Joel Myres, a promising young second-year medical student at UC Irvine, passed away in 2001 from a deadly epidemic known as melanoma.
Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, appears on your body as a new mole or an old one that has changed size, shape or color. Many people simply ignore such small changes.
Yet melanoma is the most common cancer among people between the ages 20 and 29, and the deadliest cancer among women in this age group. It has also been found in teens, children and infants.
Melanoma is often caused by excessive exposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet light. If the skin receives too much, melanocyte cells of the melanin, which is the part of the skin that protects protects layers of the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays, grow abnormally. The growth of abnormal melanocytes is cancerous and leads to melanoma.
No matter what skin color, ethnicity or age, nobody is completely immune from this deadly condition, especially in Irvine. California has the highest number of instances of melanoma in the country and Orange County has the second highest annual count in the entire state.
‘Orange County is a wonderful place to live, but we can’t fool ourselves that our outdoor lifestyle doesn’t come with certain dangers and a need for constant vigilance,’ said Taylor DeFelice, a third-year medical student and the president of the Joel Myers Melanoma Awareness Project.
Despite all those terrifying statistics, here is the truth about melanoma: It can be cured, if caught early. Each year in the United States, over 53,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma. Approximately 95 to 99 percent of melanoma deaths could have been prevented by earlier detection. One in three people will develop skin cancer in their lifetimes, but melanoma is becoming more common each year (the percentage of people diagnosed with melanoma has doubled over the last 30 years) and research says that by 2010 about one in every 50 people will develop melanoma.
There is, however, still much hope in early detection. If melanoma is not found early, it can spread to other body parts and will not be easy to treat.
Started in 2003, the Joel Myers Melanoma Awareness Project is an organization dedicated to educate the general public of Southern California on how to prevent and detect melanoma. Members of this organization give presentations to local elementary, middle and high schools using a curriculum developed by medical students.
In the presentation, students discuss melanoma risk factors and behaviors that can help prevent it, including wearing sunscreen and hats. Just one blistering sunburn can double an individual’s chances of developing melanoma.
The program offers the simple pneumonic simple mnemonics to help students remember how to be ‘sun-safe.’ Using its signature slogan, ‘Spot a spot, save a live,’ this program allows members to spread the information on how to prevent melanoma to students at a very early stage and, in turn, lets those students inform their loved ones of these dangers.
The impact of this organization has been incredible