Growing Up at the Beach: Why I Founded The Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation
By Maryellen Maguire Eisen
I grew up in Marine Park, NY, a section of Brooklyn. Believe it or not, that area bears strong resemblance to where I live now in Crow Point on Boston’s South Shore. There were beaches, marshes and a harbor to explore in this wonderful waterside community.
Our life as kids did not resemble an episode of Mad Men in any way, even though it was the1960's. My mom was a teacher, and during the summers, we all enjoyed piling along with our friends into our station wagon for long days of fun in the sun. Along with the bologna sandwiches and fruit juice, Coppertone was in the beach bag but it was used more as a tanning aid than a sunscreen. Over the years, we had a lot of fun but suffered major sunburns, many of which were of the blistering variety.
As I grew up, I decided to pursue a career in nursing following in the footsteps of one of my favorite characters in the Cherry Ames novels that I enjoyed reading during those lazy days. I had no way of predicting how this career choice would positively impact my family’s health over the years.
In 1977, my mother developed a “changing” mole that she showed to her doctors. She was told not to worry because the mole was not new. Fortunately for us, I invited a young friend, who had just started his dermatology training, to a family dinner. Across the dinner table, Charlie calmly asked, “What’s that on your mother’s neck?” The very next day, he assisted with the surgery and was not surprised at all by the diagnosis of melanoma.
Our story was a lucky one because my mom survived her melanoma due to an incidental encounter. Charlie had saved my mom’s life by detecting her melanoma in an early stage. Once melanoma develops past those early warning stages, the consequences of this disease can be painful and fatal.
For years, I wanted to do something to give back to others in return for my mom’s healthy outcome. I eventually realized that the best thing I could do to prevent the consequences of melanoma would be to teach children about sun protection. In 2003, I started the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to “preventing skin cancer—one child at a time!” Each year, we spend over 100 days in local classrooms, sailing centers, and at community events providing our signature, SunAWARE Program to over 35,000 children. Our website provides free educational resources for children and teachers. We have partnered with US SAILING, nursing organizations, and other non-profits to expand our reach. Each year, we lecture to over 1,000 nurses, teachers, coaches, and instructors throughout the U.S.
This education is important for children because sunburns are all too common and melanoma although uncommon is increasing among children. A recent study (Wong, 2013), found that melanoma was increasing in American children 10 times faster in northern latitutes (especially Massachusetts!) than southern. This is why we teach children about the factors that affect UV intensity and skin sensitivity, as well as proper sun protection and skin cancer recognition. We want children to understand that UV rays are stronger in May than they are in August and that UV intensity is not related to temperature. Our goal is to prevent sunburns, a major risk factor for developing melanoma later in life.
Crow Point is a wonderful place to live because of its easy access to beautiful beaches and the harbor. My hope is that I can educate your children, wherever they live, about enjoying the outdoors safely. Learn more about our fun and informative SunAWARE Program or to download our free SunAWARE children’s books. Remember any one can develop skin cancer, anywhere on their body!