-Painting by Jason Botkin http://www.jasonbotkin.com/

I attended medical school at the University of Manitoba, two years behind my husband. If we were lucky enough to have time off on a Saturday morning, we would turn on CBC Radio 2, and the voice of Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Café Radio show would fill our home. The smell of bacon, eggs and happiness filled the air. Stuart quoted E.B Whyte and said, “Humor can take you to the place where laughter meets tears.” His stories would always deliver on this point. Canadian musicians featured on the show, stories of Dave and his family, and the clever letters written in by Canadians, became a regular part of our life and our home. This was our time together, without books and medical wards, and a looming list of things to do.

When I moved alone to Toronto in 2010 for dermatology residency, leaving my new husband behind, just the sound of Stuart’s voice instantly brought me back to the smell of bacon and eggs and the feel of warmth and happiness of my husband at my side. I had a hard time listening to the show for the three years I lived alone in Toronto. It made me miss my husband so much it ruined the taste of breakfast.

Luckily, a new wonderful family in Toronto was formed, composed of other medical residents from my home town. We started our own tradition, attending Stuart McLean’s Annual Vinyl Café Christmas Concert together at the Sony Centre each December.

It might sound silly, but Stuart McLean and the joy his program brought, came to me at a difficult time in my life, when I was very alone. His voice brought me comfort like an old warm coat, and I cherished every episode.

In November 2015, the exact month I opened my own dermatology practice to patients, it was revealed that Stuart McLean had been diagnosed with melanoma. He died, not even a year and half later, at the age of 68. This lethal skin cancer that is at the core of all things dermatology, had taken away a beloved Canadian icon. My Canadian icon. Stuart would always wrap up a Vinyl Café story with his famous closing line, “We may not be big, but we’re small.” At that time when I learned of his diagnosis, while eagerly embarking on my career, I fully felt what those words meant.

I cried when I learned Stuart died. A feeling of loss for a close friend I had never known. The timing of his death was immensely powerful to me as I started my own dermatology practice. He had provided such warmth in my life, dying from a cancer that I was equipped to identify and prevent another of dying from. It made me terrified.  And very determined.

I see skin cancer every day that I go to work. In recent weeks, I have diagnosed 5 cases of melanoma. Every time, I think of Stuart.

Monday, May 13th is World Melanoma Day. The second Monday in May is recognized across the world to highlight the growing prevalence of malignant melanoma

In 2016, 6,800 Canadians were diagnosed with melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. 1200 of those diagnosed will not survive.

The good news is, that if detected and treated early, the outcome can be excellent.

The Melanoma Network of Canada describes the ABCDE signs to look for when checking your skin, and when to seek care from a dermatologist.

Asymmetry — the shape of one half of a mole on the skin doesn’t match the other.
Border — edges are normally smooth ovals or circles, not jagged or irregular.
Colour — instead of a uniform brown, black or tan, a mix of brown, salmon colour, white and black is something to be concerned about.
Diameter — watch for a mole over 6 mm or ¼ inch in diameter or changes in size.
Evolution — changes in size, shape, colour, surface or appearance are especially important to watch.

Other types of non-melanoma skin cancers can arise on the skin. If you notice a new, growing, changing or painful bump, especially if it is bleeding or ulcerated, see your dermatologist.

But get this. Skin cancer is largely preventable. We know there is a direct relationship from UV exposure from the sun, and the development of skin cancer.

So protect your skin from the sun. Lower your risk of skin cancer.

As a bonus, you decrease other unwanted side effects from UV radiation such as wrinkles, sun spots, redness and overall age-related changes.

Stay out of the direct sun at the peak of the day between 10:00 and 2:00.

Wear a hat with a broad brim that covers your ears and neck.

Choose sun protective clothing with a UPF rating.

And find yourself a sunscreen that you love and wear it every day. Look for Broad Spectrum on the label and aim for an SPF greater than 30.

Reapply every 2 hours.

We can help you navigate your choices for sun protection and optimal skin health.

For more information, check out the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation website

If you have 20 minutes and some Kleenex, here is a link to my favorite Vinyl Café Story, “Love Never Ends”.

In the words of Stuart McLean, “We may not be big, but we’re small”.