rich Australians will follow his act by giving money to charity.

The money donated by Sydney businessman Greg Poche, who built the private freight company Star Track Express, is believed to be the largest single public charitable donation by an individual, a Sydney newspaper reported.

It will be put towards a new Sydney Melanoma Unit at North Sydney's Mater Hospital.

The 63-year-old said he wanted to inspire Australia's multi-millionaires to give some of their wealth to similar projects, a move popular in America.

It was believed Mr Poche, persuaded by a friend who is a Friends of the Mater member to make the donation, was originally asked for $10 million.

The funding will allow projects such as the development of an anti-cancer vaccine to be developed, said Sydney Melanoma Unit director Professor John Thompson.

Mr Poche has also committed to more funding of the centre once it is established.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Imminent breakthrough?

A hospital in Australia is using nuclear medicine to fight cancer cells with promising results.

From ABC News:

Australian researchers have developed a new treatment for advanced melanoma, using the latest in nuclear medicine to fight the cancer cells.

The treatment has been developed by Professor Barry Allen at St George Hospitals' Centre for Experimental Radiation Oncology (ERO).

"We have I believe, the potential to have a major impact on the prognosis for advanced melanoma," Professor Allen said.

A molecule is injected into the arm that travels through the blood stream, seeking out cancer cells, then emitting radiation to kill them.

In a trial of 21 patients with advanced melanoma, two-thirds had a good response to the treatment.

Doctors say to see a response in patients with advanced cancer is promising.

Patient Peter Dalton was diagnosed with melanoma two years ago and was one of the first to have the new treatment.

The 20 melanomas on Mr Dalton's leg have completely regressed, and he has received a second round of the treatment.

"It's got rid of my worry about melanoma because I realised they can be treated," he said.

After the success of this trial, researchers now want to use the therapy on patients with breast prostate and pancreatic cancer.

Those trials are planned for next year.

"New treatments must be looked for and any new idea, any good science like this must be followed up," New South Wales chief cancer officer Professor Jim Bishop said.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Turning the corner on the fight against melanoma

A recent study could mean a major breakthrough for how melanoma is treated in the future. A study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine concludes that there is more than one type of melanoma. The melanomas caused by sun-damaged skin differ from those found in less sun-exposed areas of the body. And it is suggested that doctors may not always be treating the correct type of melanoma because the perception has been that there is basically only one. This is big news in the fight against melanoma.

Excerpts from HealthDay:

As with other cancers, scientists are learning that not all melanoma skin cancers are genetically alike. And that may have far-reaching implications for the treatment and prevention of melanoma.

A new study reports that, depending on the area of the body affected by melanoma, there are at least several distinct types of the disease: Those arising from chronically sun-damaged skin and those on skin without sun damage; those that occur on areas rarely exposed to sun, such as the palms and soles of feet; and melanomas that occur on mucous membranes.

"Up to now melanoma was regarded as one disease and was treated as such. But our study shows there are marked genetic differences in melanoma cases. These are distinct diseases," said study author Dr. Boris Bastian, an assistant professor of dermatology and pathology at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Melanoma is an awful disease if it can't be surgically cured," said Dr. Paul Meltzer, head of the section of molecular genetics in the cancer genetics branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute, in Bethesda, Md.

Bastian and his colleagues compared 126 different melanomas from four groups that all received differing levels of ultra-violet (UV) light exposure from the sun. Thirty melanomas were from skin that showed signs of chronic sun damage, while 40 were from skin that didn't show signs of sun-induced damage. Another 36 melanomas were from areas that are rarely exposed to sun, such as the palms and soles of the feet. The remaining 20 melanomas occurred on mucous membranes, such as those found in the mouth, nose and genital areas.

When they compared these melanomas from different areas of the body, the researchers found significant genetic differences that often correlated with the location of the melanoma.

"The bottom line is that there are distinct sets of melanoma," said Bastian.

Meltzer, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal, said this study "may have significant clinical implications in the long run," and is "laying the groundwork for a better individualized and personalized cancer therapy."

"I'm somewhat optimistic now that we may turn the corner on melanoma therapy," he added.

Both Bastian and Meltzer said one of the reasons current melanoma therapies might not be as effective as doctors would like them to be is that they may not be targeting the right type of melanoma.

"These findings may be very important for designing targeted therapies for these various types," said Bastian

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fernando Bujones

Cuban-American ballet prodigy, Fernando Bujones, died from melanoma last week. The New York Times at one time called him "the greatest American classical dancer of his generation." He was 50. His story is in the Orlando Sentinel.

Orlando Sentinel Excerpts:

Fernando Bujones, artistic director of the Orlando Ballet and a Cuban-American ballet prodigy who earned a place among the great classical dancers of the late 20th century, died early Thursday morning in Miami. He was 50.

"Fernando came to Orlando Ballet and took an average local company and made it into a world-class organization," said Tricia Earl, past president of the ballet board. "He was an exceptional gift to the world of dance -- not only as a performer but with the legacy he leaves."

Bujones, who had announced seven weeks ago that he had lung cancer, succumbed to complications from malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, Orlando Ballet executive director Russell Allen said. "It was a very brief and unexpected battle with melanoma, because they really thought they were battling lung cancer."

He was "the greatest American classical dancer of his generation," wrote New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff on the occasion of Bujones' 1995 farewell performance with American Ballet Theatre, a company with which he had a more than two-decade association.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Men and melanoma

Men are more likely to contract aggressive melanomas. There is new evidence suggesting why this is happening.

From Medical News Today:

New scientific evidence that may shed light on why men are more likely than women to develop aggressive forms of skin cancer has been published today in Carcinogenesis. The research carried out by scientists in UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular & Biomedical Research shows that a gene found only in men is altered by a chemical process, which is in turn linked to aggressive forms of melanoma.

Dr William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science and UCD Conway Institute has led the work of a team of researchers who are trying to identify potential biological markers that could flag aggressive forms of melanoma. Using the latest gene chip technology, their work has focused on 66 genes that undergo changes as a melanoma moves from a non-aggressive to an aggressive state. Dr Gallagher and his team have discovered that a common feature among a significant percentage of these genes is that they have been chemically altered by a process called DNA methylation.

Melanoma patient awarded 1.45 million

A melanoma patient in Colorado was recently awarded 1.45 million after suing his employer for reducing his salary and emotional-abuse while he was undergoing chemotherapy.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Melanoma survivor Pat Wynn Brown wrote a book about America's obsession with hair. I think it's based on a comedy show she does to cheer up cancer patients called Hair Theater.

Below is an excerpt from book review on Bella Online:
In 1997, author Pat Wynn Brown was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. She admits that losing her hair was first on her mind as she dealt with this possibly fatal disease. Now, 7 years later and cancer free, Ms Brown helps other cancer patients by performing an original, comedy show about hair. Hair Theatre takes a loving look at women’s obsession with their hair. If the show is anything like her book “Hair-a-baloo,” the cancer patients are leaving the building as healthier people. After all, laughter is great medicine.

Book is available from

Monday, October 17, 2005


The National Zoo in Washington D.C. euthanized Jafari the giraffe yesterday due to skin cancer. Specialists aren't sure if he had melanoma or basal cell carcinoma. Jafari is the first giraffe to be diagnosed with either type of skin cancer.

