IMPACT Melanoma is excited for the 2023 Melanoma Awareness Month campaign, “Serve Your Skin,” – a collaborative, nationwide tennis tournament. Did you know May is also National Tennis Month, too? The tournament will take place at college and universities nationwide with student participants who share a passion for our cause – to spread awareness and prevention initiatives with regard to the incidences of melanoma around the United States, and, with our lead, the world.
The idea for this tournament came from M.D. Candidate Georgina Sellyn from Vanderbilt University and Sarah Millan, Resident at George Washington University, both with a passion for tennis and educating their communities on skin health safety on and off the court. We’re very excited to be hosting this brand-new campaign alongside Georgina and Sarah, so please join us in welcoming them to the IMPACT Melanoma Serve Your Skin Team!
Tell us a little bit more about your background. What made you interested in skin cancer prevention, specifically in athletes?
Georgina: I was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved to Florida when I was 16. I played on the International Tennis Federation circuit, where I traveled to several continents to compete in tennis tournaments and earn an international Junior ranking. I was later recruited to play on the Vanderbilt Women’s tennis team, where I competed for five years. Playing for many years out in the sun, I did not protect my skin well and was naïve to the long-term consequences and dangers of my cumulative sun exposure. Later in my career, I learned of other tennis players requiring skin cancer removals, and as my passion for dermatology developed in medical school, I became more aware of these dangerous consequences; this is where my commitment to skin cancer prevention was born. I want to bring awareness to the risks of sun exposure, and the necessity of proper skin protection to hopefully impact the lives and skin health of current and future athletes and recreational players.
Sarah: I was born in Miami, FL after my parents emigrated from Colombia, South America. I barely lived there before starting a journey of moves that included Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, and then back to Tennessee for college, where I attended Vanderbilt University. There, I met Georgina and my fiancé Anton who both played for the Vanderbilt Tennis team. I was very familiar with tennis as my dad played it religiously growing up. I would jokingly tell Georgina and Anton to wear sunscreen, but it was not until I discovered the field of dermatology during my time in medical school at George Washington that I realized this was no joke. During medical school, my mom was diagnosed with melanoma, and after years of hearing that my Colombian background offered innate protection from the sun, I was shocked. Despite living in so many places, I always found comfort and familiarity in outdoor sports. I realized that I needed to prioritize sun safety, and I wanted my loved ones who are athletes spending endless hours in the sun, to do the same. I will be starting my dermatology residency at MedStar/ Georgetown this summer, and I’m excited to use my training to further my passion around delivering skin cancer and skin disease education to others so that they feel empowered to make their own health decisions. Many people, especially children, look up to athletes as role models, and I believe that educating athletes on skin cancer prevention can not only have an immediate effect in the tennis community but also an indirect effect on youth everywhere.
How did you learn about IMPACT Melanoma?
Georgina: I learned about IMPACT Melanoma through Sarah. I had told her that I am very interested in dermatology and skin cancer prevention, and I’m very grateful that she connected me with the wonderful team at IMPACT Melanoma. Our collaboration together is where the idea of our Serve Your Skin campaign blossomed.
Sarah: I first reached out to IMPACT Melanoma as a third-year medical student when I started an organization called Learn2Derm. I was not sure what to expect, but my idea for Learn2Derm was welcomed by more support than I could have ever imagined. Ever since then, I have been working closely with IMPACT Melanoma to help bring skin cancer education and general skin care knowledge to communities with limited access to dermatologic care and to communities at high risk of skin cancer and skin disease.
What are your hopes for the Serve Your Skin event?
Georgina: My hopes are to unite the tennis community around skin cancer prevention and raise awareness of the risks of unprotected sun exposure. We hope to also provide education about skin cancer and prevention strategies, as well as resources for players as they reflect on their own skincare practices. I would love to be able to effect change in the skin protection practices of local communities in hopes of lowering their risk of future skin cancers as they continue to enjoy outdoor sports. The tennis community has been very impactful in my life; therefore, it would be very meaningful to me if I was able to contribute to positive change in the community.
I hope our national initiative will reach people from a variety of resources and backgrounds to inspire reflection and positive change, while also helping facilitate the engagement of dermatology students within their local community during our annual Serve Your Skin initiative.
Sarah: Skin cancer is one of the most common malignancies in the world, yet it is also one of the most preventable. My hopes are to bring awareness of the risk factors that increase one’s chances of skin cancer among the tennis community, most importantly – unprotected sun exposure. Many people do not realize that the risk of skin cancer is cumulative, unprotected sun exposure over a lifetime. I hope Serve Your Skin motivates athletes of all levels and backgrounds to wear sunscreen and take precautions when playing outdoors. I hope this event will have a lasting impact on the tennis community and that those participating in Serve Your Skin will share what they learn. Tennis is a lifetime sport so why not try to promote sun safety behaviors and prevent the long-term consequences of unprotected sun exposure? It would be wonderful to have the Serve Your Skin tournament become an annual event that can be hosted by others around the country.
How do you like to prepare for a tennis match with sun safety in mind? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with fellow athletes?
Georgina: When I was competing in tennis, I did not take adequate care of my skin. Now, I notice the effects of my unprotected sun exposure and wish I had the knowledge and awareness to protect myself as a younger athlete. When I play tennis outside now, I always wear long sleeves and a hat while reapplying sunscreen throughout my session. I would recommend wearing UPF 50 material long-sleeves as they do not feel too hot, yet help protect your shoulders and arms. I would also remind players to apply sunscreen to the tops of their ears and the back of their hands – areas that can often be forgotten. Finally, remember to reapply! It can be difficult in tennis with the combination of sweat and wiping your face with a towel, but try your best to reapply, as it will be worth it in the long run.
As a physician, what advice would you give tennis players to prepare for a tennis match or tennis practice with sun safety in mind?
Sarah: In medicine, primary prevention, meaning preventing disease (in this case, skin cancer) before it develops, is always preferred. Before going outside, I recommend checking the ultraviolet index (UVI) on your phone’s weather app. The higher the UVI, the greater the risk of sun-induced damage to your skin and eyes and the faster this takes to occur. The UVI is usually highest between 10 am and 4 pm. Although wearing sunscreen is crucial, sunscreen alone does not offer full protection, especially when the UV index is very high. I highly encourage using UPF 50 fabric arm sleeves and clothing, wearing hats and sunglasses, applying SPF lip balm, and remembering to reapply sunscreen every 1.5-2 hours. UV-blocking sunglasses are important because they have been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts, which many people do not realize. Sometimes, the UVI may be so high that you should avoid being outdoors altogether. A quick tip is to look at your shadow. The shorter your shadow, the higher the levels of UV radiation. If your shadow is taller than you, then the level of UV exposure is likely to be lower.
If you are someone who has already had years of cumulative unprotected sun exposure or if you have already been told you have a suspicious mole or just have many moles in general, then secondary prevention also plays an important role. This involves early detection and treatment of lesions/moles that are or could be cancerous. Make sure you see a dermatologist if you have multiple moles or notice a change in the appearance of any pre-existing mole.
What sort of impact will this event leave on your direct community?
Georgina: I hope our initiative will impact my local community, which I still interact with often, by encouraging them to prioritize their skin health and learn about the warning signs of skin cancer. I want to be able to provide education and resources to young athletes who may be unaware, like I was, of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and methods to better protect themselves.