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When former school nurse Carol Enarson of Chapel Hill learned she had melanoma, she was shocked. After all, as a school nurse at Forsyth Country Day School (FCDS) in Winston-Salem she had developed innovative sun safety programs for elementary school students. “It is best to teach sun safety early on and before they start thinking about tanning beds,” she says.

Enarson knows about teens and the sun. “When I was growing up in the 60s, my friends and I went to the pharmacy once to get a mixture of iodine and baby oil to help us tan better. As a teen, you wanted to have a tan.”

Her sun safety lesson at FCDS included props such as beach umbrellas and chairs, an assortment of sunscreen and sun block products and protective clothing, hats and sunglasses for a boy and a girl student who she prearranged to have wear swimsuits that day. “After my presentation, the children helped to pick out the best protective items, enjoyed it and learned about sun safety in a fun way. I gave them information to share with their family.”

It was six years later that Enarson was diagnosed. In September of 2009 I found a new mole on the top of my foot,” she remembers. “I knew that two thirds of melanomas are new moles, so I asked that my dermatologist check it. It was removed and sent to a pathologist.”

Enarson remembers receiving the diagnosis over the phone while with her son. “I tried to be calm because I didn’t want to upset him. But I was very concerned.” Because it was detected at an early stage, she had wide excision surgery and required no further therapy.

Enarson, a UNC Hospitals volunteer, was then referred to Dr. Nancy Thomas in the Melanoma Clinic. “She examines my skin carefully during every visit and is vigilant about check-ups.” As a health care professional, Enarson knows what it’s like to be a patient and a provider as she was also an oncology nurse.

She recalls her nursing experience on the oncology floor of a Wilmington, Delaware hospital in the late 1970s. “We got very close to the patients and families, especially since this unit was for end-stage patients. One family member made all the nurses a beautiful wreath pin that I still wear every Christmas. It was my most fulfilling work as a clinical nurse.” Back then, she remembers, people didn’t talk openly about cancer. “It was not discussed.”

But Enarson does discuss it and has been an advocate for skin cancer awareness, well before her own diagnosis. “People will say, ‘Oh it’s just skin cancer’, but melanoma is a dangerous disease. I want to take this experience and use it to educate the public. Know the moles on your body and be alert to changes or new ones. Much more public awareness is needed. If I can save one life, it’s worth it.”