Excerpt from the Washington Post:

Jafari had been closely observed since his surgery and yesterday appeared disoriented and began walking in circles, zoo spokesman John Gibbons said.

"Due to the poor prognosis, Zoo veterinarians and animal-care staff decided to euthanize," the zoo said in a statement.

In late August, zoo staff first noticed the lump on the top of his head. Veterinarians drew fluid on two occasions. The second indicated the presence of cancer cells. At the time of the operation, the tumor was described as about the size of a grapefruit.

Jafari was treated for several weeks for complications associated with skin cancer, the zoo said.

In either case, he said, it was unusual because neither of the skin cancers had been diagnosed in giraffes.

Noting this, Gibbons said that Jafari's death provided an opportunity to learn about the disease in giraffes.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Not a fan of curry?

You don't have to like curry to enjoy it's beneficial cancer-fighting side-effects. The actual cancer-fighting property in curry is a chemical called curcumin and it's found in turmeric which is sold in most grocery stores in the spice section. Ground turmeric is what makes curry yellow and it doesn't have the curry taste (or fire). I bought some today and roasted some chicken with it and it tasted fine. It actually didn't even taste like curry at all. In fact it was bland enough (it's a relative of ginger) that I may add it to more things.

More on cancer-fighting spices

We posted something about this back in July, but here's a new article about the cancer-fighting properties of a spice used in curry (turmeric). The article is in the Charlotte Observer which unfortunately requires you to login to read the article. You can get an anonymous login account here though with a single-click.

previous posts on curry: 1, 2

Excerpts from the Charlotte Observer:

"We know that it's an effective preventive at low doses," said Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, of the experimental therapeutics department at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "The question is whether larger doses can be therapeutic" for disease sufferers.

At least a dozen clinical trials on humans are under way in the United States, Israel and England to test the safety and dosages of turmeric's main ingredient, curcumin. It's a hot topic in health journals, too, cited 967 times since 2000 in articles reported on PubMed, the National Library of Medicine's research service.

The spice, which is a relative of ginger, comes from the stems of the root of a large-leafed plant widely grown in Asia, especially in the province of Maharashtra in southwest India. The stems are boiled, dried and crushed to a powder with a bitter woody taste that's widely used as a spice and in folk medicines to cure stomach ailments and skin lesions. Turmeric was in use when the first Westerner, Marco Polo, visited the region in the 13th century.

It's been demonstrated in animals to protect the liver, inhibit tumors, reduce inflammation and fight some infections. Curcumin has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to researchers, and may help lower cholesterol.

The yellow spice turmeric contains the chemical curcumin, which may interfere with melanoma skin cancer cells, new studies show.• Found in turmeric root, an ingredient of curry powder.

• May stop growth of melanoma cells and make them self-destruct.

• People can consume large amounts with no adverse effects.

• Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Source: Cancer (journal); University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center

The article also contains links to a couple sites with recipes for turmeric:

McCormick Spice.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Melanoma cases in children on the rise

More and more children are getting diagnosed with melanoma and although sun exposure is one cause there could be other unknown causes.

Excerpts from Knight Ridder News:

"You just can't say melanoma doesn't happen in children. It can," said Daniel Krowchuk, a professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Wake Forest University who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics' dermatology committee.

Experts suspect early sun exposure is one factor but acknowledge they don't know all the reasons.

Over the past decade, adults have been hearing public health messages to watch their sun exposure and be alert for suspicious changes in the shape and color of moles and other skin lesions. Now, Krowchuk said, pediatricians and parents alike also need to be vigilant.

"Sometimes it's right in front of a physician's nose and it's ignored or blown off as something else," said Casey Culbertson, a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., who heads the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Melanoma repeats itself

A chilling study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association yesterday suggests that you're at greater risk of developing additional melanomas if you've already had one bout with this deadly form of skin cancer, or if you have a family history of melanoma. So if you've had one melanoma you are likely to have another eventually.

Excerpt from HealthDay News:

"If you've had melanoma, there's a very significant risk you'll get a second," said study author Dr. Daniel Coit, an attending surgeon and co-leader of the melanoma disease management team at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"If you have the other risk factors -- family history or dysplastic nevi -- that risk is even higher, and you should go back [to your doctor] for skin surveillance at least twice a year," he said.

News links:

HealthDay News
Denver ABC 7 News
Eureka Alert
Newswise 1
Newswise 2

Thursday, September 29, 2005

in sickness and in health

We received this email recently from a gentleman in the United Kingdom who's 29-year-old wife is dying of melanoma. With his permission, we are posting his email below. This is yet another tragic example that although early treatment is very effective in treating melanoma, it can come back stronger than before. So if you have been treated in the past, please go back for annual checkups. Based on examples I've read like this, I don't know that you are ever really "in the clear" after having a mole removed. This is such an insidious and aggressive disease that there is always a chance it can sneak back. The Susan Torres story is a recent reminder of this.

Please read the story below about how his wife is bravely going through this. She has already arranged for her own funeral.

Subj: Hi from the UK

Hi, my wife had a mole taken off 5 years ago from behind her right ear, it was malignant melonoma but a wide cut was taken and we were told it was a clean cut and she would need to go to clinic as a precaution!

Nothing has ever shown itself until may of this year when a small blue lump came up on her back we also noticed 3 more on her skin, after a biopsy again we were told it was malignant melonoma but because it had moved around she was to have a scan! our worst nightmares were confirmed after the scan as she has 3 tumors on the liver and 2 next to her brain 1 of which is 3cm's in size!

She has had radiotherapy and at present going through chemotherapy is on steroids and in only 3 months she has changed in looks and personality to a point that some times i cant see the girl i married, Malignant melonoma although caught early and cut out is pretty much curable but when it has spread it is incurable and treatment rarely works and is only given to prolong life!

My wife (Denise) is only 29 years old we have a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl, Denise has only been given 12 months to live! the scary thing is that she never knew until this lump appeared and then it was too late, Malignant melonoma is on the rise and here in the UK it is going up 7% a year and up to 2000 people die from this cancer each year, it effects all ages but now is showing up more and more in younger people and we need to raise awareness.

My wife has been so far an inspiration to me and to others, she has accepted she is going to die and is now determined to send out the message about melonoma and is raising money for cancer research, making and selling bandannas for charity and is holding a fund raising event in October for Malignant melonoma research in which we have already received a cheque for one thousand pounds, she is suffering but refuses to lay down and is carrying on as normal as possible for the sake of our children and people around her as she is aware this effects all around and not just herself.

She is so on top of this that she has even arranged her funeral ! at first i was not sure i could handle this myself and watch her die but seeing how she has coped and got on wtih life has made me realise that i have to be strong for her and for my kids and i am determined to carry on fund raising in her name after she has gone and also determined not to let this bring us down and give my kids the best i can. For now even though it's the toughest time of our lives i will do what i can for her no matter how hard it gets! i vowed "in sickness and in health" and i intend to live out that vow with no question, final word must go to my wife who i love dearly and i am so proud of, you fight with all your might and i will be there all the way!

I have looked around your website and it is something i myself am looking to do for Denise as a UK based site with chatrooms and forum with links to relevant sites for information and look to aim it at the younger sufferers of melonoma, somewhere to find all the info you need in one place even down to what government benefits you are entitled to.

Denise has made frontpage news this week in our local paper telling her story and put a plea out for fabric to make her bandannas !

