Take Heart, Dear Advocates
My skin cancer journey began in 2007 with a melanoma diagnosis, and my advocating against tanning began a few years later when I joined Facebook. I began by sharing articles listing the dangers of tanning beds and the negative impacts of foregoing sunscreen. Posting images of sunburned skin and research-based information on the various types of skin cancer made me feel productive. Every like and comment from friends contributed to that feeling of usefulness. I was helping get the word out about the pitfalls of using tanning beds, and some friends were taking note. Still, I felt I wasn’t doing enough.
A video showing the price of tanning
Then, I made two videos. The first video was posted on Youtube by a good friend and photographer, and the second I made in my living room. Both were made during the roughest days of my treatment with Efudex, a topical chemotherapy. Likes, shares, and comments multiplied.
I have to be honest with you--I have never been one of those people who buys into the “one person can make a difference” perspective on life. The older I get, the bigger the world seems. Strange, that. My efforts are but a microscopic drop in the bucket compared to large organizations and, yes, I am a bit of a cynic. The attempts I make to sway friends’ decisions about sun safety, for all my efforts, seem to fall on deaf ears. Every spring since 2007, I continue to see friends begin their tanning rituals. Prom time rolls around, and parents share photos of daughters with bronzed skin. Spring break leads to even more photos of sunburned skin and posts about extended beach time in the scorching sun. I often wonder if my continued advocacy makes a difference. I admit--many days, I feel defeated.
A recent five-minute stop on my way home from school changed my mind.
Being recognized for my story
One evening last week, I decided to drop in for a couple items at a local grocery store I don’t usually use. I was tired, so I swooped in, barely slowed as I grabbed the two things I needed, and headed to the register. As I entered my PIN on the keypad to complete the sale, I noticed the cashier glancing at me. She was a young girl, likely still a high school student. Handing over my receipt, she said, “Can I ask you something?”
Assuming she was about to ask if I had already tried the brand of ice cream I just purchased, I said, “Sure.”
“Did I see you in that video on Facebook? The one about tanning?”
I nodded, “Yep. That’s me.”
One person can actually make a difference
Her next comment wiped away every bit of doubt I have had about my efforts to educate about skin cancer. “I haven’t been in a tanning bed since I saw your video,” she stated emphatically. I was blown away. Actually, I am still amazed when I think about her words. She is just a year or so older than my own children. If one teen is listening, surely there are others. After answering a few questions about Efudex, she asked if I would have to treat again. We talked for no more than a couple minutes as she began her next sale. The exchange was short but so very meaningful. My testimony had made a difference for her. One person can, indeed, make a difference. That difference may not immediately impact a large number of people, but the chance of a ripple effect is enough to make efforts worthwhile. I can see that now.
Discovering the true reach of my efforts
That evening, I made a quick Facebook post about my grocery store epiphany and made another discovery. A coworker commented on my post revealing that she also decided to stop tanning after seeing my videos. In addition, she convinced family members to do the same. We had a follow-up conversation the next day at work, and she told me she is having a mole on her face checked in the coming weeks. She never mentioned it to me--I had no idea.
My posts won’t attract the attention of every friend who needs to see them. Neither will each person who reads my articles or watches the videos change his or her habits regarding the sun and tanning beds. I realize, though, for every friend I worry isn’t listening, there are at least three or four who have silently made decisions based on my experience. I can’t change everyone’s mind, but I can start a chain reaction. That, in and of itself, is reason enough to keep telling my story. Moving in little waves, a little bit of advocacy goes a long way.
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