Mike Schmidt recently discussed dealing with Stage III melanoma with the world, which I suppose knocks me out of the "melanoma news" top spot in the Philly area for good. While I would never wish this on anyone, much less my favorite baseball player from childhood, a major local (and national) personality having a significant run-in with the real-life side of a disease like melanoma can only help raise awareness.
As a society, we react to things that hold large influence over us. Hollywood, sports, news, and political figures hold disproportionate sway in the court of public opinion. Too often, that means the latest reaction, or over-reaction, to something shared by the masses – both when a personality's activism or opinions causes debate, or something they do gets captured and shared. Whether it is Gwyneth Paltrow talking silly about working mothers, Justin Bieber's fighting the law down here in Miami, or Angelina Jolie's controversial decision to have a double mastectomy after she discovered she had the BRCA-1 gene, their actions sparked great debate. The advent of social media has only made this spotlight shine brighter on a select few.
It's not all Twitter trends and A-List celebrities making the public more informed, though. Go through an illness as a public figure, especially an active one, and the world becomes a little more in tune with medical issues that now have a face. Robin Roberts' myelodysplastic syndrome diagnosis raised awareness of the disease, spiked bone marrow donations, and put the need for donors in the limelight. Maura Tierney's missing out on a role in Parenthood due to breast cancer treatment, or Hugh Jackson's brush with basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, are all recent examples of smaller but significant levels of public awareness being raised.
The most evident example of correlating a celebrity with an increase in awareness and action was Magic Johnson's contraction of HIV, and subsequent fight to raise AIDS education, funding, and research. Magic went from "basketball superstar" to "business mogul, media personality, coach, and team owner," all while battling what was then a terminal disease. His success, both medically and professionally, showed that it is possible to overcome long odds and statistics with a raised amount of knowledge, attention, and, oh yea, capital investment.
So back to Mike and how his scare can change the lives of baseball fans everywhere. MLB has already begun the annual campaign to Play Sun Smart (remember that first pitch?) and Schmidt has an opportunity to affect multiple generations of fans and players. The potential scale that his platform presents dwarfs the ones that currently exist for the handful of melanoma advocates, and puts a silver lining on a difficult personal situation he endured. Prevention and early detection are the keys to significantly reducing melanoma, not wonder drugs that are extending lives in record numbers. Here is hoping #20 knocks one "outtttta herrrre" in the advocacy arena like the round-trippers he parked across the National League as the best third baseman the game has ever seen.
And Mike – if you need any help, just let me know, we are only separated by about 45 miles of Florida Turnpike, one melanoma Stage… and 548 home runs.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »