Sunday, November 12, 2006

Extreme Makeover episode airs 11/19

I mentioned this back in September. ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" recently built a new home for a Wisconsin family who lost their father to melanoma. The episode airs 11/19.

Tiffany's Melanoma Foundation Blog: Family of melanoma patient featured on "Extreme Makeover"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dad's Girl

Tiffany's Dad, Judd, wrote a book recently. It's called "Dad's Girl" and it's really good. It's starting to get news coverage.

From the Bend Bulletin:

Weirbach's book, "Dad's Girl," is about Tiffany and her battle with cancer. It's about doctors who told less than the truth. It's about finding hope in the most dim of situations and the ends to which a parent will go to try to save a child's life.

But, mostly, "Dad's Girl" is about a special relationship between a father and a daughter and how memories of their time together sustain Weirbach to this day.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Patricia Dunn's "two front battle"

Imagine undergoing chemotherapy for your fourth bout with cancer while at the same time fighting for your reputation and career and defending yourself from a federal indictment. Big story on melanoma-survivor Patrica Dunn in the Washington Post yesterday. Not the kind of story someone necessarily would want to be in since it's regarding the HP spying scandal, but I thought it was interesting.

From "A Lifelong Fighter's Toughest Round" in the Post:

Circumstances required Dunn to be self-reliant from an early age, her friends and business associates said, and her diligence and willingness to learn delivered her from poverty to the top echelons of business. That same tenacity and conviction may have provoked the ire of her enemies on the HP board, who say her strong sense of mission -- plug the leak -- led her down an unethical path.

Now she must rely on that same tough quality to survive her two-front battle. She surrendered to authorities yesterday and, after a three-minute court hearing in which she agreed to return Nov. 17 for her arraignment, was released on her own recognizance. Today she will begin chemotherapy for her fourth bout with cancer. She has survived not just ovarian cancer, but also melanoma and breast cancer.

"She's strong," said Alison Davis, who for three years served as chief financial officer when Dunn was chief executive of Barclays Global Investors. "People can be threatened by a strong woman who represents a challenge to their will," she said. "She will stand up to defend herself."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Family of melanoma patient featured on "Extreme Makeover"

Starting this weekend, the crew from ABC's popular "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" show will be building a new home for the family of a Wisconsin man who died from melanoma last month. The show is expected to air in either late November or early December.

From the Sheboygan Press:

A crew from the program rolled into town to build a new home for the Christine Koepke family of Dundee. Koepke, 41, mother of four, is the widow of Matt Koepke.

Matt Koepke died in August at the age of 41 from metastatic melanoma, a rare, aggressive form of cancer.

The construction marathon begins at 8 a.m. Sunday when thousands of people charge the home, led by "Extreme Makeover" host Ty Pennington. The house is slated for demolition at noon Sunday and it will take a week to rebuild the home.

From the Journal Times' Racine Report:

At 8 a.m. Friday, the show’s representatives knocked on the door of the Koepke family in Dundee, about 15 miles north of West Bend. The family was devastated recently by the brain cancer death, on Aug. 21, of Matt Koepke, husband of Christine and father of four children.
According to the TV show’s producers, Koepke’s last wish was to take care of all their home’s needed repairs.

Instead, next Friday the family should be returning to their new, fully furnished, 4,500-square-foot home.

“It’s a great cause,” said Carpetland’s co-owner Dave Brown, “and one of those things when it’s all done, it’ll be a heck of an accomplishment.”

From the Fond Du Lac Reporter:

Rumors have been swirling since July that the popular
ABC show was considering the Koepkes for an extreme home makeover.

The work was originally scheduled for Sept. 6, but moved up to August when Matt Koepke’s condition took a turn for the worse.

Koepke died Aug. 24, prompting the show to postpone its construction schedule.

While he was confident the project would take place, Buechel said the show’s representatives said the project would be pulled at any time if media published anything about the project prior to today.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mark Origer is alive

One of the recipients of the recent gene therapy trials is briefly profiled in a UK newspaper this morning.

From today's Telegraph.

When Mark Origer watched his daughter take her marriage vows last year, he knew he had a lot to be thankful for. The 53-year-old had been fighting melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer for five years. He had tried surgery, drugs and an experimental vaccine in his fight against the cancer – all without success.

Yet Origer not only made it to his daughter's wedding but is alive and well today thanks to a trial that used genetically modified versions of his own cells. Just a month after the treatment, his tumours had shrunk in half. Of the 17 patients who underwent the trial, Origer was one of two who responded to the treatment.

Their remarkable recovery has been hailed as the surest sign yet that gene therapy is making a comeback after a series of setbacks during the late 1990s that left scientists and investors seriously dis-illusioned.

Read the rest of the story.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gene Therapy

"Bad Medicine" author Christopher Wanjek wrote in his weekly column about the recent research which showed that genetic theraphy can shrink tumours.

From his "Bad Medicine" column at Health SciTech ("Exciting New Cancer Treatments Emerge Amid Persistent Myths") : reported in the journal Science on Aug. 31, scientists at the National Cancer Institute used gene therapy for the first time to completely cure two patients with an advanced and deadly skin cancer called melanoma.

In the journal Nature on Sept. 6, three science teams reported a major link between tumor suppression and stem cell division. And on the same day in the journal Cancer, doctors announced the continued, dramatic decline in cancer deaths, which began in the early 1990s.

These studies follow separate statements from the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society that over half of all cancers are preventable.

Will there ever be a cure for cancer? Likely not, which is why all so-called cancer cures hawked on the Internet are at best naive and at worse criminal, relying on fear and myth to generate sales.

Wanjeck goes on to write about the myths surrounding cancer in general. I encourage you to read the entire column.

Melanoma connection to HP scandal

If you watch the evening news at all you've most likely heard about the scandal surrounding Hewlett-Packard's possible illegal probe into media leaks at the company. One of the results of the scandal is that the person at the center of it, HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn, has decided to step down next January. What you probably don't know about Patricia Dunn is that she is a melanoma survivor. She actually stepped down from a CEO position in 2002 to battle breast cancer and melanoma and recently underwent surgery to treat ovarian cancer.

Patricia Dunn was recently honored by being entered into the Bay Area Council's hall of fame.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

The timing of the council's event juxtaposes two distinct portraits of Dunn that are hard for some to reconcile. She has become the face of the recent HP scandal, the driving force behind an investigation into boardroom leaks to the press that has created a furor.

But the hall-of-fame honor is one she shares with local luminaries such as the deceased founders of HP, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Gordon Moore of Intel and filmmaker George Lucas.

Friends and former colleagues say Dunn has been greatly misunderstood as the HP investigation has surfaced. To them, she is a hardworking business star, the rare woman in the male-dominated world of corporate finance.

That Dunn still plans to attend the event -- and speak publicly to a crowd of business elite -- is testament to her fighting spirit, say friends and colleagues. She has survived three kinds of cancer -- breast, melanoma and more recently ovarian -- in the past few years.


This was during a period of Dunn's life when she already faced another major challenge: In the past five years, she has struggled against breast cancer and melanoma. In 2004, she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. This year, she experienced a recurrence of that cancer and had surgery. Friends say she has recovered.

``She is a fighter,'' Martinez said.

Dunn is married to William Jahnke, a former president of Wells Fargo Investment Advisors. The couple owns a shiraz winery in Australia, a home in Hawaii and property in Marin and Contra Costa counties.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"The more knowledge out there, the better"

The above is a quote from the mother of Leanne Schmall who I mentioned on this blog about a year ago. Her mother, Brenda, knows what she's talking about. Because of the media attention surrounding her 16-year-old daughter's tragic death last year from melanoma, another young woman was saved. After hearing Leanne's story, 22-year-old Kelly Everett decided to have a freckle examined by a doctor. Turned out she had a stage 2 melanoma. Because it was diagnosed early enough, doctors have given Kelly a clean bill of health.

From the Milford Daily News:

Everett said when she learned of her diagnosis, she immediately thought of Leanne.
"My heart skipped a beat. I heard the word ’melanoma,’ and I could hear nothing else," she said. "I just thought, ’Leanne.’"

Before hearing Leanne’s story, Everett said she rarely thought about the possibility of skin cancer, even though some of her relatives had fought off less severe forms of the disease.

"I love the sun. I never wore sunscreen," Everett said. "I’m 22. Anyone can get it."

Since then, Everett said her family and many friends have gotten their skin checked out as well, and posted a letter of thanks on a Web site the Schmalls run in Leanne’s memory.

"I cried reading it," Brenda Schmall said. "It hit home. If Leanne made that much of a difference, that’s what we wanted."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ok, so it's not exactly a cure but...

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently discovered a new way to use gene therapy to shrink tumours. Of the 17 people treated in the clinical trial, two were in remission with no signs of the disease. Unfortunately the other 15 died so there is still a lot of work to do. According to the American Cancer Society, this is the first evidence that gene therapy can actually fight cancer.

A team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has demonstrated sustained regression of advanced melanoma in a study of 17 patients by genetically engineering patients' own white blood cells to recognize and attack cancer cells. The study appears in the online edition of the journal Science on August 31, 2006*.

"These results represent the first time gene therapy has been used successfully to treat cancer. Moreover, we hope it will be applicable not only to melanoma, but also for a broad range of common cancers, such as breast and lung cancer," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

For a Q &A on gene therapy techniques similar to those used in this study, go to:

For more information on Dr. Rosenberg's research, go to

* Morgan RA, Dudley ME, Wunderlich JR, Hughes MS, Yang JC, Sherry RM, Royal RE, Topalian SL, Kammula US, Restifo NP, Zheng Z, Nahvi A, de Vries CR, Rogers-Freezer LJ, Mavroukakis SA, Rosenberg SA. Cancer regression in patients mediated by transfer of genetically engineered lymphocytes. Science Express. Online August 31, 2006.

