By Shon Ramey
My moment of truth came on the golf course, although I didn't realize it at the time. That's when I got a call from my doctor telling me the mole on my back was melanoma.
Growing up as a typical teenager in the '70s on the cloudy side of Washington state, I had no clue what SPF meant. My goal – when the sun finally came out – was to get tan as fast as possible, slathering on the baby oil to help things along.
As a man, I still equated "tan" with "healthy." I loved outdoor sports – golf, swimming, snow skiing, waterskiing, boating – and seldom thought seriously about sun protection. My goal usually was just to avoid a painful sunburn.
But that day in 2007 was the beginning of a seven-year fight against skin cancer. It's one that I'm still fighting at 53, having just completed my latest surgery (the fourth), this time at Oregon Health & Science University. I hope my story serves as a warning to other people that this deadly killer is out there, whether you realize it or not.
I've lived part of my life in the sun – in Texas and the Middle East -- before moving to Oregon a year ago. But Oregon's cloudy weather doesn't mean I'm safe. In fact, Oregon has the fifth highest rate of new melanoma cases in the nation. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Scientists don't know why melanoma is so common in Oregon, but maybe it's because we aren't as careful to limit our sun exposure as people who live where the sunshine is more relentless.
I've learned to change my ways over the years and I hope others will follow my example. I still enjoy outdoor sports, but I'm careful to make sure I wear appropriate clothing, a hat and sunscreen of at least 30 and usually 50 SPF, renewing it regularly. I encourage my family to do the same. My son, in his 20s, and my 4-year-old daughter are used to my constant reminders to them to protect themselves against the sun.
My experience has changed me in other ways. I'm now willing to participate in research and outreach about melanoma, and I joined the new Community Melanoma Registry that the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is setting up. Their goal is to create a database of people who are willing to participate in surveys or research on melanoma. Melanoma survivors, their family and friends can join the registry at www.ohsu.edu/WarOnMelanoma.
OHSU says it wants to go after melanoma as aggressively as it comes after us. You may see me helping the fight – I'm the tall, thin, balding guy with the healthy -- pale -- skin.
Shon Ramey is general counsel for NAVEX Global, a software company in Lake Oswego.