Pale is Radiant

It was just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2007 when Cindy Patrick received a call from the office of her dermatologist, Dr. Shawn Sabin of the Leawood-based Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center.

“Are you cooking for Thanksgiving this year?” asked Sabin’s nurse to the unsuspecting Patrick, a Johnson County mother of two and owner of a wedding planning business.

“No, actually I’m not. We’re going to someone else’s house this year!” answered Patrick.

“That’s good,” said the nurse. “Because Dr. Sabin wants to operate on you tomorrow.”

Patrick’s life came to a momentary standstill as she tried to comprehend what had been relayed to her. 

In a routine skin screening just days earlier, Sabin had discovered a small, dark, irregular-shaped mole on Patrick’s self-described “tush.” 

Concerned by the appearance of the mole, Sabin performed a biopsy. 

When the results came back, they revealed melanoma–an extremely serious form of skin cancer.

However, because Sabin had discovered the dangerous mole early on, surgery was, thankfully, all that was required for treatment.

But that was not the end of Patrick’s journey. Quite the opposite–it was just the beginning.

Patrick knew that past sun exposure and frequent use of tanning beds in her younger years had contributed greatly to her current skin cancer health concerns. For nearly a decade, she had been seeing Sabin and having suspicious moles consistently removed from her fair, freckled complexion.

After spending the summer following her surgery being questioned by friends about why she was always covering up in the sun and repeatedly explaining why she was “pasty by choice,” Patrick had an idea.

She conferred with Sabin and the two joined forces to create a new skin cancer awareness campaign called “Pasty By Choice – pale is beautiful.”

Concerned by the ever-present pressure for young women, in particular, to sport a glowing, tanned appearance, Patrick and Sabin wanted to spread the message that natural beauty is in, and that pasty – or pale – is beautiful.

Patrick contends that virtually every skin tone has a “pale” version, which is just as beautiful as a golden glow, and undeniably healthier.

The duo – a melanoma “treater” and a melanoma survivor – embarked on a mission to educate women of all ages on the long-term dangers of tanning. But more importantly, their message is founded upon positive fundamentals that encourage women to embrace their natural beauty and feel gorgeous in the skin they are in.

News of the pair’s endeavors is spreading rapidly, and many in the local business community are getting on board to help spread the message.

For example, in early May, Sabin and Patrick teamed up with the American Cancer Society to hold the campaign’s second annual free skin cancer screening, which was hosted by Sopra Salon & Spa in Mission’s Corinth Square.

A Neutrogena representative was on hand with a UV camera as well as the locally based Tan Fastic Van, which offers mobile tanning alternative services.

Of the 92 people who were screened that day, 41 of them needed further evaluation for one or more skin lesions.

Perhaps the most alarming thing about skin cancer–whether it’s basal, squamous or melanoma–is the fact that it is showing up in men and especially women at increasingly younger ages. This is likely due in part to the excessive use of tanning beds as well as not protecting skin while outdoors.

Sabin has noticed that middle school and high school girls are using tanning beds regularly, and subsequently she is seeing evidence of permanent sun damage and skin cancers in girls in their 20s more frequently. She says this most likely is a result of the extensive ultraviolet exposure of the younger age groups.

“Exposure to UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells and can lead to aging, immune suppression and eye damage,” says Sabin.

Unfortunately, malignant melanoma, which is one of the fastest rising cancers in the United States, can even lead to death.

The good news in this picture is that skin cancer is one of the most highly preventable forms of cancer.

It really boils down to faithfully wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and avoiding artificial sources of UV light, according to the American Cancer Society. 

“The important point is that not all of the damage is reversible,” says Sabin. “It is better to protect the skin now than to try and treat it later.”

Sabin adds that for people who have already had extensive sun exposure, regular check-ups with a dermatologist are a must, as well as using sunscreen of SPF 30 or above and protecting the skin from further sun exposure.

“Pasty By Choice is trying to focus on the positive message that our natural beauty is the healthiest,” says Sabin.

Not surprisingly, the Pasty By Choice campaign is growing in popularity and garnering accolades along the way. The campaign even enjoyed national attention recently when it was highlighted in the April 2009 issue of Redbook magazine. Since then, the campaign has seen a dramatic surge in its sales of T-shirts and hats (available on the Pasty By Choice Web site), of which a portion of the proceeds goes to skin cancer awareness.

Her melanoma scare behind her now, Patrick continues to see Sabin on a regular basis to keep her skin in check. And she steadfastly encourages all women to safely cherish the skin they are in.

In an effort to cherish her own skin, Patrick typically wears long pants or skirts, long sleeves, big floppy hats and sunscreen.

She adds that for those who are tan-aholics, there are skin-friendly options such as spray tan services, like those offered by the Tan Fastic Van, and a wealth of other products designed to safely give that coveted golden glow.

“I am very vigilant,” says Patrick. “We need to take care of our skin just like we take care of everything else.” 

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words: Rachael Hedgcoth

photos: Tom Styrkowicz