**UPDATE 9/9/06**

National Public Radio did a story on gene therapy recently which includes an interview with NCI researcher, Dr. Steven Rosenberg. You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The WHO weighs in on the sun/skin cancer connection

There's been some debate in recent years about how much of an impact sun exposure has on melanoma. The World Heath Organization (WHO) reports recently however that the sun kills around 60,000 people a year, mostly from melanoma.


The WHO Press Release
The WHO Fact Sheet
Download the flyer
Download the full report

From Reuters:

As many as 60,000 people a year die from too much sun, mostly from malignant skin cancer, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday.

It found that 48,000 deaths every year are caused by malignant melanomas, and 12,000 by other kinds of skin cancer. About 90 percent of such cancers are caused by ultraviolet light from the sun.

Radiation from the sun also causes often serious sunburn, skin aging, eye cataracts, pterygium -- a fleshy growth on the surface of the eye, cold sores and other ills, according to the report, the first to detail the global effects of sun exposure.

"We all need some sun, but too much sun can be dangerous -- and even deadly. Fortunately, diseases from UV such as malignant melanomas, other skin cancers and cataracts are almost entirely preventable through simple protective measures," Dr. Maria Neira, Director for Public Health and the Environment at WHO, said in a statement.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dermatologists don't get no respect

I mentioned this last summer and it's still true. If you finally decide to make an appointment with a dermatologist to get a mole checked, be prepared to wait as long as a month. You know you've already put it off long enough, don't you?

I had what I thought was a mole on the side of my head, above my right-eye. My wife mentioned to me that it looked like it had gotten a little larger recently. I knew it was nothing, but as a contributor to this blog I would have felt a bit hypocritical not having it checked out.

So I called and made the next available appointment which was in three weeks. I went to the appointment and the doctor was about 30 minutes late which wasn't a big deal because I had already waited three weeks and they don't call them "waiting rooms" for nothing.

There was a trophy wife (e.g. skinny thirty-something blonde, with brow-beaten husband etc.) in the waiting room with me and after a few minutes she began asking the receptionist where the doctor was because she'd been waiting for 20 minutes. The receptionist explained the situation to her (doctor can't predict the length of each visit, etc.) and said she'd check with the doctor. Trophy wife then began complaining that her time was "just as valuable as his" and that she had things she needed to get done after the appointment.

I never think about this stuff at the time, but what I should have said to trophy wife was that unless she was going to be potentially saving lives the rest of the afternoon, that no, her time was *not* as important as the doctor's.

I'm fairly confident that had she been seeing a cardiologist about her husband's ticker or any type of surgeon that she would have not thought to say "my time is just as valuable as his." So my point is that although dermatologists deal with life threatening conditions just like any other doctor, I don't think they get the respect they deserve.

Dermatologists save lives. All the time. They're not just here to remove warts and help your skin look younger

Anyway, the outcome of my visit was that the thing on the side of my head wasn't a mole but a seborrheic keratoses which are just benign skin growths. It wasn't bothering me any but he froze it off anyway.

He checked-out the rest of my body and we did find what looks to be a slightly out of the ordinary mole which he did a biopsy on (it met one of the A-B-C-D factors).

He did mention that most of the men he sees in his practice were told to come in by their wife. And he just recently diagnosed a stage one melanoma on a male patient who came in to get checked because his wife spotted it.

So if someone who knows you very well mentions that they see a change in one of your moles, what have you got to lose by getting it checked out? If it is a cancerous mole, the sooner it gets checked-out the better.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Riding saved her life.

It's nice sometimes to be reminded of why we have this blog and our foundation website. I stumbled across a MySpace entry today that referred to us. It's from SJM in Ohio.

From SJM's MySpace entry ("Riding Saved My Life"):

It was March 2003 when Mother Nature finally took a break from ticking us off so we could get out for an early spring ride in Ohio. I have a mole on my forehead that has been there all my life and it became irritated by the fibers in my helmet lining on that ride. Remembering that any changes in a mole could be cause for concern, I went to a dermatologist for the first time in my life to get it checked out. I was 26.

It is a typical, round mole and didnt have any indication of irregularity so my doctors said I had nothing to worry about. Out of curiosity though, she gave me a once over to look for anything peculiar. My right shoulder blade region is where she found it. She cut it out for a biopsy and the biggest shock off my life came about a week later when she informed me that it was in fact Malignant Melanoma.

Tiffany immediately entered my mind.

I hung up the phone and through tears read everything I could on Tiffanys site that linked me all over the internet to find more information on the disease. I was freaked and I had every reason to be. That Friday, they got it all through outpatient surgery and I was left with a genuine Melanoma scar to commemorate that diseases attempt at getting me.

These days sunblock is my best friend and its a rare day if you find me without it. My favorites are Lubriderm Daily Moisture with SPF 15 lotion for my face everyday because its light and doesnt smell like sunblock. And for the active protection, I use Coopertone Continuous Spray.

Skin protection has two different set of requirements in my life. Protection from the pavement and sun. When people choose to neglect one, the other or both its upsetting because of how easy the scarring, pain and death can in a majority of cases can be avoided.

Wear protection; your life could depend on it in more ways than one.

