How do you persuade anyone, much less a young person, that they might be harming themselves with too much sun or too many trips to the tanning salon? How do you communicate the shattering news that the malignant skin cancer with which they've been diagnosed could have been prevented? How do you make it obvious that melanoma can kill?
What does it take to break through the insouciance of youth? How do you communicate what we now know to be true about tobacco, but which has yet been to be understood about UV exposure?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I know that words won’t cut it. There’s nothing any of us can say or write that adequately communicates the ghastly contradiction of being young and having cancer. God knows we’ve tried. But if words fail, then perhaps video with an assist from social media will work. Maybe seeing the scars on young bodies and hearing the stories of people whose lives have been torn asunder by melanoma will help us curb this epidemic of deadly skin cancer.
A new video making the rounds could be the breakthrough we’ve hoped for. Called “Dear 16-year-old me,” the five-minute production was released by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. Cornfield was an accountant in Toronto who died of melanoma at the age of 32. His wife, whose appearance in the video will break your heart, founded the nonprofit to propagate the message that melanoma may well be the most common cancer in young adults, but that it doesn’t have to be. You need to “get to know your skin,” as we’re told by men and women who have learned the hard way.
Uploaded on May 2, “Dear 16-year-old me” has in less than a week been seen by nearly a million people. Less than 1% of YouTube videos go viral like that. The narrative is sobering, but also clever and hopeful. It’s hit a chord with what I presume to be a demographic my children belong to. There’s no preachy message here—just real people who have survived melanoma and who don’t want anyone else to go through what they have.
I wish my 16-year-old me could have heard this message. Heck, I wish my 46-year-old me had. The message is finally getting around that the risk of melanoma can be greatly reduced. This video will help.