Mollie Biggane was a healthy, active 20-year-old who played soccer and tennis while growing up in Garden City. She had no idea the unusual mole behind her leg would turn out to be a deadly form of skin cancer known as melanoma.
By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had progressed. Six months of treatments and surgeries were not able to stop it.
Since her death in 2000, Mollie’s family has focused on bringing awareness to skin cancer in the hopes of sparing another family from the grief they went through.
Their latest efforts with the nonprofit Mollie’s Fund is a new initiative that will help screen all patients that enter Stony Brook University Hospital for skin cancer.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The family of Mollie Biggane, a 20-year-old Garden City woman who died from melanoma in 2000, has spent more than two decades educating people about the dangers of skin cancer with the nonprofit Mollie’s Fund.
- The nonprofit’s latest initiative is a program to screen all patients entering Stony Brook University Hospital for skin cancer.
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Early detection can lead to successful treatment of the disease.
Incidences of skin cancer have reached “epidemic proportions,” said Victoria Siegel, a registered nurse who sits on the medical advisory board of Mollie’s Fund.
Siegel, a professor of nursing at Molloy University, has helped develop the screening protocols that will now be employed at Stony Brook and has been implemented at other Long Island hospitals.
“Nurses are so involved in teaching people about healthy behaviors, such as proper nutrition and safety for children,” said Siegel. “This is a chance to teach them about sun safe behaviors, checking their skin and going to a doctor if they think something’s wrong with their skin.”
Years of exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds or sunlamps can lead to skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimates quoted by the American Academy of Dermatology show about 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
“Skin cancer accounts for more cancer than all the cancers combined,” said Mollie’s mother, Maggie Biggane. “Anyone who has skin can get it and to a large extent, it’s preventable.”
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, can spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs. It is highly treatable when detected early, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
“Young people never think it’s going to happen to them,” said Maggie Biggane, who created the nonprofit with Mollie’s father, Jack, and their children, Cara, Julie and Jack
Screenings could lead to referrals
Biggane said awareness of skin cancer has vastly improved since Mollie first noticed the unusual mole on the back of her leg.
“It had all the hallmarks (of skin cancer),” Biggane said. “It was bleeding. Now we know that’s a warning sign.”
With her reddish-blond hair and fair skin, Mollie wasn’t a sun-worshipper, her mom said. But the active young woman was captain of her tennis team and played travel soccer.
“Did we use sunscreen? Yes. Were we vigilant about it? Probably not,” said Biggane. “We had an umbrella but that doesn’t compare to the SPF clothing parents are putting on their kids today.”
Mollie’s Fund works on educational programs, public service announcements and other efforts to remind people be mindful of sun exposure and always wear sunscreen.
The hospital initiative is a “natural extension” of the screenings that nurses do for all new patients, said Carolyn Santora, chief nursing officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.
“Currently when patients are admitted to the hospital, nurses do a full skin assessment,” said Santora.
“We are looking for pressure ulcers, bruises, rashes and other skin conditions. A natural extension of that skin assessment is to observe for moles and talk to the patients about their history, whether or not they use sunscreen, how much sun exposure they have had over time, and whether or not they use sunscreen. Risk of skin cancer increases with the amount of unprotected sun exposure over time.”
Santora said nurses will also use the opportunity to explain to patients the importance of protecting themselves from the sun’s rays.
If the nurses see an unusual mole or skin lesion or if the patient relates a concern, they can be referred to a dermatologist for further examination and possible treatment.
Siegel said people should be mindful of the sun but not feel like they can’t go outside.
“Be smart about it,” she said. “Cover your skin with clothing. Wear a wide four inch brim hat, wear sunscreen and never go tanning.”
Lisa joined Newsday as a staff writer in 2019. She previously worked at amNewYork, the New York Daily News and the Asbury Park Press covering politics, government and general assignment.
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