MY Story; Tina’s Place

Tina5 logoA safe haven was created out of a heartbreaking tragedy. This is Tina’s story…

What type or stage of cancer did your loved one have?Tina1

Tina had a mole in the middle of her back. By the time they found it, it was stage 3 Melanoma.
What was the primary cancer treatment facility involved in your loved one’s care and what was your experience there?

Tina  worked with Dr. Hersh in Tuson for the largest part of her treatment. Tina was in the Cancer center for IL2 in Tuscon and they where amazing. The entire staff well-trained and the care was the best I’ve ever seen. Tina at first was very happy with Dr. Hersh than thought and found he didn’t seem to be keeping up with what was happening with the new Melanoma trials and treatments. So she started seeking other doctors. She became stage four in 2008 and then the Melanoma moved into her kidney and it had to be removed. They where not able to remove all the melanoma and she needed a miracle and then found a trial in Phoenix with Dr. Gordon for B-raf drug and decided to move there and give the new drugs a test. Dr. Gordon office was really good with Tina while she was doing well in the trial. But once she failed, so did he, leaving her with nothing until we pushed and placed her in the hospital.  Dr. Gordon was not totally present for her care. He failed to finish the journey but rather left her in the dust. When you are down everyone needs a doctor that stands Strong with them through the good and the bad. The hospital in Scottsdale Shea the nursing was top-notch “Kelly Hilcove” the best and most of the doctors where very kind and caring.
What organizations were the most helpful to you?

I didn’t know of any organizations that reached out to Tina through out her journey. Even though she blogged her entire journey. Today I read and hear about many organization helping Melanoma patients. Which I think Tina would have found very helpful and heart warming.

What would you say was the most impactful experience from the treatment of your loved one?

This question is the hardest of all to respond to. During Tina’s treatment watching her become more and more in touch with God was amazing and even that word doesn’t do it justice. The closer she came to going to heaven by this I mean the last few months. I watched a mom who was tied had her daughter on her hip more than not, slowly let that little girl go closer and closer to her daddy. This meant she fell farther and farther from her mommy loving arms. Tina was one brave mom and this mom shed many tears watching this take place. Tina never spoke of what she was doing; I just knew as a mom what she was doing. She was allowing her daughter to become detached from her and attached to her daddy even more everyday. I can’t imagine the pain Tina was going through as this took place right before her eye. But she was so full of the Holly Spirit that she almost smiled as she watched, knowing she was doing the right thing. Before Tina past she was able to see her daughter lean on her daddy and see that daddy had taken it on with open arms. Being by her side and she was never mad, at least with others about what hand she was dealt. Privately she shed many silent tears. Tears for what if I die, tears for I’m leaving my 7-year-old daughter without a mom, tears I’m only 38, tears she always said, God is taking me for a reason I only hope I made him proud while I was on earth. I said, “Proud” UN measurable! Heaven was her reward!
What would you most like people to know about your loved one?

That once she could breathe after hearing the words you have stage 3 Melanoma. Tina began to help others who had Melanoma and to try and prevent it from happening to anyone she knew or who would read her story on her blog She mad a very private illness public. She served as a mentor to many who never met her in person but found refuge in her story and personal notes. Tina was very funny, hard worker, preschool teacher and a wonderful mother and wife. If she was your friend she had your back always. She was a great daughter and the older she got the more caring I saw her become. She spent time with family as often as she could.
What is your greatest source of strength and/or inspiration?