We have been inundated with offers and also some donations, on tuesday we have a national magazine coming round to do a simular article and we are going to ask for help in starting a website, after seeing your site and how good it is has made my mind up to do this, both Denise and i are sorry to hear of the loss of your daughter, we are determined to do what we can to help others and raise awareness of this cruel disease and i intend to carry it on after Denise has gone all i her name (even if i have to learn to sew and carry on making bandannas) i wish you luck in all that you do to help others, and thankyou for a website that has given me the inspiration to do my own!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Schlip Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser

If you're going to be anywhere near Nashua, New Hampshire on October 16th and you like to bowl, you should checkout the Schlip Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser benefiting melanoma cancer research. The fundraiser is held as a tribute to James A. Schlipmann who died from melanoma in 2002.

New FDA Comissioner

I don't know if this will have an impact on cancer-fighting drug approvals but the newly-appointed FDA commissioner, Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, is the director of the National Cancer Institute as well as a melanoma survivor.

Excerpt from the Associated Press:

Crawford's replacement, von Eschenbach, is a urologic surgeon. A Philadelphia native, he took over the National Cancer Institute, the government's lead agency in researching cancer treatments, in 2002. Prior to that, he served as chief academic officer of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Von Eschenbach wrote in 2004 that he has survived three cancer diagnoses: melanoma in 1989, and more recently, prostate cancer and basal cell carcinoma.

In published articles, von Eschenbach has laid out an ambitious — some would say unrealistic — goal of eliminating suffering and death due to cancer by 2015, turning it into a manageable disease.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

John Reeves Hall

John was a self-described 24-year-old "hacker/geek/pilot" who lived in Southern California and was diagnosed with stage-IV melanoma. He had a blog that I have linked from this site called "John Hall's War on Melanoma." Unfortunately, John's war ended Saturday night. If you haven't already, I encourage you to check out his blog to get a glimpse of what it's like to suffer through something horrible like late-stage melanoma.

Excerpt from John's blog:

A couple of years ago an unusual mole started to form on my left shoulder. I was mildly concerned, but didn't think enough of it to go see a doctor. It continued to grow, eventually stabilizing about a centimeter in diameter, occasionally bleeding slightly. I knew I probably should do something about it, but I didn't think it could possibly be anything bad (who, me, get skin cancer? never!), and feared getting bad news from the doctor, so I never went in.

Bad idea.

Leanne Schmall

About a year ago Leanne Schmall had a mole removed from her back. Doctor's gave her a clean bill of health. Then in July she was diagnosed with late stage melanoma. Leanne died last Wednesday. She was 16.

Excerpts from the Milford Daily News:

Like the candles neighbors lit in support of 16-year-old Leanne Schmall's fight against cancer, wristbands bearing words the teen took to heart are spreading across town.
"Hope, courage, faith," read the purple bands, which are being sold by Franklin Youth Hockey parents to benefit the Leanne Schmall Foundation.
Schmall and her three brothers all have played in the league, which sold more than 500 wristbands in about a week, said Christine Cannon, one parent running the effort.
Wristbands for Leanne coincides with several other fund-raisers planned before Schmall died last Wednesday and continuing in her memory. These include a country and western fund-raiser at the Franklin Elk's Lodge Saturday, and raffle tickets on sale for a $10,000 kitchen from Custom Kitchens on Grove Street.
All proceeds donated to the foundation benefit the teen's family.
Briana Schmall, Leanne's mother, said the family appreciates these gestures during a difficult time. "It absolutely helps in many, many ways," she said Tuesday. "Hopefully, we can get a scholarship started for when Leanne's class graduates."


The wristbands also help kids express feelings about the loss, said Cannon. "It was a way for us to give the kids a way to show their support for the family," she said. "They were feeling very lost."
Judy DiRosario, another parent helping with the fund-raiser, said she felt strongly for the Schmall family. "I wish there was more we could do for them," she said.
Anyone interested in buying wristbands for $3 can contact Christine Cannon at 508-541-8824, Wayne Green at 508-528-7132, or Judy DiRosario at 508-528-5668.
Payments can also be made out and sent to Christine Cannon with "Wristbands for Leanne" written in the memo, to 9 Kingswood Drive, Franklin, MA 02038. Include your address.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

BBC NEWS: Courage of cancer mom is honored

A magazine awarded a melanoma victim with the "Mother of the Year" award posthumously.

Excerpts from BBC News:

Amie had first developed a problem with her eye when she was pregnant with Lee in 2002.

Lee was born that August and by December a skin cancer had spread to the back of Amie's eye and to her liver.

She had terminal cancer and was initially given just 12 months to live, but she battled on for two and a half years.

Deborah and Lee Deborah Hughes now looks after her grandson Lee.

Her mother, also from Rhayader, has said it was because she did not want to leave her son.

"The hardest part of the treatment for her was not having the energy to play with Lee," said her mother.

"Lee was the reason she survived so long," she added. "Her sheer guts and determination - she just didn't want to leave him.

Jo Checkley, editor of magazine That's Life, which awarded the Single Mum of the Year prizes, said: "Amie's death moved us to tears.

"It was a deep, deep tragedy and we feel humbled and honoured to award this prize in Amie's memory to her mother Deborah.

"As Lee grows up he will realise what an incredibly brave mum he had."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Devastating Loss

Story in USA Today.

Susan Anne Catherine Torres died after emergency surgery for a ruptured intestine, her uncle, Justin Torres, said in an e-mail. The baby was born three months prematurely, on Aug. 2, to Susan Torres, who was kept alive on a ventilator for nearly three months so she could deliver the baby.

The baby's death brings a tragic end to a story that had touched a responsive chord around the nation and the world. Well-wishers from as far as Pakistan, Chile and
Iraq sent the family books, cards, pictures and prayers. As of last month, about $600,000, ranging from a $15,000 anonymous contribution to the nickels, dimes and quarters from a child's piggy bank, had been collected to help pay bills.

Doctors told the family theirs was the first case they found of a child born to a brain-dead woman with melanoma.

The baby had been gaining weight, the family said on its Web site last month. But over the weekend, an infection developed and the baby's condition deteriorated rapidly. She died at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

"After the efforts of this summer to bring her into the world, this is obviously a devastating loss," Justin Torres said in his e-mail. "We wish to thank all the people who sustained us in prayer over the past 17 weeks. It was our fondest wish that we could have been able to share Susan's homecoming with the world."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Some really bad news.


Late last night, five-week-old Susan Anne Catherine Torres passed away from heart failure at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., following emergency surgery to repair a perforated intestine. The surgery was attempted after a sudden deterioriation in her condition over the weekend.

After the efforts of this summer to bring her into the world, this is obviously a devastating loss for the Torres and Rollin families. We wish to thank all of you who have sustained us in prayer over the past 17 weeks. It was our fondest wish that we could have been able to share Susan's homecoming with all of you.

The family will be making no further statements at this time. All media inquiries can be directed to Children's National Medical Center.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What makes melanoma so malignant...

Melanoma cells apparently don't have to learn how to spread and that makes them so much deadlier than other cancer cells. At least that is what recent research is suggesting. These findings by the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research were published recently in Nature Genetics and they are all over the medical news today. Unless you have a medical degree, you'll most likely get more out of the articles below than the published research in Nature Genetics:

BBC News

Excerpts from BBC News:

Lead researcher Professor Robert Weinberg said: "Other cancers need to learn how to spread, but not melanoma.

