WEST BRANCH, Iowa-- The melanoma rates in the U.S. have been on the rise for at least the past 30 years. Sun exposure and tanning beds are the leading causes. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 77,000 will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and more than 9,000 will die from it. Iowans are among those most at risk.
The rate of melanoma diagnosis and death in Iowa is higher than the national average according to the CDC. In their most recent numbers from 2009, there were more than 17,000 Iowans with melanoma. That's 12th in the nation, when factoring in population. That same year 114 died from the disease, the 10th highest death rate in the country.
One Iowa woman is on a very personal mission to lower those statistics.
Mark Menard, a senior chief in the navy was celebrating fourth of July with his family when the doctor called, telling him he had melanoma. He was 37.
"He had a mole on his abdomen that started to change and grow... From the time it started to change in January to when it was removed in July it was stage three," said Molly Menard, Mark's Wife.
The melanoma had spread to Mark's lymphnodes, Mark's wife Molly watched as melanoma took a toll on her husband's body.
"It was physically draining. Doctors appointments, blood work, treatments, scans, that was hard. That was hard," said Menard.
Four years later, in 2011, Mark lost his battle against the disease.
But, melanoma isn't always a death sentence. Dr John Vander Zee Medical director of the melanoma clinic at Nassif Community Cancer Center says melanoma is 100 percent curable, when caught early.
"Early detection, early treatment is key to ensuring survival. The sooner we find it, the sooner we take care of it the better the chance for a successful outcome," said Dr. Vander Zee.
The warning signs are easy to spot, if you know your body.
"Signs include any changes in a mole, size shape, color, any bleeding in a mole is a sign you need to get with your regular doctor or dermatologist," said Dr. Vander Zee.
Molly believes early detection could have saved her husband.
Which is why, for the second year now she has gathered together dermatologists from throughout the Corridor willing to volunteer their time and offer free skin cancer screenings.
"I promised Mark I'm not going to quit fighting, he didn't want to quit he just ran out of time," said Menard.
While it's too late to save Mark, Molly hopes spreading the message of early detection may help save the lives of others.
Molly's Free Skin Cancer Screening in honor of her husband Mark will be held October 5th from 10 to 4 at West Branch Family Practice.
West Branch Family Practice
206 Cookson Dr.
West Branch, Iowa