My heavenly father brought me my greatest strength without a doubt. He gave me strength to be my daughters care giver with some days only getting maybe four hours of sleep. To be able to Tina4 housecontinue the next day without being tired. I would never, ever take back the time God allowed me to spend with Tina during the end of her journey. It gave me time to speak with my daughter about things no mother should ever have to. There where many times we laughed together and times we cried together. Time I cheered her that after a month of not being able to get out of bed, we cheered as we watched her take her first steps again. Once she started walking nothing could hold her down. She walked every single day until she went to heaven, that’s how strong she was. Tina gave me more I feel than I gave her during those last few months. She was so strong and full of inspiration and the peace she had those last few days I just can’t explain. I personally feel God leads us before he takes us, which helps those of us left behind. We must be open to God’s gift or you will not receive it.  God was with me when I thought I couldn’t get out of bed after Tina went to heaven. He was with me all those times I cried out in private and my pillow was wet from my tears. I still cry often and miss her tons, but every tear makes me stronger. Tina’s Place is helping me heal and I am looking forward to reaching out to all the families Tina’s Place is able to host.
Tina’s Place was created in Tina’s memory. Tina’s Place will provide a lakefront 2-bedroom cottage getaway, nestled in the trees on an all sports private lake in Michigan for Melanoma stage 3 and 4 patients and their families. There will be no charge for accommodations; food/travel to the retreat is the responsibility of those attending. Visit us at or email us at for more information or to apply.

Tina3 house
What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer can’t happen to them?

I have continued Tina’s passion in Melanoma Awareness and I speak with people about the dangers and some still don’t get that they could be the next one who dies this hour. I explain to them that someone dies of Melanoma every hour of every day. I advise them on sunscreen and reapplying. Wearing hats, sunglasses, clothing with UV protection and No indoor tanning it is just not safe. Tina can not go back words in her life but she would say Never let yourself get a sun burn. Prior to getting pregnant get your skin checked, stories are coming out about woman finding out during their pregnancy that they have Melanoma. Treatment can not be done during pregnancy. Get your skin checked once a year. Most Melanoma can be prevented with regular check ups. Moles can be removed that are suspicious easily if found early right in the doctors office. If you wait you will find yourself in the operating room not only once but several times while fighting for your life. Your beautiful in your natural skin if you can just see yourself as I do. Pale Skin Is In.

Tina2 I wear black


Melanoma Monday

The American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May–Melanoma Monday. Its simple purpose is to increase public awareness about Melanoma. Melanoma is a very aggressive form of skin cancer and occurs when uncontrolled growth of pigment producing cells spread rapidly to other areas of the body. Melanoma is less common than other skin cancers, but if not detected early it is 75% more deadly.


  • Over 2 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year.
  • One in five Americans will contract skin cancer during their lives.
  • While many common cancer rates are falling, the melanoma rate continues to grow at a rate faster than that of any of the seven most common cancers. Between 1992 and 2004, melanoma incidence increased 45%.
  • One bad sunburn in childhood doubles the risk of melanoma later in life.
  • Those who use tanning beds a handful of times per year in their youth risk up to a 75% higher likelihood of developing melanoma in their lifetimes.

No tan is worth your life!

What can you do today?

  1. Find a free skin cancer screening in your area!
  2. Learn and practice healthy sun-protection habits–everyday! A few easy ones to remember are; seek shade during 10am-4pm when the sun is at its highest point, wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, gear-up with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and uv-protective clothing.
  3. Conduct your own regular Skin Cancer Self-Exam:



4. Wear traditional black or…


Currently, there is a lot of controversy over what color to wear today to honor those battling Melanoma and our Melanoma Angels. Some people will choose to wear black (the traditional color of Melanoma awareness) and some people will choose to wear orange. Wearing orange is the color being promoted by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)  for their SPOT Orange on Melanoma Monday campaign. For those who traditionally honor their loved ones with black it has come as an insult to the Melanoma community, but the AAD is hoping that the bright orange color will really call attention and bring awareness to a disease that has claimed so many lives. It is your choice to wear black or orange, or both!

 Bringing awareness to the signs and prevention of Melanoma and skin cancer is the ultimate goal. 

UV Skinz 6th Annual “My First Skinz” Campaign in Honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Today marks the start of our 6th Annual “My First Skinz” Campaign in honor of  National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. You will probably hear a lot about how to protect yourself from this treatable disease. You will see a lot of pictures and diagrams about the statistics of skin cancer and the signs to look for. You will most likely be told to cover-up, wear sunscreen, stay out of the sun at certain times of the day. It is true that just one childhood sunburn can more than double your chances of developing skin cancer in adulthood. More than 73% of skin cancer deaths are from Melanoma and more than 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed on over 2 million people each year.

Despite all of the facts, warnings and statistics–we want to give you more. We want to give you a way to help teach and give the gift of sun protection to the ones who matter the most, children. UV Skinz is proud to provide worry-free alternatives for sun protection. This month our gift to every one who places an order during the month of May is a “What’s a Sunburn” My First Skinz Baby UV protective swim shirt.  Rhonda Sparks, Founder of UV Skinz, truly believes that healthy sun protection habits should begin early and be taught daily. When Rhonda lost her husband to melanoma in 2001, leaving her with three small boys, it was their future health and happiness that led Rhonda to found UV Skinz. Ever since, UV Skinz has never lost sight of the goal to get kids covered. Teaching our children good sun-safety habits is important so that they continue these practices into adulthood. UV Skinz makes it easy with comfortable, high-quality, and stylish swim shirts.

what's a sunburn_UV Skinz

 “The free baby swim shirt giveaway gets families in the early habit of making sure their children have adequate sun protection – not just through sunscreen, which can be irritating to skin – but through our UV swim shirts and UPF 50+ clothing,” says company founder, Rhonda Sparks.

Remember for every order placed during May you will find our special edition “What’s A Sunburn” Baby Skinz inside your package! Please pay-it-forward by donating this shirt to a child so they will never know what a sunburn is. There will be a flyer within each order asking for you to pass along the Baby Skinz to a needy organization; your local women’s shelter, red cross, maternity ward, mommies group, a friend or family member. The possibilities are endless!  We would love to hear where the Baby Skinz end up!

If you would like to know more about the campaign feel free to email, call 1-877-887-5468.


Katy Ault Phillips Melanoma Foundation

We recently donated UV Skinz products to a fundraising event recently held by the Katy Ault Phillips Melanoma Foundation. Katy Ault Phillips leaves behind her memory and has inspired her family to honor her name with Melanoma awareness.
This is Katy’s story told by her sister, Emily…
It all began when Katy had a Melanoma removed from her skin in 2008, and was diagnosed as benign, so no further surgery was done at that time.  However, we now know that it was misdiagnosed at that time.  In 2009 she found a small lump around her collar-bone.  It was removed and diagnosed as Melanoma.  She then had further surgery to remove surrounding lymph nodes.  The Melanoma was found to have traveled to her lymph nodes so at that time she was diagnosed as Stage III Melanoma.  She began a vaccine clinical trial but soon after she found another lump, which was Melanoma, so she was no longer eligible for the trial. After surgery to remove that tumor, she started Interferon.  She did one month high dose interferon and then did 5 weeks low dose where she gave herself injections before finding another tumor on her upper arm.  That was surgically removed and she then had follow-up scans.  These scans showed the melanoma had spread to her lungs and liver, so at that time she was diagnosed as Stage IV.

What did treatment look like for Katy?

Katy was actually involved with several different treatment facilities.  She started the vaccine clinical trial at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO.  She also had one surgery and follow-up at this facility.  She did the Interferon in Springfield, MO where she lived at the time.  After being diagnosed as Stage IV, she was referred to National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.  There she did another clinical trial with Interleukin plus an antibody.  In addition, their initial scans showed a small spot on her brain, so they did a high dose targeted radiation treatment called Stereotactic Radiosurgery before starting the clinical trial.  Unfortunately that clinical trial was also unsuccessful.  They also removed a tumor at NIH in an attempt to grow t-cells to be implanted back into her body.  However the cells did not grow so she was not able to complete that procedure. She had a second Stereotactic Radiosurgery at NIH, after which she went to University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio to do another clinical trial, Ipilimumab (Ipi), which is now an approved drug (Yervoy) for melanoma patients.  In addition, she had multiple gamma knife treatments for brain tumors while she was in Cleveland.  Unfortunately the Ipi also did not work for her, so she began another trial in Detroit, Michigan at Karmanos Cancer Institute with a drug called Zelboraf, which is also now an approved treatment.  This treatment worked for about 11 months, but eventually stopped working.  Through this, she still also remained a patient at University Hospital in Cleveland.  She had also had some minor seizures caused by the brain meds.  However, in late March of 2012 she suffered a more severe seizure, and was admitted to University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.  She never fully recovered from this seizure, although she was able to communicate, walk with a walker, and go home.  She was placed on Hospice in mid-April 2012, which was a wonderful service because she was able to be in the comfort of her own home.  The nurses were great and they were able to get her the home medical equipment she needed very quickly.  She passed away at home surrounded by family and friends on April 24, 2012.

