Opinion: Oncology nurses should know which celebrities are raising cancer awareness
Teddy Mellenkamp, celebrity known for her looks on The Real Housewives of Beverly HillsShe is currently battling stage 2 skin cancer. She discovered this on her examination 3 months after her initial melanoma surgery. For now, Mellencamp is using its popular platform to stress the importance of going back for checkups as instructed by your doctor to do so.1
I live in Florida which is ranked second in the country for new cases of skin cancer.2 In 2018, 7,940 cases of skin cancer were diagnosed in Florida, and it is estimated that nearly 1 in 10 Florida residents will receive a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Although I have seen many cases of metastatic skin cancer in the hospital where I work, awareness of skin cancer should extend beyond Florida. It is a common disease affecting individuals across the country.
In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 99,780 new cases of skin cancer and about 7,650 are expected to be fatal.3
At a minimum, tests are required for 3 months after the initial diagnosis, which is why Mellencamp went back to the dermatologist. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends physical and skin exams every 3 to 6 months for the first 2 to 3 years after surgery and annually thereafter.4 For some patients, a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and/or PET-CT scan may also be recommended.
Mellencamp originally received a diagnosis of stage 0 melanoma, also known as in situ, in March 2022. This was not her first scan for 3 months, and during the last appointment new discoveries were made near the original site. In addition, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan revealed 1 lymph node involvement. At the time of writing, she was currently scheduled to receive a genetic test.
Mellencamp has a massive following on Instagram of 1 million fans and posts her photos and updates about her treatment plan. She hopes that other patients with skin cancer will take the lead and get back to the doctor in time. Often, in a hospital setting, patients become what is known as “getting lost in follow-up”. I’ve seen this more times than I can count. For RNs and social workers, the risk that patients will not return to their oncologist or primary care physician for subsequent checkups or checkups is a serious reality. Patient education and discharge instructions are something we all know and cannot be stressed enough for patients.
Celebrities can be huge in raising awareness. For example, celebrity shows like Stand Up To Cancer have a huge impact.6 Every two years, the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) campaign produces a special televised fundraising program that supports urgently needed research and new cancer treatments. The last program aired in 2021 during the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The program highlighted all the research this organization has done in the past decade and featured performances by famous Hollywood stars. The show is produced by Reese Witherspoon and her husband Jim Toth, who is also a talent agent. The program also presented the stories of survivors. The mission statement of this program is “Cooperative, interdisciplinary, multi-institutional scientific research.”
Working on the tumor surgery floors at night, I often see patients watching TV and movies all night in between taking pain medications. I think RNs who work in oncology should have an awareness of the importance of everyday heroes like our favorite TV and movie stars who are cancer survivors. I know that nurses and social workers relax with things other than journals, and this is a good opportunity to mix 2.
- McCarthy A. I feel blessed! “ROBH” star Teddy Mellencamp, 40, is celebrating the “good news” after her terrifying close contact with cancer. Survivornet. March 24, 2022. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3fxWo9j
- Skin cancer by state: Florida. Aim at the Melanoma Foundation. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/2DWf3mc
- Key statistics of melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3Nw0D1H
- Melanoma: follow-up care. Cancer.net. December 2021. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3zGYBGc
- which we do. Stand up to cancer. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3NAjPLz
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