Thriving As A Skin Cancer Survivor
- Bollywood and Broadway star Hugh Jackman is a six-time skin cancer survivor. He’s also starring in The Music Man on Broadway – a show that was just nominated for six Tony Awards including “Best Revival of a Musical.”
- We can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, no matter the weather or temperature. Our experts recommend skin protection techniques like sunscreen usage all year round.
- No matter how vigilant you are about wearing sunscreen and decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
- A cancer diagnosis can change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Jackman, you can thrive as a survivor.
In honor of skin cancer awareness month, we’d like to highlight Jackman for currently starring in a Broadway musical, The Music Man, that was just nominated for six Tony Awards including “Best Revival of a Musical.”
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In a recent post to his Instagram story, the NYC-based performer married to fellow Australian actor Deborra-Lee Furness, 66, shared his thoughts of gratitude after the nominations.
“To be a part of the return to Broadway is a great privilege,” he wrote. “The vast amount of talent putting on 8 shows a week is inspiring.”
He then went on to address how much talent and hard work has gone into The Music Man and thank everyone else in the “extraordinary cast, crew and creative team” for making the show such a success.
“After 2 years of virtual darkness, Broadway is back, bright and ready to celebrate at @thetonyawards. HJ,” he wrote.
Understanding Hugh Jackman’s Disease: Skin Cancer
Jackman was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2013, and it just kept coming back.
“It’s always a bit of a shock just hearing the word cancer,” he previously told PEOPLE adding that his doctor has said he would likely have more diagnoses. “Being an Australian it’s a very common thing. I never wore sunscreen growing up so I was a prime candidate for it.”
Thankfully, the Wolverine actor has used each diagnosis as an opportunity to educate about the disease and advocate for skin protection and skin checks.
“Go and get a check and wear sunscreen,” he said in a video urging people to protect their skin. “Don’t be like me as a kid, just wear sunscreen… Don’t think it can’t happen to you.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, making it the most common cancer in the United States. And even though people tend to focus on skin protection during the warm summer months, it’s important to remember that the risk of developing skin cancer is very much still there all year long.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously told SurvivorNet. “People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine. But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
Additionally, it’s important to remember that skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body. It is more common for many skin cancers to occur on places that get more sun like the face, head, neck and arms, but skin cancers can even occur on places like on the bottoms of your feet, on your genitals and inside your mouth.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dermatologist Dr. Snehal Amin, the co-founder and surgical director of MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, says skin cancer doesn’t require sun exposure.
“A lot of skin cancers occur in places that are not sun exposed,” Dr. Amin said. “A lot of skin cancers are actually genetically triggered. About a third of skin cancers occur in non-sun-exposed areas.”
He also says it’s important to consider the body in its entirety when looking for signs of skin cancer.
“It’s important to check the whole body, scalp, torso, legs, underwear area, everywhere,” he said. “It’s important to stand in front of a mirror, and hold a hand-held mirror, so you can check all the different parts of your body.”
Trying to Avoid Skin Cancer
Dr. Engelman previously spoke with SurvivorNet about how to best reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Here are her top five ways to try to avoid the disease:
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
No matter how vigilant you are about decreasing your risk for skin cancer, its important to still prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
Thriving as a Cancer Survivor
A cancer diagnosis, or multiple diagnoses, can change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Jackman, you can thrive on the other side of treatment.
Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”