What was her experience at her treatment facilities?

The doctors at the various hospitals at which she was treated were helpful in that they were always willing to discuss other options, regardless of whether they had those treatments at their own hospitals.  They offered her options for different clinical trials for which she would qualify even though it often meant she would be referred to another hospital. In addition, Hospice was amazing, the nurses were all wonderful and caring, they brought in the equipment she needed to be at home, and they gave her the opportunity to remain comfortably at home until she passed away.

How was the Katy Ault Phillips Melanoma Foundation created?

The foundation was born out of Katy’s desire to put other’s needs before her own, and always wanting to help others.  Friends and family wanted to have fundraisers for Katy when she was sick, but she always felt uncomfortable with it and was more worried about helping others than asking for anything for herself.  From that, her family decided that we could raise money in her honor to raise awareness about melanoma and to help melanoma patients who need financial assistance.  We were able to discuss it with Katy in early April of 2012, just weeks before she passed away.  We wanted to make sure she knew we were planning to do this in her honor and to help others in her name, as that was always her desire.  Our mission is to provide financial assistance to Melanoma patients and their families, while also educating the public about the dangers of Melanoma and the keys to prevention.
 Through our efforts, we hope to be able to alleviate some of the stress on patients and their families while they go through a very difficult time.  Melanoma is a horrible disease, and it is a very scary disease to have to fight.  There are not a lot of treatment options, and sometimes treatments are only offered at certain hospitals in certain parts of the country.  We hope to help patients who may not have the financial resources to travel to be able to be treated at other facilities, by providing financial assistance with travel for treatment.  In addition, we have helped patients get through a difficult time financially, for instance they cannot work for a period of time because of surgery or treatment, and just need some small financial help as they go back to work to get them through that rough patch.  In sum, our hope is to help alleviate some of the financial stress that befall Melanoma patients and their families because they are dealing with so much going through this, and if we can help in some small way, that is our desire.  On top of that, we also hope to spread awareness of Melanoma and the dangers of tanning, providing education and information on prevention and early detection.

What is your greatest source of inspiration?

To be honest, Katy is my inspiration more so than anything else.  Through almost three years of treatment, scans, side effects, and frustration, Katy never gave up, never complained, never said why me?  She was the strength for all of us who love her.  She was someone you loved to be around and everyone who met her liked her instantly.  She was a truly happy person who was incredibly caring and always wanted to help others.  Though I miss her everyday, I know that she would not want us to be depressed and sad and moping around missing her…she would want us to live our life and enjoy it, so that is what keeps me going.  And her friendliness and positive attitude is what I try to exhibit in my life as well.
There are also some inspirational quotes that I find helpful:
“Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day,
unseen, unheard, but always near,
still loved, still missed, and very dear.  –Annonymous
Two quotes that Katy had in her home-“Dream like you will live forever….live like you only have today.”
“God doesn’t give us what we can handle.  God helps us handle what we are given.”This quote from Katy’s Caring Bridge page-“Cancer cannot cripple love, silence courage, destroy friendship, shatter hope or conquer the spirit.”

What advice can you give to someone that thinks that Melanoma can’t happen to them?

 My advice is that it can happen to anyone at any age.  And I would also advise them that Melanoma is so much more than just skin cancer…it is the deadliest form of skin cancer and can and does spread throughout the body.  Oftentimes people associate cancer as a disease that young people don’t get, but Katy was only 27 when she was diagnosed and 30 when she passed away.  And unfortunately that is not a rare case, as Melanoma is becoming more common in younger people, especially young women, and I cannot help but think that is related to the increased use of tanning beds in our generation.
Some facts I would also share with them from Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF):
  • Every hour of every day someone dies from melanoma.
  • Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the US and worldwide.
  • Melanoma is the 2nd most common cancer in those ages 15-29.
  • The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group.
  • Exposure to tanning beds before age 30 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75%.
  • The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified tanning devices into the highest cancer risk category (carcinogenic to humans).

Preparing your child (and yourself) for a Dermatologist Appointment

The number of Caucasian children 18 and under (as young as 2-years-old) who develop Melanoma is on the rise. From 1973-2009 more than 1200 children were diagnosed with Melanoma. Diagnoses like these have shown an increase of 2% a year. Melanoma is an the most aggressive form of skin cancer. If caught early there is a good chance of survival, but if left to spread it can be deadly.

What could cause childhood Melanoma?

  • Sun sensitivity disorders
  • Mom-to-infant transmission
  • Tanning bed use (teens 14-18 years old)

Sometimes children can develop Melanoma or skin cancer because they exhibit some of the high risk factors; a large number of moles, family history, fair-skinned, and blue eyed. As with most illnesses sometimes there is no reason at all. No matter the cause, early detection is important. Children (as well as adults) should have a yearly Dermatologist appointment. People with a family history of Melanoma and atypical moles should be examined every 3 to 6 months. Children in these families should have their first exam by the age of 10. 

Treat a Dermatologist  appointment like a yearly Pediatrician wellness check-up.

Steps to a successful Dermatologist appointment:

  • Talk with your child about who a Dermatologist is; let them know that a Dermatologist is a doctor who knows a lot about skin and how to keep our skin healthy.
  • If you don’t have a Dermatologist the American Academy of Dermatology provides a quick and easy Derm Finder.
  • When contacting your doctor to arrange a total body skin examination, you should request an appropriate amount of time for the appointment with the scheduler.
  • At the time of arrival, when placed in the room, and when first greeting the doctor, you should make your desire for a total body skin examination known, including a request for a gown if one is not provided.
  • During a skin cancer checkup or “screening,” your doctor will probably discuss medical history and inspect your child’s skin from head to toe-even areas that don’t get any sun. If your doctor performs only a waist-up exam, inform him/her that you would like a complete skin exam.
  • Your doctor will record the location, size, and color of any moles.
  • If a mole looks unusual, he/she may arrange for a biopsy.


Through out this whole process you (as a parent) have the option to be present during the appointment, ask questions and to voice your concern. 

Studies have shown that doctor’s instructions may help young people understand that sun exposure and tanning harms the skin. The message of sun safe habits should begin early and the message should  be frequent.

Source: Aim at Melanoma

Tan Jabs; Harmful not Helpful

With an increase in research and media attention on the harmful consequences of sun exposure and tanning bed use there has been the adaption of a potentially harmful tanning solution. The tan jab. Tan jabs are tanning injections and supplements. They are most commonly called Melanotan II or the “Barbie Drug” because of its alleged ability to induce a fake tan, boost the sex drive and encourage weight loss. In a desperate need to “fit in and be tan” thousands of people (mostly women) are buying this black market drug online without the backing of the FDA.

Melanotan II can be easily bought and boasts all the claims (if not more) of an easy safe tan without the exposure to UV rays. Buyers beware! Don’t be fooled by these words; “Let the magic begin”, “Coloring you beautiful!”, “Liquid sun!” Melanotan is by no means easy or safe.

What is it?

Melanotan is a synthetic hormone that works by increasing the levels of melanin, a natural dark pigment in the skin. Melanin causes the skin to darken or tan. It provides a small amount of protection against sun exposure. There are two types of Melanotan – Melanotan I and Melanotan II. Human trials of Melanotan II began in 2006, but the drug still doesn’t have federal approval which makes the sale and distribution illegal.

melanotan (1)

Is it safe?

