GEORGETOWN — As Georgetown middle and high school students realized yesterday, cancer can strike anyone at any time, including members of the Red Sox family.
Kelly Pedroia, wife of Red Sox All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, visited Georgetown High School yesterday to tell her story of being diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, at age 18.
"In high school I loved the sun and the feeling of being tan," Pedroia said. "As a sophomore in high school, I started going to the tanning salons without protection. Senior year I took a job at a water park to work on my tan, and in college I went to the Caribbean with my family for spring break. Two and a half months later, I noticed a mole on my right thigh."
Pedroia, 26, is now cancer-free and has recently joined the Melanoma Foundation to raise awareness about the cancer which is diagnosed in a million and a half people a year. Pedroia is currently working with the foundation to create a new program called, "Skin is In," to raise awareness among teens.
"The mole on my thigh was raised, asymmetrical and had a red ring around it," Pedroia said. "When they told me it was melanoma, I said, 'mela-what?'"
Pedroia underwent surgery to remove an egg-sized area of her thigh but was back out in the sun the next day.
"I thought it would never come back," Pedroia said. "But guess what, it did."
After undergoing a second surgery to remove skin on a portion of her clavicle, Pedroia had more skin taken from her neck.
"I have four bad scars," Pedroia said. "Not a single one of them is worth my desire to have a tan."
Along with Executive Director of the Melanoma Foundation Deb Girard, Pedroia presented her story to students and offered sun safety tips before fielding two questions about her famous husband.
One sixth-grade student dressed in a Pedroia jersey asked what it's like to be married to a famous baseball player. The student noted he is a catcher for his local team.
"Dustin has played baseball his whole life, so to him it's just doing something he loves, he doesn't consider himself famous," Pedroia said. "Keep working hard and wear your sunscreen, and you could be on the Red Sox."
According to the American Cancer society, rates of skin cancer among women ages 20 to 30 have spiked 50 percent over the last decade, while the rate of men getting melanoma has remained the same.
"How many of you have worn sunscreen?" Girard asked a group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. While almost the whole auditorium raised their hands, when asked "how many of you wear sunscreen every day?" only a fraction raised their hands.
"The cool thing is skin cancer is the only cancer you can cure," Girard said, noting it's not just sunscreen that has to be applied but also sun safety techniques such as wearing a long-sleeved shirt and staying in the shade that need to be practiced. "Look at your freckles and moles, be in charge of your skin so you can stay healthy."
Georgetown was chosen to have Pedroia present as part of a partnership between the town and the foundation. The town hosts the Mike Donohoe 5K Road Race each year, which raises money for melanoma research. Girard and Pedroia plan to present at a few other Boston-area schools this year.
Two eighth graders interviewed after the presentation said they learned something new and will be less apt to sit in the sun next summer.
"It was very educational; I used to go to the tanning salon and I never wear sunscreen," said Kayley Angstadt. Fellow classmate Taylor Reale added, "I always wear sunscreen."
Georgetown students will continue to learn about sun safety in their health and science classes in the coming year and were urged to talk to their families about sun protection.
"It took me a long time to learn my lesson, but I hope you learn now so you don't have to go through what I did," Pedroia said. "I want to prevent people from making the same mistakes I did."
Here are some signs to look for in moles anywhere on your body. If you have one or more of these symptoms on any mole, you should see a dermatologist.
r Irregularly shaped (not round or oval).
r Uneven and/or fuzzy border.
r Two or more shades of brown or pink.
r More than 1âÑ4 inch in diameter.
r Pebbled or bumpy texture.
r If mole is raised, flat edges with "fried egg" center.