Megan Sullivan never expected to be the face of a skin cancer diagnosis.
By Terry Wilcox
In 2014, after plummeting 50 feet from the side of a mountain at Yosemite National Park and jumping off her Vespa to avoid a car, Megan Sullivan finished off the two-week string of bad luck with an unexpected skin cancer diagnosis. She was blindsided. After all, she went to see the dermatologist only because she had met her insurance deductible for the year and decided to get everything done that she needed to get done. Within a day her doctor called with the news. She had melanoma on her forehead, and it needed to be removed right away.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, but the condition is highly treatable if detected early. This is especially true for melanoma, which is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15 to 29 years old. In 2015 approximately 137,000 Americans received a melanoma diagnosis, and each year 10,000 will die from the disease.
Common skin cancer risk factors include exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps; being fair skinned; having many moles; and having a history of skin cancer.
The lump on Megan’s forehead was nothing like what she expected melanoma to look like. She described it as dry skin, almost like a pimple, not the dark, black mole she envisioned skin cancer to be. Luckily, hers was found in the earliest stages.
“In the 25-to-35 range, you just don’t think that you’re going to get skin cancer,” Megan says. “Now I always wear a hat and long sleeves when I’m climbing outside, and I reach for the 70+ SPF sunscreen and wear it daily. I am no longer worried about getting a tan—I’m preparing to live for another 80 years.”
After having the lump removed, Megan decided to do something she had always wanted to do. In her words, “I decided to live life today because you never know what tomorrow will bring.” Committed to walk the talk, Megan and her boyfriend of just two weeks took off to see the Seven Wonders of the World in just 13 days—and documented it on video. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Although one in five Americans will get skin cancer, 65 percent of people of color don’t believe they are at risk and face lower survival rates as a result. To change these odds, Megan is joining forces with the cancer organization Patients Rising, which recently launched Check Yourself to Protect Yourself ALL YEAR, a national skin cancer screening initiative that stresses the importance of sun safety for people of every age and ethnicity throughout the year.
The campaign kicked off in Washington, DC, in November 2015 with free skin cancer screenings for area residents in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, with Megan on hand to share her story.
Megan says, “While many Americans are more vigilant about protecting their skin during the summer months, few take the necessary precautionary steps to stay safe throughout the entire year. I am joining with Patients Rising to encourage the public to learn the facts so that they can protect themselves and their families.”
Check out the Patients Rising Sun Safety Playbook for great tips to stay sun-safe!
About Patients Rising
Every day, patients are fighting for their lives. That’s why they need someone to fight for them. That’s why we formed Patients Rising (PatientsRising.org). This is for the American patient, and it’s never been needed more. We believe patients have a fundamental right of access to vital therapies and precision medicines, and that the provider, payer, and pharmacy sectors should put the frontline interest of the patient first. We will educate, advocate, and communicate so the patient voice is heard, access to new therapies is streamlined, and the pipeline of progress is not disrupted. Along with our partner organization Patients Rising NOW, we are creating a united and engaged patient presence to reform and remove insurance and regulatory barriers and restore the doctor/patient relationship to its rightful place. There is power in knowledge, and there is strength in numbers. We will lead the fight for the right patient to receive the right treatment–right now. Join us!