Michelle Bain was performing in a community theater production of “Little Shop of Horrors” when fellow actress, Sumer Buckner, then a nursing professor at JSU, noticed a mole on Bain’s shoulder.
“You should get that looked at,” Buckner advised, but the advice fell on deaf ears.
Bain avoided seeing a doctor, but she did continue visiting her local tanning bed.
“All of my friends went to tanning beds,” Bain said. “I even bought myself an unlimited use package.”
When she eventually relented and saw a dermatologist, she was stunned to learn the mole on her shoulder was stage 2B melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Bain was 32 at the time.
While not the most common form of skin cancer, melanoma is still responsible for the most deaths and it is almost always caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
“I guess you could say I was paying $25 a month to give myself melanoma,” Bain said.
And with that revelation, she has dedicated herself to educating young people about the dangers of tanning, sharing her story at area high schools, maintaining an informative Facebook page and campaigning for stricter laws on tanning bed usage.
Last year, Bain testified in front of members of the State House in support of a bill that would require tanning bed operators to refuse service to anyone under the age of 18.
“That bill didn’t pass,” Bain said, but earlier this year, another bill did — beginning Sept. 1, those under the age of 15 are banned from using tanning beds and teens 15-17 will need parental consent. “It’s better than nothing.”
Anna Laurie Cotton, a sophomore and cheerleader at The Donoho School, remembers when Bain addressed one of their assemblies.
“It was a couple of weeks before prom and I was about to buy a tanning package,” Cotton said. “After hearing Michelle’s story, I decided to get a spray tan instead.”
Bain is pleased to hear it. “They all get spray tans now,” she said, referring to the entire Donoho cheerleading squad, which she coaches.
“At least, they better,” she added with a laugh.
In addition to her community theater work and cheerleading coaching, Bain works as a pharmacy technician and substitute teacher. But melanoma education has become her passion.
She recently spoke to a group of teens at Oxford High School a week before their spring break.
“Most of them were headed to the beach,” she recalled. “When they returned home, several wrote me thank-you notes, letting me know they had used sunscreen while on vacation.”
To honor their coach, and to commemorate May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Bain’s cheerleaders wore black clothing to school on “Melanoma Monday,” the first Monday in May. They will do so again on the last Friday in May, dubbed “Don’t Fry Day.”
And this weekend the squad was out in force for Relay for Life, where they assisted Bain’s team, aptly named “Michelle’s Melanoma Army.”
In order to be declared cured of melanoma, a patient must go three to five years without a recurrence. In March, Bain underwent a full-body check and received a clean bill of health, making this her third year cancer free.
To request Bain speak to your school, church, civic group or club, contact her through Facebook at “Spread The Lotion: A Melanoma Awareness Page.”
Save the Date
Cupcakes for Critters, an annual benefit for S.A.V.E., will be held next Sunday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the home of Bracky and Millie Harris. In addition to homemade cupcakes and lemonade, there will be a plant sale and petting zoo with miniature donkeys and Pygmy goats. A $5 donation to Saving Animals Volunteer Effort, Calhoun County’s low-cost spay and neuter program, is requested but more is always appreciated! On Facebook, search “4th Annual Cupcakes for Critters” for more details.