"Now, for the first time, we understand the genetic mechanism responsible for this."

The spread of disease to an unconnected body part - known as metastasis - is a highly inefficient, multi-step process that requires cancer cells to jump through many hoops.

The cells first must invade a nearby tissue, then make their way into the blood or lymphatic vessels.

Next they must migrate through the bloodstream to a distant site, exit the bloodstream, and establish new colonies.

Researchers have wondered why melanoma in particular is able to do this not only more efficiently than other cancers, but at a far earlier stage.

The latest study shows that as melanocytes - cells that protect the skin from sun damage by producing pigmentation - morph into cancer cells, they immediately reawaken a dormant cellular process that lets them travel swiftly throughout the body.

Central to this reawakened process is a gene called Slug which plays a key role in allowing cells to travel around the developing embryo in the womb.

Normally the gene is shut off in adult tissues, but the researchers found that when skin cells become malignant they reactivate Slug, and thus immediately acquire the ability to spread.

Dr Julie Sharp, senior cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "If scientists can target treatments to block the Slug gene, they might be able to prevent cancer spread and improve survival from this disease in the future," she said.

"It is also important to remember that the vast majority of melanomas are caused by UV damage from excess sun exposure."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Another reason not to wait

If you've been putting off getting a suspicious mole checked-out by a dermatologist, there may be yet another reason not to wait any longer. When you finally decide to make the appointment, you may find that wait times could be as long as 24 days according to this In Business Las Vegas article.

Need a heart, skin or knee checkup -- take a number.

Specialist shortages are a big problem in the Las Vegas Valley and nationally, which can lead to long waits for doctors' appointments.

Merritt, Hawkins & Associates, a Texas-based company that consults and recruits physicians nationally, studied wait times for new patients in 15 metropolitan areas and found that the number of days it took for a new patient seeking a nonemergency appointment with a cardiologist, dermatologist, OB/GYN or orthopedic surgeon varied from one day to 153 days with an overall average of 18.8 days.

The study focused on Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., San Diego, Seattle and Washington.

Dermatology appointments for a skin exam to detect potential cancer or melanoma averaged between nine days in New York and 50 days in Boston with an overall average of 24.3 days.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"It looked like a pimple."

There is an interesting interview in the Montana Standard with melanoma survivor, Janice Copeland.


"It looked like a pimple," said Copeland, who became concerned when it didn't go away. "It kept getting bigger. It itched and it would bleed," she recalled.

That was a little over two years ago and Copeland, 60, said that her experience with cancer has changed her life.

"You look at each day differently. You re-evaluate your priorities about your family and work and you try not to take some things so seriously or get upset. You just try to have a good attitude and be thankful for every day," she said.

Copeland said that she also has been inspired to help get the word out to others about the dangers of sun exposure and the risks of skin cancer.

"I think there needs to be more awareness. I think in general, people don't realize how dangerous melanoma is and that it can spread to other organs. I certainly didn't," said Copeland. "I'm more aware of it now," she added.

Copeland said that after her own frightening experience, she wants people to know the dangers of sun exposure. She also wants parents to know that they need to protect their children.

"Parents need to keep them out of the sun and minimize their exposure and avoid sunburns," she said. "I spent a lot of time in the sun, there's not doubt about that, she said.

Copeland said her experience with cancer prompted her to become involved in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Butte.

"I've found it inspirational to be around other cancer survivors," said Copeland, who talked about the benefits of being in a mutually supportive atmosphere. "You know you're not alone in the fight against cancer and that other people are having to deal with some of the same issues that you're having to deal with," she said.

Little Susan is doing well

Here's the latest news on Little Susan.

From the Susan Torres Fund:

Little Susan and doing very well in the Neonatal ICU. She has broken the
2 lbs. mark and is continuing to grow like a weed. She has been removed
from the ventilators and is receiving small amount of formula every day.

Thanks to everyone for your continued prayers and support. We truly
appreciate all your kind thoughts and gifts. We are hoping to have new
pictures of Little Susan for the website within the next few days.
Click here if you want to know more about this story.

Monday, August 08, 2005

It's a girl!!

I read about the exciting birth last week but wasn't able to get to a computer until now. Congratulations to the Torres Family.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pineapple stems

First it was curry now it's pineapple stems. Something called bromelain is found in the extract of pineapple stems and researchers are finding that a few of the key molecules in it can both block and fight cancer cells. Bromelain is also used to clarify beer and tenderize meat. So if you aren't big on eating pineapple stems maybe you can get the same effect from beer and meat. For some reason I doubt it. The article is from the BBC News.

Two molecules isolated from an extract of crushed pineapple stems have shown promise in fighting cancer growth. One molecule called CCS blocks a protein called Ras, which is defective in approximately 30% of all cancers.

The other, called CCZ, stimulates the body's own immune system to target and kill cancer cells.

It is hoped the research, carried out by Queensland Institute of Medical Research, could lead to new anti-cancer drugs.

The Queensland team discovered that the extract also had pharmacological properties and could activate specific immune cells while, simultaneously, blocking the immune function of other cells.

Dr Julie Sharp, at Cancer Research UK, said: "The origin of many anti-cancer drugs can be found in nature.

"However, it's early days for this research and the real test will be to see if the effects seen in the lab can be reproduced successfully in patients."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Renewed Hope

Update on Torres family in USA Today.


A brain-dead pregnant woman on life support has reached the milestone in her pregnancy where doctors believe the baby could realistically survive outside the womb, giving her family renewed hope about the devastating ordeal.

Susan Torres, 26, lost consciousness from a stroke May 7 after aggressive melanoma spread to her brain. Her husband, Jason Torres, said doctors told him his wife's brain functions had stopped.

Her fetus recently passed the 24th week of development — the earliest point at which doctors felt the baby would have a reasonable chance to survive, her brother-in-law said.

"The situation is pretty stable," said Justin Torres, who is serving as the family's spokesman. "Susan, we have said from the beginning, is the toughest person in that ICU room."

He said the family is "as certain within the limits of sonogram technology" that the baby is a girl. "Cecilia" was one possible name the couple had discussed, Justin Torres said.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Update on Anne Dinnell

Anne Dinnell was diagnosed with an advanced case of melanoma last summer. After her surgery she decided to not have chemotherapy and instead went on an all organic diet. She was anxiously awaiting a PET scan in June and the good news is that she had her test and she still appears to be cancer-free.

Excerpts from the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
Dinnell’s unusual melanoma case began last summer when a mysterious spot under one of her fingernails first made her suspicious.

Surgeons eventually amputated part of Dinnell’s finger and removed cancerous tissue from her neck, underarm and hip.

Doctors predicted that with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, their patient would live five years. Dinnell decided to try a different approach.

Gerson Therapy prescribes specific organic foods taken in carefully prescribed ways, and a series of coffee enemas which, according to the program’s proponents, detoxify the body.

Dinnell says that after getting the results of last week’s PET scan, her oncologist told her to "keep doing what you’re doing, whatever it is."

More on Curry in HealthScout

More on the cancer-inhibiting properties of turmeric, a spice used in curry dishes at HealthScout.


"We could completely inhibit the growth of the tumor if we used a big enough dose," said study co-author Bharat B. Aggarwal, chief of the Cytokine Research Section in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His report is set to appear in the Aug. 15 issue of Cancer.

They zeroed in on a molecule called NF-kappa B, which is known to be overactive in several types of tumors, including melanoma. The turmeric shut down the molecule and that lead to inhibition of the tumor growth, Aggarwal explained.

The new findings were praised by Costas Koumenis, an associate professor of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "I think it's an interesting and provocative study," he said. "It shows some new insight into how turmeric is working to inhibit the growth of melanoma cells."

But he cautioned that the study was done in the lab, and the spice must be tested on animals, and eventually people, before it is proven to be effective.

For the past 20 years, Koumenis said, turmeric has been studied, mostly as an agent to prevent cancer. For instance, some researchers have found an association between diets rich in curcumin and reduced rates of colon cancer. But more recently, the focus has shifted to study the spice as a cancer treatment.

Monday, July 18, 2005

[Susan Torres Fund] July 18 is here

---------------------- Forwarded Message: ---------------------
From: Susan-Announcements mailing list
Subject: [Susan Torres Fund] July 18 is here
Date: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 14:49:39 +0000

The Torres and Rollin families are happy to announce that Susan and the
baby have made it to the minimum delivery date for baby girl Torres. From
here on out, the doctors will monitor the baby's progress on a daily

Susan's cancer is progressing, but she is fighting all that much harder to
give the baby a chance. The cancer has spread to her liver, but the
family believe Susan will fight and deliver her baby in the next three to
five weeks.

Virginia Hospital Center has refitted to room next door to Susan's as a
delivery room in order to take no chances.

Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers. We will be keeping
everyone updated on a more regular basis as everything progresses.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"All the days from here on out are a gift."

Latest update on Susan Torres in today's Washington Post.

Update: Also an article in Monday's USA Today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cancer-fighting Curry

New research is suggesting that one of the spices in curry can fight melanoma along with other cancers. This exciting new information is from researchers at the world-renowned M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre so this sounds legit. I think we're going to be hearing more on this one in the coming months.

This news of course begs for an answer to an obvious question...

"The incidence of the top four cancers in the U.S. - colon, breast, prostate, and lung - is ten times lower in India." (Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor of cancer medicine in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics)

From the M.D. Anderson Press Release.

Press Release from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Hindustan Times

Excerpts from CNN:

The compound that makes curry yellow could help fight skin cancer, U.S. researchers reported Monday.

They said curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, interferes with melanoma cells.

Tests in laboratory dishes show that curcumin made melanoma skin cancer cells more likely to self-destruct in a process known as apoptosis.

The same team has found that curcumin helped stop the spread of breast cancer tumor cells to the lungs of mice.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Chuck Cadman

After his 16-year-old son was stabbed to death by a group of teenagers during a random attack, Chuck Cadman became a crusader for victim's rights and an advocate of tougher penalties for young criminals. A Canadian, Chuck Cadman became a Member of Parliament in 1997 and worked to change the criminal code. Through his efforts, he was able to replace the Young Offenders Act with the stricter Youth Criminal Justice act in 2003. That same year, he was diagnosed with melanoma. He died Saturday. He was 57.

CBC News
Associated Press
The London Free Press

Update: Great article on Chuck Cadman in MacCleans.

Excerpts from the above news stories:

From London Free Press
He had undergone rounds of treatment and as late as May thought he was beating it. But the once-stocky Cadman had lost more than a quarter of his body weight in the fight.

From Associated Press
Cadman was recognizable for his mane of long, silver hair, drawn back into a pony tail. He was once mistaken for a janitor in his own parliamentary office.

A technician by trade and a one-time rock guitarist, Cadman spent the last federal election day playing recorded music beside the grave of his son, Jesse.

From CBC News
A personal tragedy propelled Cadman into politics after years of working as an electronics technician for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

His 16-year-old son, Jesse, was stabbed to death on a Surrey street in a random attack by a group of teenagers in 1992.

Cadman and his wife, Dona, became activists calling for justice reform and victims' rights. They co-founded the group Crime, Responsibility and Youth (CRY) in 1993.

Cadman supported dealing with first-time, non-violent young offenders outside of the formal court system and counselled teenagers who were deemed likely to commit violent crimes.

But he also fought for a tougher Young Offenders' Act, demanding stronger penalties for teenagers who committed repeat or violent crimes.

After becoming frustrated with what he saw as a lack of action by Jean Chr├ętien's Liberal government, Cadman ran for office and became a Member of Parliament in 1997.

Much of Cadman's work in parliament centred on trying to change the laws for young offenders and he served as justice critic for the official opposition, among other contributions.

In 2003, his efforts were rewarded when the Young Offenders Act was replaced by the stricter Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Frankie Casey

Frankie Casey has the unfortunate distinction of being the fourth teacher in three months to die from melanoma (1,2,3).I don't know if it's just a sad coincidence that four popular teachers died at about the same time from melanoma, or if it is a testament to the respect we have for teachers that they are noticed more than others when they leave us too early. People are dying all the time from melanoma, but maybe teachers get more press when they die because they leave a larger hole in their community after they are gone.

Frankie Casey, coach and teacher at South Lenoir High School in North Carolina, died from melanoma last week. He was 51 and is survived by wife Lesli and 11-year-old son, Charlie.

I think maybe the last couple of quotes below better explain what I was trying to say above about the impact teachers have on their community and why we notice when they're gone.

Excerpts from the Free Press:
He taught and coached at Contentnea Elementary, Savannah Middle and South Lenoir High School in a career that lasted more than 25 years. Most of those years were spent at Savannah, but his final four years of coaching and teaching were at South Lenoir. Among the numerous sports he coached were baseball, football and girls' basketball.

In the past year, though, Casey battled melanoma, a vicious type of skin cancer. Not able to work in his beloved field, he spent all his time - when he wasn't receiving treatment - at a South Lenoir athletic event.

His presence meant a lot to the South Lenoir coaches and athletes.

"Mr. Casey was always there for us," said Paul Novicki, a three-sport standout athlete who graduated from South Lenoir last month.

"Even though we knew he was really sick, he rarely missed a game. We'll never know exactly everything he went through, but I hope he knew that we played every game for him last year."

Legendary South Lenoir coach Jimmy Smith said, "Frankie was an important part of the South Lenoir family and a special, special man. He made everyone a better person just being around him. I know I'm going to really miss him."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrence M. McCready

This has been a bad year for melanoma and teachers. Terrence McCready of Ohio is the third teacher to die from melanoma in as many months (1,2). He was diagnosed in August of 2003 and he died last week.

Terrence's family has been hit especially hard by melanoma. His father, Gerald, also died from melanoma earlier this year.

I think it's worth noting that Terrence had skin cancer removed in 1998 and had annual checkups since, and he still contracted a lethal melanoma.

Excerpts from his obituary in the Toledo Blade:
When his condition was diagnosed in August, 2003, he was working toward a master's degree in history at the University of Toledo, his wife, Jennifer, said. He'd planned to pursue a doctorate and a university-level teaching post.

Mr. McCready of West Toledo had skin cancer removed in 1998 and went in for annual checkups afterward. He taught history and government for several years...

"We've got two small children, so we lived our lives as though cancer wasn't an issue," his wife said. "We went to weddings and funerals and lived life. When you have children, you have to live for them. That was his inspiration."

