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Published on May 27, 2016

Group warns: Don’t pay the price for fun in the sunglenna_slide

It seemed like life was just beginning for Glenna Kohl, an attractive  young Barnstable lifeguard, nicknamed “Piggy” because of her snort-like laugh, when she graduated from Salve Regina in 2005.

But soon after her graduation, doctors discovered that a lump on her thigh wasn’t a sports injury. It was stage three melanoma.

Over the next few years, she underwent surgery and radiation and volunteered for clinical trials. But in November 2008, Kohl died at 26, leaving behind a large group of mourning family members and friends.

“She was one of those friends that was at the center of the buzz. Everyone adored her,” said Barbara Burbank, whose daughter, Kelle, became friends with Glenna when they were 3 and met in pre-school.

In her memory, relatives and friends founded the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope. The group’s mission is increasing awareness about the importance of early detection and prevention of melanoma, and supporting those fighting this deadly disease.

“Our vision is to have a world where melanoma takes no lives. That’s our goal,” said Burbank.

The Glenna Kohl Fund has a three-pronged approach, according to Burbank.

One part is education and outreach, helping to let people know that while melanoma is dangerous, due to its tendency to spread to other parts of the body, it can be prevented and can be addressed at an early stage with good results.

According to the American Cancer Society, “melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30, especially younger women.”

“All the research is suggesting that it’s a result of tanning bed use and unprotected activities in the sun,” said Burbank. “Melanoma hits all communities, all races, all income groups, all ages. We’re trying to spread awareness about melanoma to everyone on the Cape and let them know about the dangers associated with unsafe sun exposure and tanning bed practices.”

Another goal for the organization is to support research on melanoma treatments by dedicating a portion of its fundraising efforts to a research fund at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The third focus is prevention, which includes providing 33 lifeguard canopies at Cape Cod beaches, along with one 20-foot-wide umbrella canopy for the public at Bass River Beach in South Yarmouth. Kohl spent five summers working as a lifeguard, working her way up to head lifeguard at Dowses Beach in Osterville. But she didn’t realize that her full-time job in the sun was increasing her risk of melanoma.

“As health conscious as Glenna was, she didn’t connect tanning with skin cancer,” Glenna’s mother Colleen Kohl told Cosmopolitan magazine in October 2009.

The group also has distributed 68 sunscreen dispensers to Cape Cod beaches, a project that was supported  with a grant from Cape Cod Healthcare.

“The Glenna Kohl Fund has done an incredible job turning a tragedy into an opportunity to educate the public about this devastating disease,” said Lisa Guyon, director of Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program. “They are committed to using effective strategies for reaching visitors and residents.”

The group’s fundraising efforts include the annual Piggy Trot every May in Osterville. After hosting the high-end Angel’s Masquerade Ball for several years, the group has a new event this year, the Piggy Roast on Oct. 1 at Flax Pond in Yarmouth. Burbank said it will be a day of “food, music and fun for the family.”

“Many of our visitors come here because of our beaches and our boating and golfing and other recreational activities that expose them to UV rays,” said Burbank. “It’s important to share information about melanoma and the risks of tanning and being in the sun.

“Through our social media, we’ve recognized that our impact is not just Cape-based, but around the world. We get letters from people in Ireland and Australia telling us that we helped save their lives, getting them to go to a dermatologist and discovering that they have melanoma.

“If we can save one life, why would we ever stop doing what we’re doing?”

[Featured Image courtesy of The Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope]