For Amy Bruce, skin cancer is personal. In April 2013 she lost a friend, instructor and co-worker to skin cancer. “It was a terrible situation; she was young. She had a mole on her back, and by the time she had it looked at, it had already spread. It’s a deadly form of cancer that moves quickly. She left behind a family, including three small children.”

Two years later, the West Virginia University graduate student is now pursuing a doctor of nursing practice at the School of Nursing while serving as a senior lecturer of nursing at the West Virginia Institute of Technology. It was during her health promotion capstone course that Bruce identified the high rates of melanoma in West Virginia – higher than the national averages. Knowing that awareness and education are keys to prevention, she submitted a proclamation to declare May as National Melanoma Skin Cancer Awareness Month in West Virginia. On May 7, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin accepted and signed the proclamation.

“West Virginians spend a lot of time outdoors, working and playing. As I was researching statistics for my coursework, I noticed the growth rate of skin cancer among West Virginians, particularly males, was shocking,” Bruce said. The rate of melanoma diagnoses in West Virginia is one of the fastest growing cancers behind liver and bile cancers. The death rates among West Virginians 65 years and older due to melanoma continue to increase by nearly three percent each year. “Sadly, it is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in young adults ages 25-29,” added Bruce.

West Virginia has made great strides in enhancing awareness of the disease, including recent changes to state tanning bed laws where minors (under the age of 18) must now have a written consent by a parent before using tanning beds. Bruce noted that skin cancer is something that is easily preventable, especially if we take the time to educate people about the signs and treatment.

“This disease is preventable and curable, if detected early. It is my hope that we will be able to develop more opportunities for screenings for melanoma, as well as encourage people to do their own self screenings, just like we do for breast, testicular and other cancers,” Bruce said. “Nurses always lead the way in terms of preventative treatment and implementing change to improve lives. I’m passionate about helping people, particularly West Virginians, in fighting this disease.”

As summer approaches and people begin to spend more time outdoors, Bruce reminds everyone to continuously wear sunscreen, avoid the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and regularly check your body for any unusual changes. “If you see something that looks different, get it checked out,” Bruce said.

She also encourages people to remember “A, B, C, D”. Evaluate your skin for asymmetry (uneven or misshaped moles), border (is the mole an even circle), color (darker in color) and diameter (increasing in size). For more tips about skin cancer prevention and detection, visit the American Cancer Society.