Chuck Cadman's life saving clinic

I noted the passing of Chuck Cadman last year. He was a member of Canadian Parliament and he died last year from melanoma. The skin cancer clinic opened in Chuck Cadman's memory just recently diagnosed a fellow member of Parliament with malignant melanoma, potentially saving his life.

More below from CBC News:

A Conservative MP recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma is crediting a clinic set up in the memory of a former parliamentarian for catching the disease early.

Bill Casey says he was diagnosed two weeks ago, when he stopped in at a skin-cancer clinic for members of Parliament set up in honour of the late Chuck Cadman.

"I've been so, so lucky," Casey told the Canadian Press.

"It's just starting to hit me what I had, and how close I came to going through a whack of misery."

Cadman, an Independent MP from British Columbia, died of malignant melanoma last year at age 57.

At the clinic, which was set up on Parliament Hill by Cadman's widow and the Canadian Dermatology Association, a doctor identified a suspicious-looking mole on Casey's back.

He subsequently underwent surgery to have the mole removed. Tests later revealed that it was the result of malignant melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer.

"I'm in shock that I had it. I'm in shock it was fixed," Casey said.

"It's a very moving experience."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cathy Mazurkiewicz

Cathy Mazurkiewicz, mother of six, died from melanoma 8 months after her 10-year-old son died from brain cancer. Her son, Montana (named after Joe), was granted his dying wish last year to call a play in a Notre Dame game. Montana died the day before the game but the Notre Dame coach used Montana's play regardless. They won. There were many articles written about the event and Cathy Mazurkiewicz could have gotten a lot of attention on herself because she was dying as well. But Cathy kept it quiet so that the focus could remain solely on her son. Remarkable.

From the Chicago Tribune (AP):

The mother of a boy granted a dying wish to call a football play for Notre Dame died eight months after her son. Cathy Mazurkiewicz died Wednesday at 46 at her parents' home in Bodfish, Calif., of melanoma, said her daughter, Katrin Seymour. Montana, 10, died of inoperable brain cancer. Cathy Mazurkiewicz, the mother of six, knew her health was failing when her son died but kept it quiet. "When she was taking care of Montana, she hardly had time to focus on her own illness," Seymour said. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis visited Montana Mazurkiewicz in Mishawaka, Ind., outside South Bend, last September before Notre Dame played Washington. Weis agreed to let Montana call the first play against Washington. Montana called "pass right." Montana never got to see the play, though. He died the day before.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ian Copeland

Rock music agent (and brother of The Police's Stewart Copeland) Ian Copeland, has died of melanoma.

From the AP:

LOS ANGELES (AP): Ian Copeland, a rock music agent and entrepreneur who represented The Police, R.E.M., Adam Ant, The Go-Go's and other seminal rock groups that emerged in the 1970s and 1980's New Wave and Punk scenes, has died. He was 57. Copeland died Tuesday of melanoma, family spokeswoman Amy Grey said.

He was one of three brothers in the family who became prominent figures in the music industry. Younger brother Stewart was the drummer for The Police. Older sibling Miles founded record label International Records Syndicate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

skin cancer widow

Linda Petrons of the U.K. shares the story of the loss of her husband in the Daily Mail.

Why I'm a skin cancer widow

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Lessons to be learned

I know there's been controversy over the past couple years about how sun exposure impacts melanoma, but if you're a tanner or the parent of a teenage tanner, you'll find Aleida Keegan's story to be very sobering.

Aleida Keegan loves the sun.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Free Skin Cancer Screenings -- May is the month!!

May is melanoma awareness month so there is probably no better time to see if there are free skin cancer screenings in your area.

The American Academy of Dermatology makes screenings easy to find with their search engine.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Skin cancer epidemic

More bad news from CNN.

There is an unrecognized epidemic of skin cancer under way in the United States, the American Academy of Dermatology warns.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and a person's risk of the disease doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns, according to a report in the April issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas, the most common and treatable types of skin cancers, had long been considered a problem only for people over 50, according to the report.

But Mayo Clinic researchers found that the percentage of women under 40 with the more common type, basal cell, tripled between 1976 and 2003, while the rate of squamous cell cancers increased four-fold.

In the same study, the researchers found that just 60 percent of the cancers they identified occurred on skin frequently exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck, rather than the normal 90 percent.

Most of the remaining cancers were seen on the torso. The researchers suspect this may be due to more widespread use of tanning beds.

Melanoma recurrance more common than thought

Well, this isn't good.

From HealthDayNews:

Recurrent melanoma is more common than previously thought, with nearly 15 percent of people diagnosed with the potentially fatal skin cancer at risk of a second diagnosis within two years, a new study found.

About 6 percent of patients will develop a second melanoma within one year of the initial diagnosis, while 8 percent will be diagnosed with a second malignancy within two years, according to the researchers from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H.

This rate is more frequent than previously thought and points to the importance of surveillance and skin screenings, according to the study in the April issue of Archives of Dermatology.
According to the new study, previous studies have put melanoma recurrence at less than 4 percent within one year.

The current study included 354 New Hampshire residents who'd had a previous diagnosis of melanoma. All participants answered questions about their medical history, sun exposure history, hair and eye color, and whether their skin tanned, burned or freckled in the sun. Then they underwent a skin examination by a physician.

Six percent of the participants developed an additional melanoma within one year of the first diagnosis, while 8 percent developed an additional melanoma within two years.

Roughly two-thirds of those who developed additional malignancies and 37 percent of those who did not had at least one atypical mole, which is a risk factor for additional melanomas. Someone with three or more atypical moles had four times the risk of developing an additional tumor. Atypical moles have at least three of the following features -- a diameter larger than 5 millimeters; redness; an irregular or ill-defined border; a variety of colors or a portion that is flat, the researchers said.

In one-third of the patients who developed another melanoma within two years, the subsequent melanoma was deeper than the first.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Shock Treatment

Interesting new treatment being tried out for melanoma. When used with gene therapy, shocking the tumours has had good results in clinical trials. Other than the discomfort of a 6-second electric shock, there are no known major side-effects.

From ABC 7 in Chicago:

Researchers are now focusing on gene therapy for melanoma patients. The challenge has been getting the gene into the tumor. The overall goal is for the gene to stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer. For the first time, researchers are using electroporation on humans to deliver gene therapy in melanoma patients.

Electroporation involves the use of a handheld device with a number of prongs on the end of it. The device is put into the tumor on the skin and delivers electricity. Researchers say this stimulation opens up pores in the tumor cell membrane, allowing small molecules called DNA plasmids to get inside the tumor before the tumor membrane pores close again. These plasmids contain the gene for interleukin-12. Adil Daud, M.D., an oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa says, "It will be like a flag that says danger or warning to the immune system and cause the immune system to destroy that tumor."
The first clinical trials began in 2005. So far, seven patients with stage four melanoma have been treated with electroporation. Dr. Daud says the purpose of this study is to see if it is safe for the patient. However, they are encouraged by the findings thus far.
There are no major side effects associated with this treatment; however, one downside is discomfort for the patient. The treatment involves shocking the patient's tumor for six seconds for each treatment.

New way to diagnose melanoma

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Melanoma researchers have identified protein markers that help predict whether an abnormal mole could become cancerous, which could lead to strategies to prevent the deadly disease.

The same molecular signalling systems that are turned on in melanomas are also switched on in atypical moles, explained principal investigator Dr. John Kirkwood, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's melanoma center.

His colleague Dr. Wenjun Wang presented the findings yesterday in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dan Peterson

From the Boston Channel 5 News:

A man who was an inspiration at the Boston Marathon for decades has lost his battle with melanoma.

Dan Peterson, 55, of Beverly, Mass., has died.

Peterson told the Boston Globe that he was hoping to run his 25th Boston Marathon this year, but he acknowledged he may not live that long.

He died Thursday.

His friends plan on carrying his number across the finish line next month.

Boston Channel 5 did a story on Dan last April:

NewsCenter 5's Jorge Quiroga reported that Dan Peterson, 54, is living with a severe form of cancer.

"I had my arm taken off on Jan. 3. Had sterotactic brain surgery three times. It has been a busy last nine months, with the challenges," he said.

Peterson's challenges stem from terminal stage four melanoma.

"You become better at the measure of who you are, and want to do," he said. "I was blessed that my priorities weren't changed when I found out that I had stage four melanoma, but I also learned to dig a little deeper."

Celebrating ordinary runners with inspiring stories, Saucony Running Shoes chose Peterson as their "Man of the Year." The tumor that claimed his arm and the cancer that riddles his body are only two of the many reasons why he was chosen.

"He's touched so many peoples' lives because he really is a very positive person. He always says that life is about being in the game, being a participant," said Peterson's wife, Julie, a former competitive distance runner.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's about time

You know what would be great? If there was some sort of device that a general practioner could use to scan your body and alert you if you have skin cancer. It's 2006 and we still have to rely almost solely on a doctor's experience to determine if a mole is scary-looking enough to have tested (and they aren't always right). Imagine if a general practioner or nurse could accurately spot a cancerous mole instead of having to rely on a specialist like a dermatoligist. Well there finally is a skin cancer scanner called a Siascope. I'll try to see if I can find out more about it. Sounds like they've been around for about 5 years but not widely yet used. Below is the article in the BBC:

New scanner spots fatal cancers

A scanner to help detect skin cancer is being pioneered at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and its developer wants it used in GP practices.

The Siascope probes the skin with light to discover if a mole is malignant.

Consultant Per Hall said: "We've shown through our research we can pick up melanoma with this medical tool.

"If we can now train GPs and their nurses to use the machine to scan moles we may see a significant reduction in mortality from this terrible disease."

The machine can produce an image of a mole or lesion within seconds and an experienced doctor or nurse can tell from this if it is benign or something that will require further treatment.

The machines, which cost under £10,000*, were first introduced in 2000 and about 200 are in use across the world.

