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Column: Focus - Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Leigh VanDeWalker

Another Melanoma Moment

by guest writer, Leigh VanDeWalker

Melanoma kills someone every hour.

Something awful has happened. My heart leapt into my throat when I heard the news: Danny Federici has died. You might wonder why this would matter so much to me. You might also wonder who Danny Federici even is.

Federici is one of the founding members of Bruce Springsteen's famed E Street Band. Springsteen described Federici as "one of the pillars of our sound."

On April 17, 2008, Danny Federici became a statistic — Another victim of malignant melanoma.

As a melanoma survivor, I felt a palpable stroke of dread upon hearing of Federici's death. My worst fear a recurrence of my own melanoma was suddenly hurled from the cobwebs of my past into the present moment, with all the subtlety of a bowling ball crashing into my head.

Yes, melanoma kills. It killed Danny Federici. Will it eventually kill me?

Melanoma kills someone every hour, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, which Federici supported. This disease strikes the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the ordinary as well as the celebrities in our society. Danny is not the only music celebrity to succumb to melanoma's black death.

Ian Copeland - credited for bringing "New Wave" music to the United States by promoting such successful artists as R.E.M., The B-52's, The Cure, and The Police - lost his battle with melanoma in 2006 at the age of 57.

Even though he was much better known for his unique style of reggae, his political activism and his Rastafarian beliefs than for his illness, Bob Marley died of melanoma as well. He passed on in 1981 at the young age of 39.

Enjoy the sun with moderation,
good sense... and sunscreen!

Melanoma doesn't make the news very often. Many people aren't even aware that it is a form of skin cancer. Melanoma doesn't tend to cross many peoples' minds in everyday life.

The World Health Organization has found that at least 75% of adults do not routinely use sunscreen. Tanning is a beauty must, it seems, with tanning parlors oozing UV rays into communities large and small all across the globe.

I never thought about melanoma either, until I was forced to schedule an appointment with a surgeon at Roswell Park Cancer Institute — Up until that point, I never owned a bottle of sunscreen. I tanned in the backyard when I could and at the tanning parlor the rest of the time.

Melanoma certainly changed my outlook on the outdoors. For over a year after the surgery to remove the cancer, I actually feared the sun. I spent most of that first post-melanoma summer indoors, looking out the window at "all those fools" enjoying themselves in the sun.

Thankfully, that extreme fear of the sun did subside. I finally realize that I don't have to limit my life because of melanoma — Moderation, good sense, and sunscreen now allow me to enjoy afternoons at the park with the kids, an occasional trip to camp, to the beach or the poolside, or a nice long walk with the dog.

Once again, melanoma rarely crosses my mind except today. Rest in peace, Mr. Federici. My prayers go out to your eternal soul and to your family.

Read other articles in this column:
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About the author:
Leigh VanDeWalker is a native of rural upstate New York. Her passion is a common sense approach to well-being, especially skin care, sun safety and skin cancer awareness. Hardcover book collecting is another of Leigh's pastimes (addictions!) with a library creeping closer and closer to quadruple digits. Family and friends and a need to "write it all down" keep Leigh's days busy. You can see more of Leigh's work at or take a peek at her blog.

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