This Friday, I took a trip with Jenny Noblet, Executive Officer of the Hunter Melanoma Foundation, to visit the kids and teachers at Cave’s Beach Primary School. Visiting schools has long been a part of Jenny’s day to day life. As founder of the HMF, she believes the most important thing we can do to reduce the risk of melanoma is to prevent sun damage from happening at all, especially during the early years of life. Although some melanomas aren’t attributable to sun damage, it’s a major risk factor.
“If I do my job properly, Chloe will be out of work! It’s her job to try and work out the best ways to help people who are already sick,” she explains to the kids.
To Jenny, every day is melanoma awareness day. She emphasizes this to the children; that even though they might only think about sun safety in the summer, Australians really need to be practicing sun safety all year round.
While Jenny’s talk to the younger kids focused on all the ways they can keep their skin safe (and the teachers appreciated the enforcement of school uniform rules!), her manner somewhat changed gear when it came to addressing the older children. She spoke to them quite openly about the risks you are exposing yourself too when you don’t take sun safety seriously. Every time she uttered the word “cancer,” I winced. But the kids were just keen to learn more.
I found it strange that they were actually surprised to learn that Australia and NZ have the highest melanoma incidence in the world. As a melanoma researcher, I get pretty accustomed to telling people this, so it’s been common knowledge to me for a while! The particularly high incidence of melanoma here can be attributed to a couple of factors.
Firstly, many Australians have northern European heritage, and so their skin is not as well designed to deal with the high UV levels we experience here. It doesn’t help so much either that Australians love the outdoors, which obviously increases the likelihood for UV exposure. As Jenny told the kids (and taught them a new word), while people from other warm countries in the Northern Hemisphere may have a siesta in the hottest part of the day, that’s when we’re out playing cricket, swimming and having a BBQ.
There’s another reason why educating children is so important. We all know how much punch pester-power can have, and so by educating young people, we can hope that they disseminate the message to their family too…
-Slip on a shirt
-Slop on some sunscreen
-Slap on a hat
-Slide on some sunnies
-…and remember to put on a pair of pants (thanks to an enthusiastic second grader for that addition.)