Catching the Importance of Skin Cancer Awareness and Prevention

Former Cincinnati Reds catcher, and MLB Hall of Famer, Johnny Bench is using his stature as a public figure to advocate for skin cancer prevention and detection.

Johnny Bench is using his status as a former Cincinnati Reds catcher, his title of Baseball Hall of Famer and his experience with skin cancer to increase awareness of protecting one’s skin from the sun and doing regular skin checks.

“If we can make one person, 100 people, 1,000 people (more aware), let’s get them all checked and let’s get way ahead of (skin cancer),” Bench said in an interview with CURE®. “I’ve had too many of my friends that have been through chemo … and everything else. I think that is the one thing (that) is probably the scariest.”

Bench also wants to make more people aware of how critical it is to detect potential skin cancer early.

“Let’s face it, we don’t want it to go to squamous, we don’t want it to go to melanoma,” he said. “Most non-melanoma skin cancers are curable, and if caught early enough — that’s the key is to try to get out there and find out if there is a problem (with one’s skin). Sometimes, it’s self-diagnosis. … I keep (telling) my kids, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it really pays off.”

Lifelong Exposure to the Sun

Bench spent most of his life outside in the sun, including playing in the fields of Oklahoma as a young boy and playing for the Reds from 1967 to 1983. After all those years of sun exposure, the risk for skin cancer eventually caught up to him.

It was in 2012, at the age of 64, when Bench received a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer. It began with what he thought at the time were just pimples on his eyelids, which he would pop, but then they always came back.

On the recommendation of his ophthalmologist, he scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist, who took a biopsy and gave him the diagnosis. The next step was to surgically remove all of the cancer by excising both eyelids. He hasn’t had an issue with recurrence until recently, when he had another infiltrating basal cell carcinoma removed on the side of his head.

Since his original diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma, he has made precautions including self-checks and follow-up care. He goes to his dermatologist twice a year for checkups and continues to perform self-examinations to look for any abnormal lesions or new moles. And he encourages others to do it as well.

He noted that nowadays, everybody is exercising more and eating healthier, knowing that it may reduce the risk of cancer — but it takes more than that in what he calls “thought prevention”. He explained that it is as simple as getting out of the shower, looking in the mirror and recognizing moles or spots on the skin that hadn’t been there before, look different and taking the initiative to get it checked out.

During self-exams patients may find it beneficial to use their ABCDEs, looking for abnormalities or changes in: asymmetry, borders, colors, diameters and evolutions.

Becoming an Advocate

Bench has become an advocate for skin cancer prevention, preaching the use of sunscreen and big hats whenever participating in outdoor activities.

Bench finds it important that people who can reach a certain audience or fanbase like himself, or Toby Keith, who recently discussed his diagnosis of stomach cancer, talk about their experience with cancer publicly to bring these topics to light.

“I think (sharing our story) is the first thing we should be doing,” Bench said. “And people will listen hopefully. … It’s not just the everyday person, it’s everyone that is affected by this.”

Using his status and outreach Bench has partnered with Let’s Get Real About Skin Cancer to share his story with others in hopes to spread awareness on how to prevent skin cancer from happening and promote early detection with regular self-exams and dermatology appointments.

Finding a good dermatologist whom a patient trusts is the first step, Bench said. He also said it is easier now because Google exists and there is plenty of information there for people to educate themselves on; however, it is important to be wary of trustworthy and untrustworthy sources.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell people that (taking precautions are) only a few minutes out of your life and it may save your life,” Bench concluded.

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