Key life lessons from skin cancer battle

  • Karen Sexton and one-year-old daughter Emma. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Karen Sexton and one-year-old daughter Emma. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

  • Karen Sexton discovered she had skin cancer in 2008, at age 26. Had she not caught it early there's a chance she wouldn't have had her one-year-old daughter, Emma. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Karen Sexton discovered she had skin cancer in 2008, at age 26. Had she not caught it early there's a chance she wouldn't have had her one-year-old daughter, Emma. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


Volleyball event raises awareness for SunSmart

If you can dig, dip and dive like the best of them, this year’s Coppertone Volleyball Tournament is for you.

The Bermuda Volleyball Association is gearing up to host its annual sporting event at Horseshoe Bay on Saturday, August 29.

The best part? Money raised will go towards Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre’s SunSmart programme.

Ariel Mierzejewski, co-president of the BVA, tells us more:

Why did the BVA choose to support SunSmart?

It just seemed to fit with our promotion of health and fitness and being outdoors. We have got some of the most beautiful beaches in the world to play on in Bermuda and it’s really a privilege to be outdoors here. But it’s not without risk so we thought it just aligned well with our own niche in terms of giving back to the community and raising awareness for how to protect ourselves against the elements.

Is the event open to the general public or just for registered players?

It’s absolutely open to the public and anyone can come out to watch or participate in it. To sign up as a team they just need to go to our website, www.bva.bm, if they want to play in a team of two or four. We’re hoping to get as many people as possible to participate because that helps drive our numbers and overall contribution to the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre.

What can people look forward to on August 29th?

They can expect fun and music, as well as excellent volleyball. Our sponsor is BGA and in terms of the Coppertone they will have several stations set up — one with different types of sunscreen then another hydration station that features coconut water and things like that. We are right on Horseshoe Bay so there is easy access to the water and the beach, as well as entertainment in terms of seeing the players engage in competition.

What time should people aim to get there?

Players should be there at 9.30am. The games will start between 10am and 10.30am and continue until around 3pm.

Five years ago Karen Sexton’s father spotted an unusual mole on her back.

He encouraged her to get it removed, never thinking that it might be cancerous.

“He just thought it looked funny,” the 33-year-old said. “I also thought it was just an ordinary mole because I had it for years and years. Then when the doctor removed it and had it tested I found out it was melanoma.

“It was a shock. You don’t expect at that young an age you’re going to hear the word ‘cancer’.”

She was spared from chemotherapy and radiation, but needed three surgeries.

After months out of work and on bed rest she was finally given the all-clear. And then last year she got some more scary news.

“I had a mole that I didn’t like again,” she said.

“They took a sample and the test came back that it was melanistic, which is a precursor that develops into melanoma.

“Now my big fear is what if I don’t catch it or see it in time?”

Mrs Sexton spoke with The Royal Gazette in an effort to bring more awareness to Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre’s SunSmart programme.

The scheme teaches young people how to protect their skin from the sun’s rays; studies show a majority of skin damage occurs before a person’s eighteenth birthday.

Mrs Sexton grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil where “it was sunny all year round”.

“It was part of our culture in Brazil to go to the pool and I would go there every weekend to sunbathe and during holidays we would go to the beach,” she said.

Her mother covered her with sunscreen as a child, but once she reached her teens she wasn’t as vigilant.

“I was a lot less careful about it and wanted to have a tan, so I did some very silly things,” she said.

Mrs Sexton now wears a sunscreen with SPF 50, which she applies every three hours. She also wears sunshirts and hats for added protection.

Despite her own scares, she doesn’t believe people should live in fear of getting skin cancer.

“There’s some degree of chance that you might have the genes for it but you [can limit the impact] by applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and finding shade. It’s important you do that,” she said.

“Just by doing those things you might be giving yourself more years. I’m so grateful I caught it when I did in 2008.”

Her diagnosis has taught her to appreciate life more, she said.

“There is so much in life — like getting married and becoming a mother — that I would’ve missed out on. I don’t worry about the small things any more. I’m so much more aware of what’s important to me. That’s one of the reasons why I support Bermuda Cancer and Health Center and take part in the Relay for Life because if it weren’t for research and diagnostic technology I wouldn’t be here now.”

The Bermuda Volleyball Association will hold a tournament at Horseshoe Bay on August 29. Funds raised will go towards the SunSmart initiative.

See sidebar for tournament details.

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Published Aug 12, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 13, 2015 at 9:55 am)

Key life lessons from skin cancer battle

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