The latest models are much more compact and Dr Hall and his research team are assessing their suitability to doctors' surgeries and are carrying out a survey in the Cambridge area.

* $17,514.10

Update: This is what it looks like to have a Siascope scan. (see photo at bottom of page).

And this is what a Siascope looks like, along with the pictures it produces. The images help to remove the subjectivity of a mole examination by seperating out the various components(blood, melanin, colagen). So the examiner doesn't have to rely on the just the surface color and texture to make a determination.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Main Cause of Death for Women Between 19 and 50

From Medical News Today, today:

Melanoma is the most common cancer amongst us. It is the cutaneous tumour with the worst prognosis and its incidence is growing. Although possible overdiagnosis has been criticised, the reality is that, the death rate has gone up from 6,000 to 9,000 cases in ten years. In the USA, in concrete, it is the main cause of death amongst women between 19 and 50 years of age. According to specialists from the University Hospital of Navarra and from the USA, early diagnosis guarantees cure in 99% of patients with melanoma.

Factors that bear on the appearance of a melanoma are genetic predisposition and ultraviolet radiation. It is clear that exposure to the sun is a specific cause. More concretely, this causes mutations whereby the capacity of the melanocyte to recover after solar radiation is annulled. In this regard, those people who suffer from burns or blisters after high doses of sun demonstrate a greater capacity to develop a melanoma.

Despite its high incidence, the rate of survival from a melanoma is high, thanks to the melanoma prevention campaigns which enable the early detection of the melanoma and, thus, guarantees the efficacy of surgical treatment of the tumour.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Telling the family about your cancer

There is an article today in Red Nova News about a program that helps you come up with the best way to tell your children you have cancer. Article is more about the program than about the actual ways to tell your kids about it, so I found a couple other links that provide some suggestions.

Red Nova News: Telling Kids Can Be Hardest Part: Program Helps Patients Share News of Cancer
National Cancer Institute: Your Social Relationships After Cancer Treatment
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Survivor Resources

From DFCI's Survivor Resources:

Tips: Dealing with family issues

How do you cope with family issues? Here are some ideas that have helped others deal with family concerns:

* Let others know what to expect of you as you heal—and what not to expect. Do not feel you must keep the house or yard in perfect order because you always did in the past. Let people know what you can and cannot do.
* Give yourself time. You and your family may be able to adjust over time to the changes cancer brings. Just being open with each other can help ensure that each person's needs are met.
* Help your children (or grandchildren) understand that you were treated for cancer. Children of cancer survivors have said that these things are important:
o Being honest with them
o Speaking as directly and openly as possible
o Allowing them to become informed about your cancer and involved in your recovery
o Spending extra time with them

Friday, February 17, 2006

NASCAR driver beats cancer

I ran across this item today at while searching for other melanoma blogs. Apparently NASCAR driver Jerrod Sessler was able to reverse a stage iv melanoma by eating nothing but raw food. Sounds simliar to what Anne Dinnel attempted to do.

From Raw Food News:

While he admits it can be difficult maintaining a raw food diet when he’s racing, nothing compares to the challenge he faced six years ago. In 2000 Jerrod’s doctors delivered the gut-wrenching news that he had stage IV melanoma.

They told me that I had about a five percent chance of living 10 years," Jerrod says. They told him his treatment options were chemotherapy, radiation, interferon or simple ‘monitoring’. "They said that these treatments or combinations of them would improve my odds up to 15 percent or so,” Jerrod said.

Doctors also warned him that the chemical treatments and radiation made it unlikely that he and his wife would be able to have children.

Following a period of intense research, discernment, and prayer, Jerrod and his young wife Nikki decided against traditional treatments and opted for radically changing Sessler’s diet.

It took them weeks and month to do an “exteme makeover” of their diet to revamp their habits and their pantry. The result was what they still follow today: a strict vegan diet, mostly raw foods that haven’t been processed, with no dairy or meat.

Their positive and courageous vision for using food as medicine in life and death circumstances was due to the young couples’ deep religious faith, as well as support from family and friends.

Today all Sessler family members are healthy and thriving, including three new additions to the family; two boys and a girl whose ages range from eight months to four years old.

Jerrod is thrilled to have defeated his cancer and happy to continue racing cars, a lifelong passion that started at age four when he announced that he wanted to be a race car driver. He raced go-karts as a boy and raced stock cars professionally in l998.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Anne Dinnell

I mentioned Anne Dinnel, first in May then again in July of 2005. She was the brave and beautiful young woman in Santa Cruz who decided to forego the standard cancer treatments and instead prolong her life with an all organic diet. She died in September at the age of 26. I emphasized the point last year, and I'll do it again: Her melanoma began as mysterious spot under one of her fingernails and her original doctor dismissed it. A malignant melanoma is not always going to be an obvious crusty formation on an easily accessible part of your body and even a trained medical doctor can miss a melanoma. As this sad story illustrates, it can even be under one of your fingernails.

The Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Arts dedicated a performance festival to Anne's memory. Since her death there have been two articles about her in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. 1, 2.

