by Brittany Mollis

DODGE Melanoma raises awareness, celebrates a champion

Summer is fast approaching, and warmer weather means more outdoor activities. Every summer, thousands of people flock to North Carolina to hike the mountains or to explore the beaches because the Carolina sunshine feels good on the skin. There is no arguing that feeling the warm sun after a frigid winter feels good, but don’t forget that just because something feels good, doesn’t mean it is good.

This past Sunday at Reynolds Gymnasium, the young ladies of the Wake Forest Field Hockey Team hosted their 5 th Annual Dodgeball Tournament in memory of one of their beloved former players, Maria Whitehead. The annual event, DODGE Melanoma, brings awareness to the community as well as honors a young lady whose life was taken too early because of Melanoma.

The event newsletter, sent out by Kari Walkley, the event coordinator, had this to say about Whitehead:

“When Maria first arrived at Wake Forest University, she was small in size, but her determination and tenacity empowered those around her. She continues to be the reason why we are proud to be Demon Deacons. Her courage and fight reminds us to appreciate what we have and her spirit and passion will never be forgotten.”

“I never met Maria, but from what I hear, she was just a fiery, bubbly girl who never said ‘never,'” said Walkley.

While playing for the Wake Forest Field Hockey Team in 2002, Whitehead had the opportunity to relish in the team’s first National Championship Title as a senior team captain. She was also a two-time All ACC-selection, and after graduation, she went on to coach at St. Louis as the youngest head coach in the country.

On November 1, 2006, the 25-year old was taken away from friends and family after fighting a fierce battle with Melanoma. Seven and a half years later, the Wake Forest Community refuses to allow Maria Whitehead to be forgotten.

“Because it was the fifth annual event, and Maria wore the number five, our goal this year was to raise fivethousand dollars for research,” Walkley said. She predicts that the event fell short of the goal, but she is hopeful that future goals will be met because of more public awareness.

Six teams participated in the event this year, including student athletes from the university as well as people outside of the Wake Forest community. Registration cost $40 per team, and donations were given by local businesses, parents, teammates, alumni and friends. All proceeds of this event were given to Melanoma Research at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. John H. Stewart IV, a medical expert in various cancers including Melanoma, attended the event to speak about the importance of early screening. There were also raffles at the event as well as free medical screenings for those who were interested. At one of the previous events, an assistant coach for the field hockey team chose to get the free screening, and he was called back for a follow-up. He was informed that he did have skin cancer, and it was removed.

“It’s a blessing that he got it checked when he did,” Walkley said. “Imagine if he were an assistant coach on another team that didn’t have an event like this. He may have never known he had it.”

The coach of the Wake Forest Field Hockey team, Jennifer Averill, also spoke to the crowd before the tournament began. Like Dr. Stewart, Averill stressed the importance of taking care of your skin and how important it is to pay attention to your body. Averill just completed her 22 nd year as the field hockey coach at Wake Forest, so she was there when Whitehead was a Demon Deacon. In 2006, the year that Whitehead lost her battle with cancer, Averill shaved her head to show support for her friend and former player.

The Demon Deacons want the memory of Maria Whitehead to stay alive, and they want to use her story for years to come in an effort to teach people how important it is to be aware of Melanoma.

“I hope that people can take away how passionate we are,” Walkley said. “We also want the people of the community to understand how important it is to take care of yourself. Some people just don’t know how bad this cancer is.”

According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers not only in the United States but also worldwide. Every eight minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with the cancer, and every hour, somebody will die from it. In 2014, the American Cancer Society predicts that Melanoma will account for more than 76,000 cases of skin cancer. Of the 13,000 skin cancer deaths per year, Melanoma accounts for almost 10,000 of those deaths.

Cancer of any kind is hard to prevent, but there are steps to take in order to reduce the chance of developing skin cancer. Don’t overexpose your skin to UV rays. If you are exposed to sunlight, be sure to wear sunscreen. If you are in sunlight, wear a hat to protect the sensitive skin on your head as well as sunglasses to protect your eyes. Pay attention to moles, growths or marks on your skin. If you have any concerns, please visit your doctor, and be sure to get checked annually.

If skin cancer is caught early enough, it can almost always be stopped from spreading. Once a skin cancer like Melanoma reaches a certain point in development, it is almost always fatal.

The Wake Forest Field Hockey team urges everyone to take care of themselves this spring and summer by being aware of how cruel that Carolina sun can be. It may feel good for a day, and a tan may look good for a week, but the effects can be felt forever.

“There can never be too much sunscreen on your body,” Walkley said.

“While you’re looking out for yourself, also be sure to look out for the people around you. It’s important to look out for each other.”

If there is anyone who knows the importance of looking out for one another, it’s the Wake Forest Field Hockey Team. It is one of the many lessons Maria Whitehead taught them even after she was gone. !