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Published on May 15, 2017

A run for fun and a legacy of hopeA run for fun and a legacy of hope

glenna kohl

Glenna Kohl

Courtney Caulfield and Glenna Kohl met as freshman at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., and became close friends and roommates before graduating in 2005. They will be reunited again in spirit when Caulfield runs in the Piggy Trot Road Race on May 21 at Dowses Beach in Osterville for the benefit of the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope.

Kohl was a lifelong resident of Marstons Mills, a Town of Barnstable lifeguard and swim instructor at Dowses Beach. She was only 26 when she died in 2008, after a four-year battle with melanoma. The skin disease is the second most common form of cancer for women age 15-29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and May is Melanoma Awareness Month.

Proceeds from the 8th annual Piggy Trot will help fund research, increase knowledge of the dangerous effects of overexposure to sunlight and tanning, and help support patients and families affected by melanoma.

The Kohl Fund’s Shade the Cape initiative, in cooperation with the Cape Cod Healthcare Community Benefits Program, also provides sunscreen dispensers for Cape Cod beaches and sun protection canopies for lifeguard chairs.

Falmouth surgeon Peter Hopewood, MD, of Cape Cod Surgeons, is a cancer care specialist. He said it’s much easier to prevent skin cancer than it is to treat it.

“Or, as we tell our kids, it’s easier to stay out of trouble than get out of trouble,” said Dr. Hopewood.

A Love of Tanning

Caulfield, the Awareness Initiative Director of the Kohl Fund, has honored her friend by running in the 3.7-mile event every year since its inception. Glenna was a healthy and active 22-year-old senior at Salve Regina when she noticed a lump on her thigh she first thought was a sports injury. It was, in fact, stage III melanoma, the most serious of three skin cancers (the others are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma).

Glenna Kohl Race 2014

Piggy Trot 2014

Kohl underwent surgery, radiation treatment and other therapies, including volunteering for clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. However, the melanoma spread and progressed. She fought valiantly and spoke publicly about the dangers of sun exposure and indoor tanning until her passing.

Like a lot of young women, Kohl believed a bronzed, tanned look made her more attractive. Her mother, Colleen, told Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2009 that her daughter began going to tanning salons when she was 16 and continued through college. That intense exposure, along with hours in the summer sun as a lifeguard, made her much more susceptible.

“As health-conscious as Glenna was, she didn’t connect tanning with skin cancer,” her mother told Cosmopolitan.

Glenna Kohl Race 2012

Piggy Trot 2012

In 2016, Massachusetts Gov. signed legislation into law banning anyone under the age of 18 from being treated in a tanning facility.

Dr. Hopewood said new data shows young women in their teens and 20s have a higher incidence of skin disease than men of the same age because of their desire for tanning. However, older men are more likely to be diagnosed because of their exposure during outdoor recreational activities and jobs such as landscaping.

“Glenna was only 22 when diagnosed,” said Caulfield. “You just don’t think about cancer at that age, but we know now it can happen, especially with tanning and sun exposure. She wanted to share her story and take a negative and turn it into a positive. That’s her legacy. I coach girls hockey and talk about Glenna to my players. They can relate and I can tell it’s getting through. I know it’s made a difference.”

Early Recognition Crucial

Recognition and early detection is critical to melanoma treatment, said Dr. Hopewood. He recommends the ABCDE method for detection:

  • A for asymmetry. One half of the lesion doesn’t match the appearance of the other half.
  • B for border irregularity. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C for color. The color is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Dashes of red, white and blue add to a mottled appearance.
  • D for diameter. The size of the mole shouldn’t be larger than a pencil eraser head.
  • E for evolution. There is a change in the size, shape, symptoms (itching or tenderness), surface (especially bleeding), or color of a mole.

Dr. Hopewood’s tips for protection from skin cancer include:

  • Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15; apply one hour before sun exposure to let it absorb; reapply every two hours or after swimming.
  • Avoid being in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hottest time of the day when the Ultraviolet (UV) Index is high.
  • Monitor the UV Index scale, which is zero to 11-plus. When the UV index is high (6 and above), wear clothing that provides additional protection to exposed areas (arms, shoulders, neck) and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face.
  • Wear wrap-around UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Seek shade under a beach tent or umbrella.

Dr. Hopewood will talk about these and other skin cancer facts with WCAI journalist Mindy Todd on her show “The Point” on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 9 a.m.

While Caulfield looks forward to the Piggy Trot race every year, she admits it’s bittersweet because of the loss of her friend.

“It’s a fun reunion at Dowses, a place Glenna loved,” said Caulfield. “I think about her when I’m out there running the course. There’s this hill, not a big one, but it’s near the end and so you feel it. Then I remember Glenna and her favorite song — Hey Ya, by OutKast — and all that she went through. She was so positive she would beat cancer that you had to be optimistic, too. She was a fighter and was doing anything and everything to get better. She gave us all of us hope and her attitude was so good.

“That helps me get to the finish line,” said Caulfield.

All images courtesy of the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope.