California Educator

September 2011

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FEATURE Cancer Prevention Story and photo by Dina Martin JERILYN (JERI) HARRIS WAS given six months to live when, as a teen-ager, she was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. "It was a bad one," the now-retired Ukiah High School biology teacher recalls, and back then, the treatment was not nearly what it is today. Yet somehow Harris was, and is, a survivor. She was 17 when she noticed the mole on her arm. It was black and ugly, and looked a bit like a cauliflower, and Harris wanted the unsightly thing removed. Once her family doctor looked at it, he wanted it removed, too, immediately. Within the week, Harris underwent an eight-hour surgery to remove the cancer, which had already spread to the lymph nodes in her chest and underarm. Even after the surgery, she was given only a 5 percent chance of survival. The most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma develops in the cells that pro- duce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Although the exact cause is still unknown, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps increases the risk of developing melanoma. Other factors, such as genetic makeup, likely play a role. Harris, a sun-loving Southern Californian of English-Irish descent, had all the risk factors. Today, Harris slathers on the sunscreen, but back then it was all about baking on the beach with baby oil. Despite the odds, Harris got out of the hospital a month later, just in time to attend TO REDUCE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING MELANOMA, THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE MAKES THESE RECOMMENDATIONS: Avoid exposure to midday sun (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever possible. Avoid the tanning booth. Wear protective clothing in the sun (long sleeves, pants, hats). Protect yourself from UV radiation by using lotion, cream or gel that contains sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. 20 California Educator / September 2011

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