ABOVE: Sarah Merrill and Kathryn Seely appeared on the Global BC Morning News on Wednesday.
VANCOUVER – Twenty-three-year-old Sarah Merrill never expected to be dealing with a cancer diagnosis when she was in her second year of university.
When she was in Grade 12, the Saskatchewan native noticed a mole on her knee had become raised, turned pink and would bleed if she bumped it on anything.
“I never noticed it up until that point,” said Merrill. “My friends and I would joke about it and even nicknamed it ‘Frank’ because it was really big.”
Her mole was about the size of the top of a pencil eraser when Merrill went to the doctor to get it removed. However, she was told by multiple doctors that it was only cosmetic and didn’t need to be removed.
She did end up getting it removed in 2012 in Saskatchewan and thought nothing more of it. But later that year she received a call from her family doctor telling her she had stage 3, invasive malignant melanoma.
“It was pretty overwhelming because my mom passed away from cervical cancer,” said Merrill. “As soon as someone drops the ‘cancer’ word, ‘oh my gosh what are you going to do?'”
While Merrill had some lymph nodes removed, she said luckily the cancer had not spread there and in December Merrill had a baseball-sized section of tissue removed from her knee.
Now she is totally cancer-free, but she wants to warn others about the dangers about melanoma skin cancer, one of the fastest rising of all cancers in B.C.
According to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014 released by the Canadian Cancer Society, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, British Columbians need to do more to protect themselves from damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Canada, with an estimated 6,500 new cases of melanoma and another 76,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers expected to be diagnosed in 2014. Of the skin cancers, melanoma is the deadliest form, with 1,050 Canadians expected to die from it this year.
In 2012 there were an estimated 910 cases of melanoma in B.C., but it is estimated that there will be 970 new cases of melanoma in 2014. In B.C. it is expected 140 people will die from it this year.
Skin cancer, including melanoma, is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. The main risk factor is UV radiation from overexposure to the sun and other sources, such as indoor tanning beds. UV radiation is responsible for up to 90% of melanoma cases. With about half of all cancers being preventable, the Canadian Cancer Society actively advocates for better policies to make healthy choices easier – for example, working with the government to implement indoor tanning legislation banning youth from using tanning beds.
“In October 2012, the BC government banned the use of indoor tanning equipment for youth under the age of 18. While it’s still early, we hope to see a reduction in the number of cases of melanoma in the future because of this,” said Kathryn Seely, Director of Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon. “In addition to our advocacy efforts, we’re doing everything we can to educate British Columbians about how they can reduce their risk of developing melanoma in the first place.”
However, according to the current report, melanoma has been increasing significantly in both men and women since 1986.
Merrill said she had only been in a tanning bed three times in her life, but she was often outdoors playing sports and while she tried to wear sunscreen all the time it was hard to stay covered.
“In my mind that’s totally where it came from,” she said.
She now wants to get the message out to young people that there should not be any pressure to be tanned and if you want a golden glow, turn to the bottle variety instead.
“There is a lot of pressure to be tanned,” said Merrill. “Because I’m a melanoma skin cancer survivor, I feel very strongly about prevention and the power to encourage behavioural change among young people.”
Overall, B.C. continues to have the lowest estimated new cancer cases in all of Canada. In B.C. in 2014, an estimated 12,900 men and 11,400 women will receive a cancer diagnosis. Of these newly diagnosed cases, more than half will be prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancers. B.C. also has the lowest estimated cancer death rate in Canada, with an estimated 9,900 deaths in 2014.
Merrill, who now volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society and speaks to young people about melanoma, said the best thing people can do is be their own advocate.
“Nobody knows your skin as well as you do,” she said.
Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014 was prepared through a partnership of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada and provincial and territorial cancer registries. For more information about Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014, visit cancer.ca
© Shaw Media, 2014