After covering health for a decade, I’m all too familiar with disease awareness months, weeks and days. The effectiveness of each often depends on who is stepping up to advocate for it. Efforts range from creative and multifaceted to downright uninspired.

In the Charleston area, one advocate has championed the cause of melanoma awareness in the past four years with flair and is finding new ways to spread the message of protecting your skin.

The Spa at Charleston Place has partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina’s department of dermatology for the “I Will Reflect” initiative, which has raised $25,000 by selling wrist bands that detect damaging rays on a year-round basis

The initiative is kicked off on the first Monday of May, aka Melanoma Monday, at the spa with a party, swimsuit fashion show and, obviously, some strong messages about skin cancer. It will continue with a social media campaign on Facebook and a Charleston RiverDogs “I Will Reflect” night May 26 at Riley Park.

This year’s event will be 6:30-8 p.m. Monday at the Spa, on the fourth floor of the hotel. The cost to attend is a $10 donation and includes hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.

The fashion show will feature local surfers and models from Tout wearing designs from several local stores.

Annette Sandford-Lopez, spa director, says the collaboration is a natural fit for the spa.

“We see skin every day at the spa and are well-aware of the damage the sun can cause,” she says, adding that residents and visitors to Charleston are particularly vulnerable because of the area’s usually sunny weather.

“Our community, Charleston in particular, needs to recognize the importance of applying regular sunscreen, wearing sun-protective clothing, hats and taking other preventative measures to protect ourselves from harmful UV rays,” says Sandford-Lopez.

“Through ‘I Will Reflect,’ we strive to educate people to have mole screenings performed annually by a dermatologist and to take serious precautions when exposed to the sun.”

Among the speakers during Monday’s event will be Dr. Joel Cook, professor of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at MUSC, who is on the frontlines of melanoma by operating on skin cancer patients 10 to 12 hours day, five days a week.

Cook says while recent advances in melanoma treatment are promising, it is a “fractional step” compared with the amount of new cases being diagnosed each year.

“The risk of a person getting a melanoma has risen dramatically, especially in the last couple of decades,” says Cook. “This risk is especially common in younger women and has led the World Health Organization to declare tanning beds a carcinogen much like tobacco.”

Cook adds that skin cancer is “uniformly curable if diagnosed and managed early, but very difficult to cure once it metastasizes, or spreads.”

With skin cancer, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth more than a pound of cure.

Cook says by avoiding the sun during its most glaring hours, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., a person exposes himself to 80 percent less radiation. Making small adjustments in your life, such as doing activities in early morning or late afternoon hours, will help you to avoid skin cancer.

“Photoprotection, self-examination and regular visits to a dermatologist are important, especially for patients at risk for the disease, especially fair-skinned patients in sunny climates,” says Cook.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or