Fun at the Dermatologists

I ran across this amusing story about one blogger's recent experience at the dermatologist's office to have a mole removed. I guess the moral of this story is make sure your dermatologist removes the correct mole... not something you'd think you'd have to check.

Posted by Adam on Inkspots Blog:
I went to the dermatologist two or three weeks ago to have some moles checked out to make sure I wasn't dying from melanoma at age 24. Everything checked out until I wanted her to look at a small mole on my shoulder (closer to my neck than my arm, so I couldn't see it by turning my head).

I said, "Can you take a look at this mole?" And gestured as such to the general area of said mole. Expecting her to see which one I was talking about (because I had not noticed any other ones in that general area) she said, "Well, that looks a little off to me so I'm going to be safe and remove it and have it biopsied." I said, "Sounds good to me, I'd rather know than not."

Right then and there, she shoots me up, cuts away and puts in five stitches (there were a lot because I told her I was going on a backpacking trip in a month or so and didn't want the strap to be riding on a healing cut).

I left and went home. When I got home, I look in the mirror to see the damage and notice that the mole I was talking about...ta da, is still there. Well, having the faith that I do in the practice of medicine, I figured (and still do) that she decided that mole was okay and saw something else that I hadn't.

Two or three days later, I'm looking at the incision and seeing some redness, feeling some warmth, and noticing a little bit of pus on my bandages when I take them off. Great, an infection! Sweet!

I call the doctor and get another appointment so she can take a look. When I get there, she decides that yes I have an infection and posits that I do because what she actually removed was an inflamed hair folicle that was infected. All right, missed the mole, got the infected pimple/ingrown hair/whatever, gave me five stitches to boot, and I got an infection. The best part, during this visit and my last (to get the stitches removed), both the doctor and the nurse practitioner imply my fault in the whole incident because I was "picking" at the folicle. Yeah, ya dummy, they itch, I scratch.

She should have said, "I'm sorry, I mistook this red bump on your shoulder for cancer because you were scratching it." Damn, I'm sorry, I'll try not to get any more of them and if I do, I'll chew on painsticks to avoid scratching any of them.

Someone told me that it's malpractice, but I'm not so hard up for cash or such an idealist that I think medical professionals are perfect. I'm just upset I was one of the mistakes. Oh, well, glad it's not cancer.

Robert Davolt

Robert Davolt was known in his San Francisco community as a star and a "true leatherman". He was diagnosed on April 19th with melanoma and given three months to live. He died less than a month later.

From his obituary in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

In his final online column, Mr. Davolt wrote: "I had a lot that I still wanted to accomplish. ... But I have seen the world, or at least five continents of it, swam in five oceans and touched countless islands. I have been counted down and out, started over, been to the edge and back so many times. Inevitably, there had to be one I wouldn't come back from."

Monday, July 04, 2005

Tanning Bed Dangers Difficult to Study

Happy 4th of July.

I rarely post anything regarding tanning salons anymore because most of the articles I read offer little new information that most of us don't already know. This article ("Tan is artificial; threat is genuine - Experts fear salons are no safer than sun, but level of risk is unclear") in today's Dallas Morning News though is the best one I've read in a long time on tanning salons and it's actually well-balanced. The article admits that it's difficult to determine how dangerous tanning salons actually are.

The Dallas Morning News has one of these unfortunate newspaper sites that requires you to register to read articles. If you don't feel like registering to read one story in a newspaper you'll probably never read again, go to and enter and you'll usually get a working login you can use.

From the Dallas Morning News:

The World Health Organization recently stated that artificial tanning "may provide the ideal setting for the development of malignant skin cancer" because users get periodic bursts of intense radiation. In addition, people in tanning beds often place their whole bodies under the ultraviolet light, leaving about twice the surface area exposed to direct rays.

Some doctors even suspect that tanning bed popularity may be one reason why younger people appear to be getting skin cancer with increasing frequency.

However, even in issuing its opinion, the health organization acknowledged that research so far has not provided consistent results.

"There are different arguments as to how much risk there actually is," said Dr. Martin Weinstock of Brown University. This month, Dr. Weinstock attended an international gathering of experts the World Health Organization invited to France to evaluate artificial tanning risks.

One of the difficulties in studying tanning device hazards, scientists say, is that cancer patients who have spent time in tanning beds have also tended to love the sun, making it difficult to tease out whether their risk came from natural or artificial light. Cancer usually smolders for decades before it flares up on the skin, so most studies must rely on asking patients about sunning habits they had years before. And because cancers like melanoma are deadly but not among the most common malignancies, the studies up to now have been small.

One thing has not been in dispute. That lovely bronze is a response to radiation. "UV light clearly causes DNA damage," said Dr. Patrick Hwu, the chairman of melanoma medical oncology at the University of Texas-M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. If indoor tanning is doing its job by UV light, he said, "I think it's not safe."

But how unsafe is it?

You'll need to read the article to find out...

Actually, while you're there, checkout this article ("Skin cancer seeps into a younger crowd - Melanoma affects a growing number of patients - even kids") on melanoma and kids.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Larry King Interview with the Torres Family

I was able to catch the Larry King interview with Jason and Justin Torres Thursday night. It was a pretty good interview despite the host (cmon' Larry it's MELANOMA, not meningitis). I loved Justin's response to the insensitive caller who asked him why the family was willing to discuss such a "personal" problem on national television. Uh, "we need the money" was his appropriate reply. They are probably looking at half a million in medical bills and they aren't going to get much help by keeping it a private, personal matter. No one should have to handle what they are dealing with alone, without the support of their community, and that community is us... so donate if you're willing.

The transcript of the Larry King interview with Justin and Jason Torres is available here. I'd excerpt from it but if you've read this far you're obviously interested enough to just go read the thing yourself.

Skin cancer facts

Saw this in the Asbury Park Press. Brief little article entitled "Just the Facts."

From the Asbury Park Press:

More than 1 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

Of the new skin cancer cases, about 79 percent will be basal cell carcinoma, 15 percent will be squamous cell carcinoma and 5 percent will be invasive melanoma. The remaining 1 percent are more rare types of skin cancer.

An estimated 10,590 people will die of skin cancer this year — 7,770 from melanoma and 2,820 from other skin cancers. One American dies of melanoma every 68 minutes.

Source: National Institutes of Health

and Skin Cancer Foundation

Thursday, June 30, 2005

There is a website up now for Susan Torres with the latest news and updates on the family and her condition as well as a PayPal link to donate money. If you want to find out more about her tragic story I can't think of a better place to start.

If I had found the site earlier I would have learned that Jason and Justin Torres were on Larry King Live tonight. I think they repeat it a couple times a day so you can most likely catch it later tonight if you missed the initial airing.

Update: you can read a transcript of the interview here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Melanoma vs. Prostate Cancer

New research suggests that sunlight can help prevent prostate cancer but that the benefits of sun exposure (Vitamin D) are outweighed by the risks of skin cancer. Or at least that is what the headline ("Sunlight threat cancels benefits") in Newsday suggests. The article itself doesn't go into much detail about that though other than saying researchers are not suggesting men expose themselves more to the sun than they already are and that the safest way to get Vitamin D is to take it orally.

What I liked best about the article though were the suggested reasons for why men are more at risk of getting melanoma than women (e.g. we don't protect ourselves, we don't go to the doctor, we spend more time outdoors, etc.).

