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In the fight against cancer, there's a new group of allies who can detect melanoma early — hair stylists

Posted at 3:18 PM, Dec 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-30 17:25:00-05

When you hear the word “cancer” you probably think of a doctor's office, a hospital or somewhere else clinical.

But when it comes to early detection, there's an entirely different army of workers being recruited to spot early signs of skin cancer.

When you see who it is, you understand why it makes perfect sense.

“There's certain patients you never forget,” says research nurse Sandy Allten. “There was one firefighter that I took care of that did not make it. And I remember him saying, ‘you know, I was in Vietnam and I’ve been a firefighter in Boston and I’ve never felt the pain and horror as going through this treatment.’ ”

When Allten talks about cancer, it’s with pain and determination.

“For this project, I’m passionate because melanoma has always been one of the hardest to treat,” the nurse says.

She learned about a unique training video that teaches people about skin cancer.

She wrote a grant and got unlimited access to free courses.

“This is so smart,” she says. “Health and beauty worlds can collide.”

The training video focuses on the one place that's often overlooked and teaching the one person that probably knows it best.

“You're a hair dresser and who sees the head of your client more than you do? Nobody,” she says.

Lisa Lowe Gaddis is Allten’s hair stylist.

She took the melanoma course almost a year ago and has been keeping a closer eye on all her clients since.

“I’ve had two little boys that came in and had something unusual, so I told the mother,” Gaddis says. “It turned out it wasn’t anything serious, but they're still keeping an eye on it. So, we took pictures so that way, every time I do their hair, I can look at it and make sure it hasn't changed.”

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and numbers are increasing every year.

But there's a 98% chance of survival if caught early.

“I’ve had so many run-ins with cancer… and I believe early detection is the key,” Gaddis says.
More than 11,000 hair stylists nationwide have taken the “Eyes on Cancer” course.

The goal is to train 20,000 by 2020.

“They were like, ‘wow we could actually save a life,’ ” Allten says. “You could absolutely save a life.”

“Not only am I helping people feel good about their looks, but I can also help them stay healthy,” Gaddis says.

Really the goal is to get anyone to take this course and then tell their hair dresser to take it, too.

You can visit hairstylistmelanomachallenge.com to get the code to take it for free.