2016 marks a year of important milestones for North Vancouver’s Kathy Barnard.
The president of the Save Your Skin Foundation, which she founded in May 2006, is celebrating 10 years of success in the fight against melanoma. “It’s a big year for us,” she says.
This year Barnard is also marking a decade of being considered cancer-free. After being diagnosed with malignant melanoma in May 2003, in May 2005, she was told she had six months to live as her cancer had spread and tumours were found in her left lung, kidney, liver and adrenal gland. Barnard and her family refused to accept that reality and searched internationally for alternative options and eventually she went on to receive treatment through a clinical trial that she credits with saving her life.
In the wake of her own melanoma journey, Barnard banded together with willing family, friends and colleagues, who were happy to lend their support, and launched the foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to skin cancer and skin disease with a focus on education and awareness, supporting research and ensuring access to treatment for all Canadians.
According to the foundation, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and one of the most preventable, caused by overexposure of the skin to UV radiation, commonly the sun and artificial tanning beds. In Canada, more than 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually, more than 5,000 of which are melanomas, the mostly deadly form.
“This is the year of our foundation and it’s a whole new year for patients because when I was diagnosed in 2003 and then had the major reoccurrences in 2005 there was absolutely no treatments for patients. And now our foundation is actually part of the approval process to get drugs approved for patients and in this month alone we’ve got one, two, three, four new treatments that are … going through the approval process,” she says.
When Barnard started the foundation she was the “lone survivor.”
“It was pretty lonely out there. Our first support group meeting there was 10 and a few months later there was still only me, the other nine we had lost. The last couple of years we started a project called I’m Living Proof because every day there was more and more of us surviving. It was a great way for me as a patient to connect everybody,” she says.
The Save Your Skin Foundation has continued to grow and Barnard’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Last month, she was awarded a B.C. Community Achievement Award, announced April 26 by Premier Christy Clark and Keith Mitchell, chairman of the B.C. Achievement Foundation. “I was thrilled and it was a complete surprise because I didn’t even know I had been nominated,” she says.
“It’s a huge honour,” she adds.
She’ll receive the award May 24 at a ceremony in Victoria.
May marks Melanoma Awareness Month and the foundation, interested in marking that as well as doing something to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, is presenting an inaugural event, entitled the unBeach Party, to raise funds for skin disease and skin cancers Wednesday at the Vancouver Aquarium.
“We just did a survey for another campaign that we were doing called It’s Not Just Skin Cancer. We were so appalled that so many people now know that melanoma is deadly but they still think they need to be out in the sun tanning. They still haven’t correlated the danger of melanoma and the UV rays. We thought OK, let’s do an unBeach Party. We want to tell people that lying on the beach is just not safe, you need to be protected, your skin is the largest organ in your body. We thought ‘unBeach’ – perfect,” says Barnard.
The event, which hopes to attract 300 guests, will be hosted by three-time melanoma survivor Mary-Jo Dionne and Dinotrux star Matt Hill, and will include themed cocktails and canapés, a silent auction, beach volleyball and entertainment.
Organizers hope to raise enough funds to launch an awareness campaign on sun safety to be offered in schools throughout Canada as well as for additional 2016 patient support initiatives.
The unBeach Party, in support of skin cancer awareness, presented by the Save Your Skin Foundation, Wednesday, May 18 at 6:30 p.m., at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tickets: $100, visit saveyourskin.ca.