Excerpts from Newsday:
The prostate-cancer researchers also stressed that sunlight is not the only source of vitamin D and that they are not encouraging men to increase sun exposure.

"While clearly melanoma is a concern for everyone, it is at a crisis level for men," said foundation president, Dr. Perry Robins, and particularly for men in middle age and beyond. Between 1969 and 1999, melanoma death rates rose 66 percent in men ages 45 to 64, compared to 19 percent among women of the same age group.

Men are falling short in all three key steps for preventing melanoma, according to Alan Geller, an associate professor of dermatology at Boston University and co-chair of the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.

He noted that one recent study found that men over 40 spend the most time outdoors of any age group, even children. Another recent national survey of 1,000 Americans found that only 12 percent of men always apply sunscreen when they head outside and often don't take other sun-safety steps.

At the same time, men tend not to have a regular primary-care doctor and are two to three times less likely than women to have regular screenings for cancer, or even do self-exams of their skin and have someone else check their back.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Susan Torres' Melanoma

There is a new story in the Washington Post about the Torres family and their fight to keep Susan Torres alive long enough to give birth in a couple weeks from now. This is probably the most in depth article yet and it goes into detail about how melanoma has played a tragic part in this. I have some excerpts below but please go read the entire story for yourself.

Then there is the cancer: melanoma, which is particularly insidious in that it is one of the most aggressive forms and one of the few that can penetrate the placenta.

Susan Torres' melanoma had been diagnosed when she was 17, when she had a malformed freckle on her arm, but after it was removed, doctors thought she had no reason to worry.

Apparently, however, the cancer cells remained dormant in her body all these years, and, for reasons scientists spend their entire lives trying to figure out, they became active, eventually, with only the faintest of symptoms, headaches and nausea, forming a tumor at the back of her neck. Now the melanoma has metastasized, the cancerous cells traveling through Susan Torres' bloodstream, searching for a place to grow. So far, they have found the lymph nodes under her arms and, last week, her lungs.

Chris Griffin

You probably haven't heard of jazz trumpeter Chris Griffin but you no doubt have heard of a few of the musicians he's worked with: Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Rudy Vallee, Mel Torme and Charlie Parker.

Chris Griffin, one of the best trumpeters of the Big Band era, died on June 18 from melanoma.

Excerpts from South Carolina's The State newspaper:
“He had a swinging sound with just a touch of sweetness,” William Sam Meier, an expert on classic jazz, told the Los Angeles Times.

Gordon Claude “Chris” Griffin was born in Binghamton, N.Y., on Oct. 31, 1915. He was 12 when he picked up the horn. Six years later he was living in New York City and playing professionally in saxophonist Charlie Barnet’s band.
6/29/05 update - Associated Press obituary for Chris Griffin.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Team Melanoma

I discovered a great way for people to help fight cancer thanks to Amber Wadey of Southern California. The American Cancer Society holds a team event it calls "Relay for Life" around the country (and soon the world) where each team tries to keep at least one member on the track for as long as 24 hours in order to raise money and raise cancer awareness. There are about 14 of these events in my area this summer, so if you're interested in participating, there is likely to be at least one in yours. You can look them up here. You can help out by donating your money or your time. And there's still time to help out Amber's "Team Melanoma". Their relay is on July 23rd and 24th. Amber's husband, Chuck, was diagnosed with melanoma a couple years ago and after numerous surgeries and chemotheraphy, he has since recovered but still deals with the effects of it every day. Both Amber and Chuck are in "Team Melanoma" along with Chuck's 24-year-old co-worker, John Hall, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma shortly after Chuck. He recently had brain surgery and is fighting every day for remission. I encourage you to read John's story and to donate if you are willing.

>>UPDATE 9/24/05: John Hall died on September 17th, 2005

Excerpt from their team page:

2 years ago, at the age of 26, Chuck Wadey was diagnosed with Stage III Malignant Melanoma. He endured multiple surgeries and 3 months of intense bio-chemotherapy. He has since made a "full recovery," but still deals with issues related to his cancer battle every day.

Only a few months later, another young Treyarch employee, John Hall, was diagnosed with Stage IV Malignant Melanoma. His had spread to his liver, lungs, and even his brain. John is still undergoing treatments today, and is hoping for full remission.

Team Melanoma is dedicated to raising awareness so that this does not happen again. Our goal is to raise money which will go directly to research for Malignant Melanoma treatments and the search for a CURE.

Excerpt from John Hall's blog:
A couple of years ago an unusual mole started to form on my left shoulder. I was mildly concerned, but didn't think enough of it to go see a doctor. It continued to grow, eventually stabilizing about a centimeter in diameter, occasionally bleeding slightly. I knew I probably should do something about it, but I didn't think it could possibly be anything bad (who, me, get skin cancer? never!), and feared getting bad news from the doctor, so I never went in.

Bad idea.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Brian C. Pohanka

Brian Pohanka died on June 15 of melanoma at the age of 50. He was an accomplished military historian who worked as a consultant on movies like "Glory" and "Cold Mountain."

Excerpts from the obituary:

Pohanka was keenly interested in the Civil War and the battle of Little Bighorn and served as a consultant for books, television and movies. His own work included photo and written essays on Civil War battlefields and the Little Bighorn battlefield.

Pohanka served on the boards of several preservation organizations, some of which he founded.

In 2004, he was honored by The Civil War Preservation Trust with its Battlefield Preservationist of the Year award.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Other Blogs

I was googling for melanoma blogs recently and came up with this. It's not a cancer blog but the author just happened to mention that May was "melanoma month" so it came up in my search. A few of his readers posted some poignant comments about how melanoma has affected them. I encourage you to check them out here, but I'll excerpt a few below.

Excerpts from comments posted on Laurence Simon's "This Blog is Full of Crap":
I lost my father to Melanoma 11 years ago. It still hurts. Everyone should have themselves checked on a regular basis, and if a mole is removed, make sure the lab tests it correctly. It saves a lot of pain and suffering later.
I just had a malignant-melanomic mole removed...
...The surgery gash is five inches long, just to yank out a 4mm-wide mole. I hate the pain, the inability to move, and the sleepless nights 'til I give up and hit the Vicodin. I'll never be able to sun myself on my stomach again because of the scar it left behind (not to mention all the other moles)...
I ignored all of those rules during my teens and early 20's. Six years ago I was very lucky that my doctor noticed a small black mark on my back during a routine physical. Thankfully it had clean margins, but since then I have to go back to the dermatologist every 3 months for full screens, and usually once or twice a year I have something new cut off.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Deadliest melanoma is more difficult to detect

Cancer researchers are saying now that the most dangerous form of melanoma is generally the most difficult to detect. Health Central reports that often these "thick" melanomas don't meet the standard "ABCD" criteria for a suspect mole (A for asymmetry; B for border irregularity; C for color change; and D for diameter change). So if you have moles you're worried about, seek professional medical advice. And if you're still not 100% confident about a negative diagnosis, get a second opinion. Doctor's have misdiagnosed melanoma cases before. Just because your doctor tells you you're healthy, doesn't mean you are.

Excerpts from Health Central:
Demierre believes the reason many of the thick, nodular melanomas are missed is that they don't fit the criteria that many people and their doctors have learned to recognize as skin cancer. People have been taught to identify skin cancer by using the ABCD criteria: A for asymmetry; B for border irregularity; C for color change; and D for diameter change.