In 2007, the FDA reported sending a Warning Letter to a distributor of Melanotan for illegally marketing and selling the drug on their website. They also issued a consumer warning about Melanotan II, stating that:

  • Claims being made cause the product to be classified as both a drug and a new drug, under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
  • However, the product does not have an approved new drug application.
  • There is no evidence that the product is generally recognized as safe and effective for its labeled uses.
  • Product’s introduction and delivery into interstate commerce violates federal law.
  • Risks run by patients who use unapproved new drugs could include adverse side effects from inappropriately prescribed medications, dangerous drug interactions, and harm from contaminated, counterfeit or outdated drugs.

Other websites about tan jabs have cited these possible side effects for both Melanotan I and Melanotan II:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Hyper pigmentation
  • White patches
  • Facial flushing
  • Itching
  • Appearance or darkening of new moles

In more detail…

Hyper pigmentation including new freckles/spots or darkening of existing ones.  Darkening, enlarging or new moles.  Darkening of hair, and skin color changes in places where melanin normally concentrates (i.e. genital region, and on rare occasions lips). Some have mentioned white spots that do not tan (some of these resolved themselves, but not all).  

For Melanotan 2,  some have had an undesired increase in libido and erections with a rare report of priapism and panic attacks.  Reports of new moles are more common with Melanotan 2 than with Melanotan.  Some have claimed a link between Melanotan 2 and serious eye and heart problems ,however, the reports are not particularly substantiated (i.e. studies have shown no attachment to heart muscles). 

Some feel that as Melanotan 2 is metabolized, some of it will break down into a compound knows as bremolanitide.  This substance was under a FDA study as an aphrodesiac/treatment for erectile dysfunction.  That study was halted when the substance was found to raise blood pressure.  That may mean Melanotan 2 also has the potential to raise blood pressure making it likely those with high blood pressure should avoid it and people considering using it may want to monitor their blood pressure for negative effects. 

Side effects are enough to just say NO! Agree?

Melanotan didn’t work out as promised for one UK woman looking for a ‘quick cheap’ tan when her

 online shopping trip ended in the local hospital A&E. ‘I didn’t  think about the risks,’ says Terri, a full-time mother to her 18-month-old  daughter, Megan. ‘What happened was terrifying.’

The kit she had bought included syringes and vials of Melanotan, but came  without instructions. After recalling a friend had used something similar, Terri  rang her. ‘She told me to inject myself with one milligram, which I did,’  she says. ‘Looking back, I can’t believe I was so stupid, but I did it without a  second thought because at the time all I wanted was a tan without any hassle,  just like she had.

‘I didn’t see any effects until two days after the injection. Then bizarre  things started to happen. My face became luminous and swollen. It had the  strangest green tinge and became hypersensitive. It was itchy, painful and I  couldn’t bear to touch it.’ Extremely frightened, she went to A&E at  Bolton Hospital and told the doctor what she had done.

‘He had never heard of Melanotan, but went off to research it with their  poisons unit,’ she says. ‘When he came back, his face was grave. I started to  panic.’ Hours later her body was found in a tanning salon booth…

It is not yet known if there is any link between Miss Vickers’ death and the tanning injections.

But on August 17, in an entry on Miss Vickers’ Twitter page, she indicated she had taken the jabs.

She said: “Getting a lovely tan now . . . And I’ve had no no side effects 🙂 Very happy Bunny.”

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said: “At about 11.10am on Monday 3 September 2012 police in Bolton were called to a tanning salon on Bury Road following a report of a sudden death.

“Police officers attended and found the body of a 26-year-old woman.


In reality there is no safe tan. Not by sunbathing, tanning, or with the use of Melanotan injections. If you really must alter the natural beauty of your skin color then opt for a self-tanner.  Better yet look at yourself in the mirror everyday and tell yourself that you are beautiful just the way you are. Tell your daughters, nieces and girls in your life that they are beautiful just the way they are.

Pale is beautiful! Pass it on!