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Public sunscreen dispensers launched as part of pilot project

They’re dispensing lotion and a message.

They’re dispensing lotion and a message.

Karen Wells and Kathy Barnard, friends and partners who fortunately met due to unfortunate circumstances, stood side by side in Kelowna recently in an effort to make sure other people’s lives were not uprooted by skin cancer. Last week, the duo unveiled their pilot project to provide the public with free sunscreen by installing two automatic, touchless sunscreen dispensers which were erected at the Kelowna Visitor Centre downtown and at the Kelowna Golf and Country Club.

“It’s the one thing I can do for the public,” says Wells, who started Morgan’s Mole Patrol Foundation in an effort to spread awareness about the importance of sun safety after her 33-year-old son, Morgan Forshner, passed away in 2016 after a short battle with melanoma.

Wells tears up when talking about her son. He went from seemingly healthy to gravely ill in a matter of months, says Wells, noting that Morgan visited the doctor’s office about a mole on his back which was at first thought to be benign until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

“He believed that – and three months later it was Stage 4. It was so aggressive,” says Wells.

Even through her grief, Wells has endeavoured to spread her message about sun safety so others don’t have to experience the pain of losing a family member. Her main goal is to stop the spread of melanoma – a highly preventable, yet deadly if left untreated form of skin cancer – by promoting sun-smart behaviour, such as encouraging people to limit their time in direct sunlight, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., seek shade, cover up, and apply sunscreen.

After administering an informal survey several months ago, Wells says she was shocked to learn that many adults weren’t wearing any sunscreen at all during a particularly hot day. She realized that when it came to sun safety, she couldn’t give people shade, but “the one thing that was tangible” that she could do was try to offer the public easier access to sunscreen.

For Kathy Barnard, the founder of the North Vancouver-based Save Your Skin Foundation, the partnership with Wells was more than welcome – both women were brought together over their unfortunate connections with skin cancer. The pair first met each other six months after Wells’ son passed away and an “incredible friendship, and now initiative, grew out of it,” according to Barnard. “This is something she wanted to do for Morgan, it’s something that we had always wanted to do. It was the perfect partnership-friendship. We are supplying the dispensers and the sunscreen for the pilot.”

In 2017, an estimated 7,200 Canadians were diagnosed with melanoma and 1,250 died from the disease, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. These are numbers that Barnard is unfortunately all too familiar with. In 2005, Barnard was given six months to live after being diagnosed with Stage 4 malignant melanoma. “I was lucky enough to work for an incredible company that gave me time off to get better. I had an incredible support system on the North Shore. My family was on the North Shore. I had all the perfect mixings of success,” she says. “I’m here today and I just need to pay it forward.”

In a statement, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said that Save Your Skin Foundation and Morgan’s Mole Patrol are to be commended for their initiative, especially in a city like his where “a lot of people enjoy many outdoor activities.”

“It’s great to have free sunscreen available for skin health and cancer prevention in these central locations where thousands of people pass by every day,” states Basran, in the press release.

According to Barnard, both Save Your Skin and Morgan’s Mole Patrol will be closely monitoring the success of the pilot project, with the hope being to install more sunscreen dispensers at other key locations around B.C. in the future.

“It’s awareness, it’s prevention, and I really hope that people will put it on,” says Barnard.

According to a press release issued by Save Your Skin Foundation, the sunscreen dispensers provide Health Canada-approved SPF 30 sunscreen that is “free from known dangerous ingredients such as parabens, oxybenzone, retinyl palminate, phthalate, PEG, parfume and sodium lauryl sulphate.”