How to Talk to Others about Skin Cancer
Last updated: January 2023
“Put him against the car, cuff him, and stick him in the unmarked squad car.” Those were the director’s words to me for my scene as an undercover FBI agent in a weekly television show. We shot the scene probably ten times and each time I got a little better at cuffing the bad guy and stuffing him in the vehicle.
As we finished the last take, I noticed something on the actor’s (bad guy) neck. It was a very dark mole with an irregular shape. At that very instant I had a decision to make.
Do I say something or not?
Do I say something or just move on and exit the set? Do I insert myself into this young man’s life or just be one of the thousands of others he has met on the job and just go about my business?
I said something. It didn’t matter to me that we were on a television set. It didn’t matter to me that we were working or that I barely knew him and had just roughed him up a bit. My advocacy for good skin care seems to follow me wherever I go.
A stranger said something when she saw my mole
I remember that summer day in Whittier, California when a nurse at a pool party said that same something to me. It was 1988 and she pointed out my irregular mole and told me that I should get it checked out and I did.
I am glad that I did and I am glad that I got it checked out. It turned out to be melanoma. I had biopsies and a couple of surgeries and a new lease on life because a stranger said something. But, should you say something?
Tips for saying something
Warmer weather and all the outdoor activities that go with it will soon be here for most of us in the U.S. There will be opportunities to “say something”, but how one says it is makes all the difference. Here is what I have learned on how to talk to others about skin cancer.
- Be sensitive. Ask permission to say something that you may have noticed on their skin. Don’t embarrass someone in front of others. Timing is everything.
- Be informed. Be ready to answer questions and be a good advocate. Be ready to point people in the right direction for seeking medical care and proper diagnoses. Tell them about skincancer.net
- Be humble. Being informed does not mean being a “know it all”.
- Be helpful. When appropriate and safe, provide contact information (such as an email address) to answer questions and follow up, if necessary.
- Be friendly. Tell them a brief version of your skin cancer, if they have time and show interest.
- Be brief. Most people want a brief encounter, some pertinent information and then move on.
What I said
So my saying something went something like this. After the director approved the last take of the scene, I said, “Hey man, can I tell you something that I noticed on your skin that I think you should know about?”
“Well, I had skin cancer and I saw something on your skin that I think you may want to get checked out just as a precaution. I am not an expert, but I do write for skincancer.net. Here is my email address. I can point you the in the right direction, if you want.” And that was that.
I am always ready to say something, if I see something. You never know when you might save someone’s life. People will generally respond well, if you are respectful and authentic. They will know that your words are coming from a good place. What started as a staged law enforcement arrest on one of the countless cop shows could end up being one of the best days of that young man’s life. The day that saved it.
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