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How Worshiping the Sun Put my Life at Risk

By HERWriter
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Stacey Skin Cancer Courtesy of Stacey Hammond

Sponsored By: Genentech

When Stacey Hammond was spending long hours of her time laying out and enjoying the sun, she never dreamed that the result of doing so would be melanoma.

"I had a spot on my face and we just thought it was a zit or something, and at that time it wouldn’t go away, and I didn’t want to mess with it before wedding pictures. After that, I went to the doctor’s office, and that’s when I heard the ‘c’ word — cancer,” Stacey said.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and is caused by skin cells being damaged by UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

Ever since the discovery of the melanoma, Stacey has had numerous other cancerous spots appear on her skin. These new cancerous lesions were called basal cell carcinoma, a different and very common type of skin cancer. Nearly 3.5 million people are thought to be living with this type of skin cancer. Although not as serious as melanoma, if left untreated, this type of skin cancer can be very disfiguring.

Stacey remembers how emotional it was to have the basal cell carcinomas burned and frozen off of her skin. During one visit with the dermatologist, there were a total of 15 different spots on Stacey’s body that the doctor removed. Stacey and her dermatologist decided she was no longer eligible for surgery or radiation because of the disfiguring nature of surgery and the location of the lesions.

Together they decided she would try Erivedge, which is a medicine used to treat people with advanced forms of basal cell carcinoma that have spread to other parts of the body, has come back after surgery or cannot be treated with surgery or radiation. It is important for men and women who are considering Erivedge to talk to their doctor about the risks of the medicine and precautions to take before use because the medicine is associated with certain side effects and can cause a baby to die before it is born (be stillborn) or to have severe birth defects.

“I researched the medicine myself after my dermatologists suggested it, and the three most common side effects were loss of taste, muscle cramping and hair loss. I contacted the company hotline and a nurse walked me through it. I did talk to my husband, because it was very expensive and it worked out with the insurance,” Stacey said.

Stacey stayed on the medicine for three months, and during that time she only experienced the side effect associated with loss of taste. Once she stopped the pills, however, she began to experience severe cramping and hair loss.

“Going into it, I thought it wasn’t going to be that bad, but once I got off the pill I lost a lot of hair. If I could do it again, I would. It took 65 percent of the spots away, my taste is coming back, but the hair loss was very emotional,” Stacey said.

Stacey coped with her hair loss by visiting a cancer service center, which provided her with headscarves and a couple of different wigs. She also visited with a beautician, who helped her find a wig that fit her personality and style. However, Stacey had trouble finding anything that made her look the way she did pre-cancer and opted to stick with the headscarves.

When Stacey thinks back to finding out she had cancer, she still remembers the astonishment and dread she felt when she talked to her dermatologist.

“I was in shock. I had a flashback to my parents telling me, ‘you shouldn’t lie out in the sun.’ Back then, you just didn’t hear about skin cancer at all. For my doctor to tell me that I had skin cancer, I just shut down. I started crying and I stopped hearing everything else,” Stacey said.

After the diagnosis, she also felt that people treated her differently. “Not in a bad way, but people just become more compassionate. They just know that you’re a survivor,” Stacey explained.

The place Stacey has found the most support has been from her family. Her husband and two children have stood by her side and made the best of the situation.

“I couldn’t ask for a better husband. He just knows that it’s been really emotional. It’s been really hard, it can put you through depression and he’s been there for me throughout,” she said.

Stacey’s journey has had a particularly powerful impact on her 19-year-old daughter, who now advocates against the use of tanning beds and warns her friends of the damage caused by too much sun. Skin cancer can be prevented with less time in the sun, better skin protection, and avoiding tanning beds. Approximately 30 million people in the U.S. tan indoors every year, with 2-3 million being teens, the Skin Cancer Foundation said.

One year after the Surgeon General declared skin cancer a public health priority, Stacey herself is encouraging the general public to become more educated about skin cancer.

“It’s the most common cancer and I think people are in denial about that. They continue to lie in tanning booths and sun themselves, not knowing the consequences. In fact, so many teenagers are there when I go to the dermatologist because they end up with skin cancer. We need to listen, we really do,” Stacey said.

“You need to get yourself checked annually, because if you can catch a cancer when it’s small, it’s best. Also, don’t let cancer be your identity. Don’t let it take over you, you have to hold your head up, get a diagnosis soon and look for that support group,” Stacey said.

Erivedge Indication

Erivedge® (vismodegib) is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with a type of skin cancer, called basal cell carcinoma, that has spread to other parts of the body or that has come back after surgery or that a healthcare provider decides cannot be treated with surgery or radiation.

It is not known if Erivedge is safe and effective in children.

Important Safety Information

Erivedge can cause a baby to die before it is born (be stillborn) or cause a baby to have severe birth defects.

For females who can become pregnant:

  • Females who can become pregnant should talk with their healthcare provider about the risks of Erivedge to their unborn child.
  • Their healthcare provider should do a pregnancy test within seven days before the patient starts taking Erivedge to find out if she is pregnant.
  • In order to avoid pregnancy, patients should use birth control during treatment and for seven months after their final dose of Erivedge. Patients should talk with their healthcare provider about what birth control method is right for them during this time.
  • Patients must talk to their healthcare provider right away if they have unprotected sex or if they think that their birth control has failed.
  • Patients must tell their healthcare provider right away if they become pregnant or think that they may be pregnant.

For males:

  • Erivedge is present in semen. Males should not donate semen while they are taking Erivedge for three months after their final dose.
  • Male patients should always use a condom, even if they have had a vasectomy, during sex with female partners who are pregnant or who are able to become pregnant during treatment with Erivedge and for three months after their final dose to protect their female partner from being exposed to Erivedge.
  • Male patients must tell their healthcare provider right away if their partner becomes pregnant or thinks she is pregnant while they are taking Erivedge.

Exposure to Erivedge during pregnancy:

If a patient thinks that they or their female partner may have been exposed to Erivedge during pregnancy, they must talk to their healthcare provider right away. If a patient becomes pregnant during treatment with Erivedge, she or her healthcare provider should report the pregnancy to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.

Before taking Erivedge, patients should tell their healthcare provider:

  • if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
  • if they are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if Erivedge passes into breast milk. Patients should not breastfeed during treatment and for seven months after their final dose of Erivedge. Patients should talk with their healthcare provider about the best way to feed their baby during this time.

Patients should not donate blood or blood products while they are taking Erivedge and for seven months after their final dose.

Possible Side Effects of Erivedge

The most common side effects of Erivedge are: muscle spasms, hair loss, change in how things taste or loss of taste, weight loss, tiredness, nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, constipation, joint pain and vomiting.

Erivedge can also cause absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea) in females who are able to become pregnant. It is not known if amenorrhea is permanent. Patients should talk to their healthcare provider if they have concerns about fertility.

These are not all of the possible side effects of Erivedge. Because everyone is different, it is not possible to predict what side effects any one person will have or how severe they may be. Patients should talk to their doctor for medical advice about side effects.

Report side effects to the FDA at (800) FDA-1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch. Report side effects to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.

Patients should read the Erivedge full Prescribing Information, including serious side effects, and Medication Guide for additional Important Safety Information at www.erivedge.com.


Skin Cancer Facts. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

Melanoma. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma#panel1-5

Reviewed August 4, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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