"Really, a lot of melanomas present without any of the ABCD," Demierre said. "The moles become itchy, the changes are small, and those turn out to be the thicker melanoma, often the nodular melanoma," she added (study author Dr. Marie-France Demierre, director of the Skin Oncology Program at Boston University School of Medicine).

To deal with this problem, Demierre said that people need to be more aware of the changes in any mole.

"If you have a lesion that you are concerned about, you should have it checked," she advised.

"The bottom line is, if you have a lesion on your skin, and it's changing -- that is, it's getting larger, changing color, appears to be raising -- go see your doctor and get it checked. And you need to get there quickly, because this lesion grows fast," he stressed (Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society).

More on Torres Family

Here's another article on Jason Torres and his family from the Washington Post.


For all anyone knew, Susan Torres was in perfect health when she found out in February that she was pregnant, and the couple greeted the news of a second child with the usual mixture of terror and joy. Susan was found to have melanoma when she was 17 but doctors then had given her the all-clear.

But soon her health took a turn for the worse, and Susan Torres stopped breathing on May 7. Torres called 911 and performed CPR until the ambulance came. At the hospital, doctors did a CAT scan and told him that his wife had no brain function, that she had a cancerous growth at the back of her head and that it had metastasized and bled, causing pressure on her brain

"She's becoming more noticeably pregnant," he said with quiet awe, sitting near the marbled cafeteria at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

It is the place where he has spent the better part of his days lately in some emotional purgatory: grieving the loss of his 26-year-old wife, Susan Torres, who he believes is dead, "barring divine intervention," and yet hoping still to save the 5-month-old fetus she is carrying by keeping her body alive, at least for five more weeks.

"It's a race against time whether the child will reach viability ... before the cancer spreads," said Torres, 26, of Arlington. "We have a small hope that maybe. Maybe."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Polka Titan

Polka master and member of the International Polka Hall of Fame, Verne Meisner, died from complications due to melanoma on June 10.

Excerpts from his NY Times obituary:
Considered one of the titans of polka, Meisner was a bridge between the classics of the Lawrence Welk era and the pop-infused polkas of contemporary artists. To thousands of fans, he was second only to Frank Yankovic, the acknowledged king of polka, who died in 1998.
Yes, Frank Yankovic is Weird Al's Dad.
LaVerne Donald Meisner was born in Milwaukee on Dec. 4, 1938, and grew up in Whitewater, Wis. He picked up his first accordion at 8, and by 11, was playing in local bars. As a teenager, he toured with Yankovic's band and also formed his own, Verne Meisner and the Polka Boys. It made its recording debut in 1958 with "Memories of Vienna," one of his best-known original tunes; his others include "El Rio Drive."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Torres Family

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about skin cancer is that it's well, just "skin" cancer. As in, "it's only on my skin so it can just be scrapped off" skin cancer. If this story in USA Today doesn't drive home the fact that melanoma is more than just a "skin" cancer then I don't know what will.

I read a lot of stories related to melanoma and I know you can't quantify someone's pain and suffering but I'm not afraid to say this has got to be one of the saddest stories I've ever read about melanoma and how it's emotionally and financially devastating a young family.

I encourage you to read about Susan Torres and how she tragically may be the first brain-dead melanoma patient to deliver a baby.

"How many rocks are they going to throw in your cart before you can't pull it anymore" he says he asks himself. "The answer, apparently, is a lot." (Jason Torres, Susan's husband).

Right now, the target is mid-July, when Susan will be about 25 weeks pregnant - 15 weeks short of a full pregnancy. That's the gestation age, doctors tell Torres, where a baby can survive though with a heightened risk of brain damage and vision and developmental problems.

Torres' goal is for Susan and the baby to reach the 30-week mark, when such risks are greatly diminished.

Torres knows that the baby's delivery date, when and if it comes, will be bittersweet. After the baby is born, Susan's body will be anointed in the Catholic tradition, and she'll be allowed to die.

"That could be a little rough," he says.

"But I'm not focused there yet. The question I keep asking myself is: When this is over, do I get to take a baby home?"

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Christine Leroueil

Another popular teacher died way too early thanks to melanoma cancer. Christine Leroueil beat melanoma 20 years ago only to be diagnosed again earlier this year. This time however, she was only given a few months to live. She was 52 when she died on June 3. Her story.

“Mrs. L was the best teacher a student could ever ask for. She was caring and understanding. To me, she was an inspiration, and I will never forget her,” a former student wrote in an on-line guest book.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

"Base burn"

Checkout this column in today's Westerly Sun (Rhode Island) by Kathleen Currie. Currie admits to the stupid things most of us have done in the past like getting a "base burn" at the beginning of every summer and how that now leaves her uneasy about her risk factor. She also touches on the Vitamin D hype from a couple weeks ago. I recommend reading it if you're looking for an article that covers most of the bases on melanoma.

Excerpts from the Westerly Sun:
...this year a friend of mine, who just turned 30, had a melanoma removed from her chest. The surgery left a large scar. At 33 years old, I am beginning to notice wrinkles and spots on my own skin. I know that is damage caused by the sun. I wish I could go back in time and take protection seriously. The statistics I once read and believed irrelevant to me are hitting closer to home and, yes, I am scared.

Then this from
dermatologist Mary Ann Bentz, M.D about the Vitamin D hype:

Bentz warns people about the recent news report that suggests unprotected exposure to the sun provides the body with sufficient vitamin D and may in turn prevent or even treat many cancers. "You can get all the vitamin D you need from fortified milk and multivitamins; it is not worth putting yourself at risk," says Bentz.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Alexandra Lines Pt. 2

The Daily Mirror published a story ("SUNBED GIRL, 22 KILLED BY CANCER") last week about Alexandra ("Alex") who died on May 14th from melanoma. Alex was a music student who also had her own website and apparently was into sportbikes (as was Tiffany). Sounds like she had a lot of friends and she really knew how to have fun. I'm sure she is greatly missed.

Excerpts from the Daily Mirror:

A PARTYGIRL who liked to top up her tan on sunbeds has died after battling skin cancer for two years.

Alexandra Lines, 22, a talented music student, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in 2003.

But despite doctors cutting it out, it was too late to save her and the cancer spread to her brain.

Yesterday, Alexandra's family and Cancer Research UK warned of the dangers of sunbathing.

They urged young people to seek medical advice quickly if they have a mole on their body that changes shape or colour.

Distraught dad John, 55, said: "The whole family is devastated because you think it can never happen to you and then it does. It shows nobody is exempt.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Alexandra Lines

Alexandra Lines, a gifted music student in England, was diagnosed with a malignant mole in February of 2003. She died a couple weeks ago. She was only 22. Read her story in the Romford Recorder.


Her dad, John, 55, paid tribute to his daughter and spoke of how dangerous the sun can be. He said: "The whole family is devastated because you think it can never happen to you and then it does. It shows nobody is exempt.

"Since Alexandra was diagnosed we learnt that people with red hair and blue eyes and who are generally fair skinned are more prone to contracting skin cancer.

"Alexandra did cover up in the sun because in the past she did get burnt, but she had also used sunbeds and we don't know if that too was a factor."

A study carried out by Professor Brian Diffey revealed in March that sunbathing can double the risk of skin cancer.