Georgetown —An auditorium full of Georgetown teens gathered on Monday morning to hear a very important message. Their guest was melanoma survivor Kelli Pedroia, a slim brunette not that far out of her teens herself.Facing the packed audience, Pedroia introduced herself.“My name is Kelli Pedroia. Yes, my last name may sound familiar to you,” she said. “My husband is Dustin Pedroia, the second baseman for the Red Sox.”This drew a wave of cheers and applause from the teens.
Saying that this appearance was not about the Red Sox, Pedroia asked the teens to raise their hands if over the summer they sunbathed without skin protection or went to a tanning bed. After a pause, during which the teens were looking around the auditorium at each other, a small number of hands went up.“Congratulations for raising your hands,” said Pedroia. “You are not alone. Just a few short years ago I was your age … I had always loved the sun and loved the feeling of being tan. When I was a sophomore in high school I went to a tanning salon for the first time. It was to be the first time of many …
The summer before my senior year a big group of my friends and I worked at an outdoor water park so we could achieve the best tan possible. I graduated high school in 2001 and thought that everything was perfect.
”Kelli said her family went to the Caribbean on vacation during her spring break in her freshman year of college.“I came home with the best tan of anyone! Only using oil, not even thinking of the consequences that would haunt me a few months down the road.
”At a routine doctor’s visit a few months later, she told the doctor that a mole on her right thigh had become asymmetrical, raised, and red around the edges — three red flags for melanoma. A week after the mole was cut off, the doctor called the family in to her office.“June 11, 2002 is a day I will never forget,” said Pedroia.
“She told me my results came back positive for melanoma … I quickly learned that melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. At the young age of 18 I was the youngest patient my doctor had ever seen with it.”Kelli had a chunk the size of a large egg taken out of her right thigh and lymph nodes take out of her groin to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. The results showed the cancer had not spread, and thanks to the operation, was now gone.
“I was young and thought I was invincible and it would never come back,” said Pedroia. “Guess what? I was wrong.
After continuing to lie out in the sun, two years later the cancer came back. I had to have more skin cut out … yet another scar to add to my growing list — all for a desire to have a tan. A year after that I had to have more skin cancer removed from my neck.“Now, four bad scars later, I have finally learned a lesson the hard way.
Not a single one of those scars was worth my desire to follow what everyone else was doing and have a tan.”Pedroia is now cancer free and plans on staying that way. She warned the teens to apply sunscreen before going outside.“Many people, including my husband, spend several hours outside a day … Before a day game or during the hot days of spring training Dustin makes sure to apply sunscreen to protect himself from the bad UVA and UVB rays.
Applying sunscreen takes less than two minutes, and trust me it is worth the time.”She told the teens to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours. Protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, a hat and sunglasses, are important, and people should try to avoid the peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“The statistics of the age at which skin cancer and melanoma arise are alarming and getting younger and younger,” said Pedroia.A handout from the Melanoma Foundation shows scary statistics about tanning and melanoma, which is now the fastest growing cancer in the United States.
One person dies each hour from melanoma, and using tanning beds before the age of 35 increases one’ s risk of getting melanoma by 75 percent. Over one million people use tanning beds on any given day and many of them are teenagers.
Deb Girard, executive director of the Melanoma Foundation of New England, said people concerned about vitamin D levels can get the vitamin from five to 10 minutes of sun during daily outside activities or from supplements.“People should talk to their doctors about vitamin D levels, and take a supplement,” said Girard. “If you must be tan, use a self-tanning product.”