Ful­fill­ing the PROM­ISE

Rais­ing aware­ness of melanoma, Ridge­wood-based Prom­ise Foun­da­tion spreads the word about sun safety

201 Health - - Skin Health - WRIT­TEN BY BROOKE PERRY

“Just one bad, blis­ter­ing sun­burn dur­ing child­hood can more than dou­ble the risk of melanoma later in life.”

KIM FORD

CO-FOUNDER OF THE PROM­ISE FOUN­DA­TION

Believ­ing it’s never too early to teach kids about sun-safe fun, The Prom­ise Foun­da­tion is shar­ing its mes­sage of sun safety and reg­u­lar screen­ings with its youngest au­di­ence ever – a group of el­e­men­tary stu­dents at Ridge School in Ridge­wood. A nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of the Ridge­wood-based foun­da­tion’s wildly suc­cess­ful mid­dle school pro­grams, the pilot pro­gram demon­strates its vol­un­teers’ im­pas­sioned com­mit­ment and its ever-ex­pand­ing reach.

“Our mis­sion be­gan the day we de­cided to honor a prom­ise we made to Su­san,” says Lisa Con­klin, co-founder and pres­i­dent of the Prom­ise Foun­da­tion. Her friend Su­san DeZaio, a fel­low Ridge­wood mother, died in 2007 at the age of 45 af­ter a 22-month bat­tle with melanoma.

“Su­san couldn’t be­lieve that there were no re­search break­throughs in 40 years,” Con­klin says, “and she vowed to do ev­ery­thing she could to find a cure. In her mem­ory, our fo­cus is the pro­mo­tion of melanoma aware­ness and preven­tion, as well as part­ner­ing with lead­ing re­searchers and or­ga­ni­za­tions in this field.”

In the five years since her death, sev­eral of Su­san’s close friends and fam­ily formed the Prom­ise Foun­da­tion and have made im­pres­sive strides. Con­klin and co-founder Kim Ford have forged re­la­tion­ships with Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Hack­en­sack, The Val­ley Hos­pi­tal in Ridge­wood, the Melanoma Re­search Al­liance and the Mol­lie Big­gane Melanoma Foun­da­tion.

The most ex­cit­ing new part­ner­ship is the Prom­ise Foun­da­tion’s role in the newly formed Gar­den State Skin Can­cer Coali­tion. Or­ga­nized by Dr. Steven Wang, di­rec­tor of der­ma­to­logic surgery and der­ma­tol­ogy at Me­mo­rial Sloan-Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter Bask­ing Ridge, the group is com­posed of seven like-minded or­ga­ni­za­tions in the tri-state area.

“Th­ese groups have a lot of syn­ergy,” Wang says, “and bring­ing them to­gether to share their knowl­edge and their re­sources will help us tackle New Jersey’s skin can­cer epi­demic.”

Un­der Wang’s di­rec­tion, the coali­tion will meet twice a year to share best prac­tices and gain in­sight from physi­cians, sci­en­tists and re­searchers.

On “Melanoma Mon­day” (the first Mon­day in May), each or­ga­ni­za­tion also has com­mit­ted to spon­sor­ing a pub­lic event to draw at­ten­tion to skin can­cer.

“It’s just one more way we can ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the dangers of sun over­ex­po­sure,” Con­klin says.

Look­ing fur­ther ahead, Wang hopes to har­ness the power of the coali­tion to fur­ther pur­sue statewide leg­is­la­tion on tanning-bed use.

“There is enough sci­en­tific data out there prov­ing that tanning beds in­crease your risk of melanoma,” he says.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Can­cer has clas­si­fied the ul­tra­vi­o­let ra­di­a­tion from tanning beds a Class 1 car­cino­gen, as harm­ful as as­bestos and to­bacco smoke.

“The Gar­den State Skin Can­cer Coali­tion,” Con­klin says, “is a per­fect com­ple­ment to our on-the-ground aware­ness ini­tia­tives.”

Through its part­ner­ship with the John Theurer Can­cer Cen­ter at HUMC, the foun­da­tion also presents sem­i­nars at six lo­cal mid­dle schools in Ridge­wood, Ho-Ho-Kus, Franklin Lakes, Glen Rock and Wy­ck­off, reach­ing 4,000 kids ev­ery spring with its mes­sage of sun safety. Af­ter­ward, the mid­dle school stu­dents take home back­packs with a clip-on tube of sun­screen and a time­less re­minder: “Reap­ply be­fore you fry.”

“Th­ese kids leave our one-hour sem­i­nar re­ally aware of how im­por­tant sun safety is,” Con­klin says. “We’re reach­ing them at a crit­i­cally im­por­tant time in their lives.”

The cold, hard facts about melanoma drive the foun­da­tion’s age­cen­tric ini­tia­tives. For ex­am­ple, Ford says “just one bad, blis­ter­ing sun­burn dur­ing child­hood can more than dou­ble the risk of melanoma later in life.”

Con­klin and Ford found an en­thu­si­as­tic vol­un­teer for the pilot pro­gram in Gae Brun­ner, a re­tired el­e­men­tary school teacher in Ridge­wood whose hus­band died of melanoma four years ago. Brun­ner helped fa­cil­i­tate the pro­gram, which kicked off, ap­pro­pri­ately, on Melanoma Mon­day this year.

In ad­di­tion, the Prom­ise Foun­da­tion teams up with Ridge­wood’s Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment to spread the word to the more than 500 campers who par­tic­i­pate in Ridge­wood Sum­mer Day Camp. The foun­da­tion spear­heads a trio of sum­mer­time ini­tia­tives to help cre­ate a safer ex­pe­ri­ence for all. Those in­clude pre-sea­son sem­i­nars (con­ducted by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of HUMC) to train coun­selors to de­liver daily sun-safety mes­sages to campers; more pro­tec­tive col­ored T-shirts for all campers; and strate­gi­cally placed mes­sage boards that re­lay kid-friendly re­minders like “wear your hat to­day” and “keep your sun­glasses on.”

The foun­da­tion also pro­vides a shady spot – and a strong aware­ness mes­sage – at Ridge­wood Lax Day. “We set up sun shel­ters, slather sun­screen on kids and make sure they’re wear­ing hats,” Ford says. “Our mes­sage is very hands-on, and Lax Day is a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to reach a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion. Melanoma is the fastest grow­ing can­cer in the U.S. and the most com­mon form of can­cer for young adults.”

The Prom­ise Foun­da­tion’s push is not all about kids, though. The foun­da­tion also holds free skin-can­cer screen­ings ev­ery spring at The Val­ley Hos­pi­tal and at the John Theurer Can­cer Cen­ter at HUMC. Since the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­cep­tion, it has screened hun­dreds of lo­cal res­i­dents for skin can­cer.

“Screen­ings are so im­por­tant,” Con­klin says. “There have been no sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances in the melanoma sur­vival rate in decades, but if we can catch it in its ear­li­est stages, it is 100-per­cent treat­able.”

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