Opinion: Oncology Nurses Should Know the Celebrity Stars Raising Cancer Awareness

Celebrated reality star Teddi Mellencamp is using her Instagram as a platform to stress the importance of follow-up visits for patients with melanoma.

Teddi Mellencamp, celebrity known for her appearance on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, is currently battling stage 2 melanoma. She discovered this at her 3-month checkup after an initial melanoma surgery. Right now, Mellencamp is using her celebrity platform to stress the importance of returning for checkups as instructed to do that by a physician.1

I live in Florida which has been ranked second in the nation for new melanoma cases.2 In 2018, there were 7940 cases of melanoma diagnosed in Florida, and it is estimated that nearly 1 out of every 10 Floridians receive a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Although I have seen many cases of metastatic melanoma in the hospital where I work, melanoma awareness should extend beyond Florida. It is a common disease which affects individuals all over the country.

In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimated that there were 99,780 new cases of melanoma and approximately 7650 cases are expected to be fatal.3

At the very least, 3-month checkups after an initial diagnosis are required, which is why Mellencamp returned to the dermatologist. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends that physical and skin examinations be performed every 3 to 6 months for the first 2 to 3 years following surgery and annually thereafter.4 For some patients, a chest x-ray, CT scan, MRI, and/or PET-CT scan may also be recommended.

Mellencamp originally received a diagnosis of stage 0 melanoma, also known as in situ, in March 2022. This was not her first 3-month checkup and it was during the most recent appointment that new findings near the original spot were discovered. In addition, a PET scan revealed lymph node involvement1. At the time of writing, she is currently scheduled to receive genetic testing.

Mellencamp has a huge Instagram following of 1 million fans and she is posting her photos and updates about her treatment plan. Her hope is that other patients with melanoma will take her lead and return to the doctor in a timely fashion. Many times, in the hospital setting, patients become what is known as “lost to follow-up.” I have seen this more times than I can count. For RNs and social workers, the risk of patients not returning to their oncologist or primary care doctor for screenings or later check-ups is a serious reality. Patient education and discharge instructions are something that we are all familiar with and that cannot be stressed enough to patients.

Celebrities can be huge in raising awareness. For instance, celebrity shows like Stand Up To Cancer have a huge impact.6 Every 2 years, Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) produces a roadblock televised fundraising special, supporting urgently needed research and new treatments for cancer. The last program aired in 2021 during the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. The program highlighted all the research this organization has completed in the past decade and featured performances by noted Hollywood stars. The show is coproduced by Reese Witherspoon and her husband, Jim Toth, who is a talent agent as well. The program also showcased survivor stories. The mission statement of this program is “collaborative, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional scientific cancer research.”

Working on surgical oncology floors at night, I frequently see patients watching TV and movies all night in between getting pain medications. I think that the RN working in oncology should have an awareness of the importance of everyday heroes like our favorite TV and movie stars who have survived cancer. I know that nurses and social workers unwind with things other than journals, and this is a good opportunity to blend the 2.

References

  1. Mccarthy A. I feel blessed!’ ‘ROBH’ star Teddi Mellencamp, 40, celebrates ‘good news’ after her frightening close call with cancer. Survivornet. March 24, 2022. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3fxWo9j
  2. Melanoma by the state: Florida. Aim At Melanoma Foundation. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/2DWf3mc
  3. Key statistics for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3Nw0D1H
  4. Melanoma: follow-up care. Cancer.net. December 2021. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3zGYBGc
  5. What we do. Stand Up To Cancer. Accessed November 3, 2022. https://bit.ly/3NAjPLz