WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Rachel Gayer considers her sister, Danielle Dick, to be one of her best friends.
Dick passed away in 2018 from complications stemming from melanoma, but it’s not the story you hear of everyday.
“It was something we didn’t even think about,” Gayer said.
The family had no history of skin cancer. That’s partly why it was a surprise when Dick’s husband found a suspicious-looking mole on her back years ago.
“She maybe tanned a couple times before prom in high school but nothing excessive…(she) was always wearing sunblock so we’re not really sure why. But all the more reason why everyone should be careful,” Gayer said.
A surgery cut out the cancer from Dick’s mole and lymph node tests came back okay. Gayer says Dick began seeing a dermatologist regularly.
“It was when she was about 19 weeks pregnant that my brother-in-law realized she was having trouble speaking. He got home from work and she couldn’t put a couple words together,” Gayer remembers.
Dick was taken to the emergency room where they discovered three brain tumors.
Though melanoma is typically thought of to be on the surface, one of the most common places it can spread to within the body is the brain.
Gayer says Dick was 32 years old and pregnant with twins when the family found out the cancer spread to her brain. She underwent brain surgery while pregnant.
At 29 weeks, Dick’s twins were delivered via C-section. The twins recently turned two, but Dick passed away in April 2018.
“Get your skin checked. No matter how old you are, if you haven’t been in the sun, get your skin checked. Go to a dermatologist,” Gayer said.
Gayer says she goes to the dermatologist every six months and can’t emphasize the importance enough. She says her sister found it very important to educate others toward the end of her life.
“I never knew how deadly melanoma could be until my sister had it,” Gayer said.
Ashton Youngers, a physician assistant with Ascension Medical Group Via Christi who specializes in dermatology, leaves these tips for protecting your skin:
-Know your history. A history of one or more severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager can increase your risk of melanoma as an adult.
-Avoid midday sun when its rays are the strongest. For most places, this is between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Because the sun’s rays are strongest during this period, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even when the sky is cloudy. You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays.
-Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck. Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it frequently while you’re exposed to the sun. Be sure to reapply it after swimming or exercising.
-Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays, so wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does. Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB rays.
-Don’t use tanning beds. Tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
-Become familiar with your skin so that you’ll notice changes. Examine your skin so that you become familiar with what your skin normally looks like. This way, you may be more likely to notice any skin changes. With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp. Examine your chest and trunk, and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the front and back of your legs, and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. If you notice anything unusual, point it out to your healthcare provider at your next appointment.