From the Sentinel:

Fourteen months after being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma, Anne Dinnell, 26, died Thursday evening at Dominican Hospital.

Tests earlier in the year had shown that Dinnell, who had pursued an alternative, diet-based treatment in lieu of standard radiation and chemotherapy, appeared to be free of cancer.

Her death, said her friend and co-worker Jason Book, "was as quick, and painless as possible."

Until being hospitalized early in September for what she thought was pneumonia, "Anne felt well, and she thought she was well," Book said.

During that two-week hospital stay, surgeons repaired a collapsed lung, and Dinnell was discharged from Dominican on Sept. 22. While recuperating at her parents’ home in Santa Cruz five days later, she fell ill again and returned to the hospital.
Rather than suffer nausea, weakness and other discomforts associated with chemotherapy, Dinnell took what she said was a calculated risk.

She was convinced she’d made the right choice after a second PET scan came up clear in June.

Dinnell changed her treatment schedule somewhat late in June, so she could begin part-time work as a legal assistant.

Book said she had received dozens of visits from friends and family members before she fell unconscious Wednesday night. "She was joking with them and was even able to laugh," Book said.

From another Sentinel article several days later:

Dinnell died Thursday of melanoma, which had spread to her lungs. She was 26.

"She never let herself believe that she was going to die from this," said her mother, Kathleen Dinnell. "Until the end, she was more concerned about us (her loved ones) than herself."
Her decision to forego chemotherapy had her doctors throwing up their hands.

"We don’t have good treatments for melanoma, so I couldn’t blame her," said oncologist Dr. Michael Alexander. "The treatments are toxic and they’re not very effective."
Dinnell had undergone surgery to her neck, underarm, hip and one of her fingers to remove cancerous tissue shortly after her initial diagnosis.

While recovering from the surgery, she made the decision to leave an administrative assistant position she had held for seven years, and pursue the alternative therapy full time. The regimen she chose recommends a rigorous devotion to preparation and ingestion of organic foods, and to regular colonic treatments.

"But the disease is notoriously unpredictable," said Alexander. "Ultimately, it does what it wants to do."

The fact that melanoma had spread to her lungs was unknown to Dinnell’s doctors on Wednesday of last week. Pathology reports did not arrive until shortly after she died.
Tuesday, after having returned to the hospital from her parents’ home where she had been recuperating from lung surgery, "she came to a quick acceptance," of her fate, her mother said.

She called friends, who came to visit for the last time Wednesday, and she composed farewell notes to her parents and her brother, Jeff, with whom she was extremely close, said Kathleen Dinnell.

"Anne was so witty, and just a doll all the way through," she said.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

First, the good. Cancer rates nationwide are down. And now the bad. The total number of cancer deaths still rose because of population growth. And the ugly. Melanoma rates are up.

From CancerFacts:

Cancer deaths in the U.S. fell in year-to-year numbers for the first time since the 1930s, according to the latest figures from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

The total number of deaths due to cancer was 556,902 in 2003, down from 557,271 a year earlier according to the report Cancer Facts & Figures 2006, which compiles records from 2003 and 2002, the most recent data available.

While the cancer rate has been falling for the past several years, the total number of deaths continued to grow due to population growth, which has partially masked the progress that is being made, according to Dr. John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society.
On the negative side, while deaths from cancers are declining the number diagnosed with breast cancer in women and with prostate and testicle cancer in men, as well as leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, myeloma, melanoma of skin, and thyroid, kidney, and esophageal cancer in both men and women is rising.

Horses Part Two

More on the implications of how treating melanoma in horses could be beneficial to humans.

From Collegiate Times:

Recent studies of horses with malignant melanoma reveal possible treatments for humans suffering from similar cancers. This research is headed by John Robertson, professor at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Robertson also directs the college's Center for Comparative Oncology.
Robertson is presently testing a number of experimental treatments on horses. One of these treatments is an oil of biblical significance, frankincense. This botanical oil has selective anti-tumor properties that do not appear to disrupt normal cells.

One particular patient, a mature, grey thoroughbred, Chili, with malignant melanoma was treated with frankincense to get an idea of its effects. Robertson and his fellow equine researchers followed a daily regimen of injecting the oil directly into Chili's tumors and also applying it topically on one of the visibly affected areas.

The results of this preliminary experiment were promising. Some of the small tumor cells were destroyed by the treatment while at least one larger tumor, treated topically, was reduced in size. Robertson explains that “this work is in the earliest stages in developing a potential new therapy … and researchers need to do many more studies before they are sure this is a proven and useful therapy.”
They are also comparing serum samples from healthy and infected horses in hopes of discovering a “marker molecule” indicating a presence of the disease. A full evaluation of all surgical methods will also be undertaken in an effort to reduce the amount of tumors in horses with advanced stages of melanoma.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Horses, Frankincense and Melanoma

Melanoma attacks horses as well as humans. The risk factors for horses are surprisingly similar to ours.

From Medical News Today:

During a recent presentation made before a regional meeting of the American Cancer Society in Roanoke, Robertson discussed his use of Frankincense oil as a possible treatment for malignant melanoma in horses.

