By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had progressed. Six months of treatments and surgeries couldn’t stop it.
Since her death in 2000, Biggane’s family has focused on bringing attention to skin cancer in hopes of saving another family from the grief it was going through.
Their latest effort with the non-profit Mollie’s Fund is a new initiative that will help screen all patients entering Stony Brook University Hospital for skin cancer.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Mollie Biggane’s familya 20-year-old Garden City woman who died of melanoma in 2000 has spent more than two decades educating people about the dangers of skin cancer with the nonprofit Mollie’s Fund.
- The latest initiative from the non-profit organization is a program to screen all patients entering Stony Brook University Hospital for skin cancer.
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Early detection can lead to successful treatment of the disease.
Skin cancer incidents have reached “epidemic proportions,” says Victoria Siegel, a registered nurse who sits on the medical advisory board of Mollie’s Fund.
Siegel, a professor of nursing at Molloy University, helped develop the screening protocols that will be used at Stony Brook and have been implemented at other Long Island hospitals.
“Nurses are so involved in educating people about healthy behaviors, such as good nutrition and safety for children,” Siegel said. “This is an opportunity to teach them about sun-safe behaviors, check their skin, and see a doctor if they think there’s something wrong with their skin.”
Years of exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds or sunlamps can lead to skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to estimates by the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer each day.
“Skin cancer is responsible for more cancers than all cancers combined,” says Maggie Biggane, Biggane’s mother. “Anyone who has skin can get it, and it’s largely preventable.”
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is highly treatable if caught early.
“Young people never think it will happen to them,” said Maggie Biggane, who founded the nonprofit with Mollie’s father, Jack, and their children, Cara, Julie, and Jack
Screenings can lead to referrals
Maggie Biggane said skin cancer awareness has improved tremendously since Mollie first noticed the unusual mole on the back of her leg.
“It had all the features [of skin cancer]Biggane said. “It bled. Now we know that’s a warning sign.”
With her blond hair and fair skin, Mollie was not a sun worshipper, her mother said. But she captained her tennis team and played travel soccer.
“Did we use sunscreen? Yes. Were we aware of it? Probably not,” Biggane said. “We had an umbrella, but it doesn’t compare to the SPF clothing that parents put on their kids these days.”
Mollie’s Fund works on educational programs, public service announcements and other efforts to remind people to be careful about sun exposure and to always wear sunscreen.
The hospital initiative is a “natural extension” of the screenings nurses do for all new patients, said Carolyn Santora, chief nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital.
“Currently, when patients are hospitalized, nurses do a full skin assessment,” Santora said.
“We look for pressure sores, bruises, rashes and other skin conditions. A natural extension of that skin assessment is to observe moles and talk to the patients about their history, whether they use sunscreen or not, how much sun exposure they’ve had over time, and whether or not they use sunscreen. The risk of skin cancer increases with the amount of unprotected sun exposure over time.”
Santora said nurses will also take the opportunity to explain to patients the importance of protecting themselves from the sun’s rays.
If the nurses see an unusual mole or skin lesion, or if the patient reports a problem, they may be referred to a dermatologist for further examination and possible treatment.
Siegel said people should be mindful of the sun, but not feel like they can’t go outside.
“Be smart about it,” she said. “Cover your skin with clothing, wear a four-inch wide-brimmed hat, wear sunscreen, and never sunbathe.”