Crowd gathers in support of melanoma awareness
Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Skin Cancer Institute at the University of Arizona Cancer Center sponsored Melanoma Walk 2011 to raise awareness about the form of skin cancer and raise money for research into the disease. The event took place on Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Arizona Cancer Center at UMC North, 3838 N. Campbell Avenue.
In a state with constant sunshine, there’s a constant risk for skin cancer.
To combat this disease, the UA’s Arizona Cancer Center Skin Cancer Institute put on a Melanoma Walk event this Saturday to raise awareness. The event began at 2 p.m. at the University of Arizona Cancer Center-North Campus, with free skin cancer screenings. There was also food, music and activities for the participants.
The ceremony for the 1.5-mile walk kicked off at 4 p.m. The walk drew in about 500 people, including 32 teams formed prior to the event, said Heather Hiscox, the program development coordinator with the Skin Cancer Institute.
“It’s wonderful to bring everyone together to talk about, think about and spread the word about melanoma,” Hiscox said.
The walk was first held in 2009, when it raised $30,000 for melanoma research, patient care, outreach and education. Organizers hope to double those numbers this year, she said.
Bonnie Sedlmayr-Emerson, a cancer survivor and participant in this year’s walk, said she has had melanoma for almost seven years.
“My hairdresser actually noticed a spot on my head, held up a mirror and said ‘Wow, Bonnie, I don’t like this. You didn’t have it the last time I saw you, why don’t you get it checked?’” Sedlmayr-Emerson said.
She went to the dermatologist who told her the spot was “nothing.” But after a couple of weeks, she went back in for a follow-up on a rash. A biopsy found she had melanoma and that it had metastasized, or spread, to her lymph nodes, she said.
At the time, she had a year of treatment and did well for four and a half years, she said.
Sedlmayr-Emerson then went back for one of her regular scans, and spots were found in her lungs. She had lung surgery, followed by almost a year of biochemotherapy when she was in the hospital once a month for one week at a time, she said.
The next November, more spots were found in her lungs.
“I was really sick. I mean I was just a hot mess,” Sedlmayr-Emerson said.
Later on, Dr. Lee Cranmer, her medical oncologist, put her in one of his studies for a drug called ipilimumab. This was one of two drugs that was approved in March for use in the United States, said Cranmer, who is with the University of Arizona Cancer Center-North Campus.
“We’re at a point where we’re finally developing treatments for metastatic melanoma,” Cranmer said.
The treatments are not “mission accomplished” or “cures” for melanoma, but they “clearly alter the course of the disease,” he said.
Sedlmayr-Emerson said her metastasis had gotten smaller after four sessions from December to March. She then had stereotactic radiosurgery to target her tumors. She said she’s tumor-free, but not cancer-free.
“There’s a lot of hope right now in cancer, in melanoma treatment, therapy treatment … that didn’t exist five years ago,” Sedlmayr-Emerson said. “I have stage four cancer but I’m thriving.”
In the United States, there have been an estimated 8,790 melanoma deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. In addition, there are about 70,230 cases nationwide.
Arizona is no. 2 in the world after Australia for skin cancer incidence rates, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“It’s so important to catch it early because it will spread so quickly,” Hiscox said. “People don’t realize that melanoma takes lives.”
Hiscox said patients like that this walk benefits their disease specifically. Some patients have been battling with melanoma for years but still come to the event to show that there’s still hope and “it’s very inspiring, that’s for sure,” she said.
“It’s a great way to involve supporting melanoma awareness and those people that have been touched by melanoma,” Hiscox said.