The risk factors for malignant melanoma in people and horses are very similar, according to Robertson. In people, they include pale complexion and hair, exposure to excessive sunlight and sunburns, and aging. Horses at risk also have a pale coat of grey to white, and there seems to be a correlation to aging, which could be a result of chronic exposure to sunlight. In each, the disease is an infiltrated pigmented malignancy that is difficult to manage. Conventional therapies include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and surgery.

The disease often affects horses with the development of lesions on the lips, neck, and perineal area.

Melanoma detector

There's a new way to detect skin cancer.

From Fox News:

Researchers have developed a non-invasive technique for early detection of skin cancer.

The procedure uses different colors of light and assorted alignments of the electric field of each light segment to create unique images that can identify suspect skin growths called nevi.

"We are able to generate processed images that reveal the subsurface characteristics of the nevus," said developer Justin Baba of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "It is our hope that these images will enable an accurate determination of whether the nevus is cancerous or benign."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Jack Wolford

Poet Jack Wolford died recently. He was an editor at and he was diagnosed with melanoma last August.

Hot Metal Poets Editorial Staff Page

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When Pittsburgh poet Jack Wolford died in St. Clair Hospital in December at the age of 60, his passing went largely unnoticed. Despite his considerable bulk -- Jack tipped the scales at a mind-bending 400 pounds before he took sick -- his incessant hand-rolled cigarettes and his ability to command any room by brilliance and bombast, he was virtually invisible, except to a close circle of friends.
Says Michael Simms, Autumn House general editor, "Jack was an excellent poet but published very little because he refused to court editors in a way that could help him. The smart and politic thing would have been to keep his mouth shut. But Jack was very blunt, saying what he needed to say."

"Jack couldn't find a wall he didn't want to run into," adds fellow poet Michael James, now serving as Jack's literary executor. "He'd write insulting cover letters to editors. When I'd say, 'Jack, you're shooting yourself in the foot,' he'd launch into a tirade about the worthlessness of a life lived untruly to oneself."
"Jack's intensity caused him to be insensitive," recalls Michael Wurster, a Poetry Exchange founder. "He could be brutal, simply bulldozing people. He wouldn't give anyone else a chance."

After Jack was diagnosed with melanoma last August -- in all likelihood, the residual effect of too much South American sun -- neither surgery nor major treatments helped much. Going in the hospital for the last time on Dec. 7, Jack brooked no whispering around him, no maudlin, teary-eyed farewells. Following the Dylan Thomas dictum, he refused to go gentle into anything, much less that good night. Wearing a jaunty bandana to mask his lesion, Jack howled his poet's war cry to the end. As one shocked duty nurse said to a visitor, "my, your friend is profane, isn't he?"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Developing melanoma epidemic among Latinos

There is an alarming new trend in California. Latinos were once thought to be immune to melanoma because of their skin pigmentation, but the number of skin cancer cases in Californian hispanics is growing by about 7% a year. | 01/24/2006 | Latino melanoma rate rising rapidly in state

California is experiencing a "developing epidemic" of melanoma among Latinos, according to a study released Monday by researchers at the University of Southern California.

The researchers are alarmed because the greatest increase is in the rate of so-called "thick'' tumors, which are more likely to be lethal, according to a report in the journal Cancer.

The number of total melanoma cases among Latinos is small -- about 200 new cases a year and about 50 deaths, said epidemiologist Myles G. Cockburn of USC's Keck School of Medicine.


Physicians must be aggressive in targeting prevention programs at Latinos, who account for about a third of the state's population, Cockburn said. "There is no reason for anyone to die from this.''

The USC study focused on California because of its 12 million Latino residents and accurate cancer registries. Cockburn said the results should hold for the rest of the country as well.

Melanoma incidence has been growing among all groups over the past 20 years at least, in large part because of increased exposure to the sun through outdoor recreation.

Cockburn and his colleagues studied all melanoma cases among Latino-surnamed Californians from 1988 through 2001. The disease accounted for 1.2 percent of male cancers and 1.6 percent of female cancers among Latinos.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Michael "Mickey" Herman

A popular teacher in San Diego, Ca. died from melanoma on December 30th. He was 60. The melanoma had spread throughout his liver and other abdominal areas.

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

Michael "Mickey" Herman did more than teach math at Mesa Verde Middle School. For 10 years, he was friend and counselor to students who needed help or an encouraging word. He was someone you could talk to during a difficult time.

"He gave kids hope that if they didn't get math, they could learn it but the No. 1 thing about him was he cared a lot about his students," said Katie Redman, 14, a freshman at Westview High.

Beth Redman said her daughter was lucky to have had Mr. Herman as her seventh-grade math teacher. "He got her over a big hurdle of being absolutely petrified of math. He always struck me as a teacher who really connected with that age group, which is hard to do. He took a genuine interest in what was going on with them," Redman said.

"I thought of him more as a friend, not just a teacher," Katie said. "He was open to everybody, not just his own students. He opened up his classroom and helped anyone who needed it," she said.