Editor’s note: May is designated as National Melanoma Month. Included in that designation is National Melanoma Monday, which is the first Monday in May. The American Academy of Dermatology has set aside this day to raise awareness about skin cancer.
Jeff Dossett started mountain climbing when he turned 40 and was looking for a new challenge…both physically and mentally. He first climbed Mt. Rainier in 2000 on a charity climb, the Climb for Clean Air (for the American Lung Association). He did this charity climb again in 2001 and then decided to pursue the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on every continent including Everest), which he successfully completed during 2002 to 2004.
Jeff first summited Mt. Everest in 2004 and again in 2008 on an expedition he organized and funded to raise awareness and funds for PRODUCT)RED, a brand that seeks to engage the private sector in raising awareness and funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Jeff, now 55, (on left in photo below) didn’t realize it at the time that cancer would become his next Everest.
In 2012, Jeff was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and it is estimated that one person dies from melanoma every hour. According to the CDC, Washington state has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the U.S.
Jeff credits his wife Jessica Shapiro for literally saving his life by encouraging him to get in to see her dermatologist Dr. Ulrike Ochs when he started noticing a change in color and texture of two moles on his back.
When Jeff first called to make an appointment in early October 2012, he was told that the first available appointment was not until late February 2013. He set the appointment almost five months into the future but later called back to say that he was uncomfortable waiting that long. Just by chance there was a cancellation and therefore an appointment opening just 72 hours later.
Jeff went in for his appointment and the doctor assessed the situation as “concerning” and she performed a deep tissue biopsy. A few days later, the lab pathology report confirmed that had “malignant melanoma, spreading type, invasive to a Breslow depth of 2.3 mm, probable lymphovascular invasion, Clark level IV, pathologic stage: T3b.”
“My diagnosis was very serious and required immediate surgical treatment,” Jeff explained.
Less than three days later, he underwent what was to be a 90-120 minute surgery. Instead, the surgery lasted almost 6 hours as the surgeon excised a significant amount of cancerous and potentially cancerous tissue and performed multiple lymph node biopsies to help determine if the cancer had spread further.
“I’m one of the very, very lucky people diagnosed with advanced skin cancer. Had I waited five months for my originally scheduled appointment, my surgeon and oncologist said my prognosis for a full recovery would have been far less certain,” Jeff explained.
Less than one month after his surgery, additional tests happily confirmed no evidence of residual invasive melanoma.
“I know that my 27-day journey with cancer from initial diagnosis to surgery to an ‘all clear’ assessment was trivial compared to most affected by cancer,” Jeff said.
Jeff has ridden in all three Obliterides, and he was one of the first to sign up for 2016. He rides to honor Joey Abramson, who lost his battle with colon cancer in 2013 and for Joey’s surviving family members including his wife and four children.
He also rides for a cure to all cancers but especially those with malignant melanomas as he experienced.
“Early detection via regular skin exams by your dermatologist is critical,” Jeff advises. “I’m grateful to be a cancer survivor and to participate in Obliteride each year to raise awareness and money to fund breakthrough research to end all cancers once and for all.”
Jeff says he will be forever grateful for the research and medical professionals who were able to treat him so quickly and effectively.
He’s looking forward to his five-year cancer-free milestone next year and says “I’m lucky and grateful to be alive.”
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
Fred Hutch researchers are harnessing the immune system’s power to destroy cancer cells, including melanoma. In a groundbreaking study, Fred Hutch researchers showed that one form of immunotherapy can eradicate melanoma from certain patients. More info here.
To prevent skin cancer, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (Fred Hutch’s treatment partner) skin cancer experts suggest adopting the following practical, prevention and early detection focused tactics:
- Limit sun exposure: Skin damage occurs over time and studies have shown that children tend to get 80 percent of their lifetime exposure by age 18. Limit the amount of time you and your children are in the sun, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Use sunscreen: The American Cancer Society recommends daily use of sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. Reapply sunscreen every few hours while exposed to the sun, regardless of the SPF and be wary of commonly overlooked areas such as the top of hands, ears and scalp.
- Protect your eyes: Cases of ocular skin cancer have increased dramatically in recent decades. Protect your eyes by avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight and wearing sunglasses in bright conditions. Fair skinned and blue-eyed people are especially susceptible to ocular skin cancers.
- Avoid tanning beds: People who use tanning beds at least once a month boost their risk of skin cancer by more than 50 percent, especially for younger users. Healthy alternatives include spray tanning and tinted lotions.
- Get annual screenings: Annual check-ups and regular self-exams are the best tools for early detection. Be sure to check your skin regularly, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer. Look for changes in moles and freckles, including asymmetry, uneven boarders, varied color, and growth.
- Learn your family’s history of skin cancer: Talk with your doctor about your family history of cancer and other diseases. If skin cancer or melanoma runs in your family you could be at greater risk.