TRAVERSE CITY — Lily Ambrosius was just 14 when doctors found and removed some atypical moles, which can increase the risk of developing melanoma.
The fair-skinned blonde had always used sunscreen outdoors, but knew plenty of people who didn’t. And that started her wondering what would happen to them — and to others who couldn’t afford the protection.
Rather than wait to find out, Ambrosius started a nonprofit organization to bring skin cancer awareness to area residents and to distribute effective sunscreen products to families in need.
The organization, called Skin For the Future, was based in part on a survey she conducted during a special health day at the 2012 National Cherry Festival.
“We found out that those people that made $20,000 to $30,000 a year don’t wear sunscreen and (often) have cancer in their genes,” said Ambrosius, now 16 and a junior at St. Francis High School. Most at risk are children, adolescents and young adults, since the damage people see in their 50s and 60s occurs in their teens and 20s.
Now Ambrosius is working with area pediatricians, dermatologists and plastic surgeons to spread skin cancer awareness information and to raise sponsorship funds for the expensive sunscreen products.
So far she’s collected enough to buy 750 3-ounce bottles of sunscreen that will be distributed to clients of the Grand Traverse County Health Department, the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department and the Father Fred Foundation.
“I’ve done a lot of different research projects and it’s very, very rare to see somebody as motivated and excited at her level of the game,” said Traverse City surgeon Adam Smith, of Borealis Plastic Surgery, who is mentoring Ambrosius. “She’s a very extraordinary young girl. “This is her wanting to make a difference in her community and bring awareness to a problem that absolutely does exist and that to some degree has touched her personally.”
More than 2 million people are diagnosed with over 3.5 million cases of skin cancer annually. Melanoma accounts for almost 9,000 of the nearly 12,000 skin cancer deaths each year.
Smith said many of those cases could be prevented with the proper use of sunscreen.
“What people really need is a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, which are two very different things,” he said. “If you want a very good sun protection, the factor should be 35 (or higher).
“The most common mistakes people make is not making sure the sunscreen covers both (kinds of rays) and putting sunscreen on at 8 a.m. and not putting it on the rest of the day. You should reapply it every few hours,” even when it’s hazy outside.
Ambrosius remembers her first sunburn at the beach and has taken precautions since. Now she brings a hat and T-shirt to wear over her bathing suit, wraps in a towel after swimming and reapplies sunscreen after she gets wet. She also get her moles checked regularly and has atypical moles removed.
“Most of my friends don’t even ask me to go the beach because they know I’m going to go on about protection,” she said.
With spring break just a few weeks away, Ambrosius planned to speak to St. Francis preschool and kindergarten classes to make them aware of the sun’s dangers and of the importance of wearing sunscreen.
“My mom always told me that the most beautiful women never let the sun touch their skin,” she said.
To donate to her campaign or to learn more, write info@skinforthefutureTC.org or visit www.skincareforthefuturetc.org or www.facebook.com/skinforthefutureTC.