Second Annual Clinic aims to save lives with action

Skin Check website image copyEach year there are over one million new cases of skin cancer, and people living at altitude are at particularly high risk. On Saturday, February 23, 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m., the Gary Wright Memorial Skin Cancer Screening Clinic will offer free skin cancer screenings.

The second annual clinic honors Gary Wright, who moved to Telluride in 1978.

“Gary spent his life outside, skiing, climbing, kayaking, and doing his job. His fair complexion took a beating every day,” said his wife, Michelle Curry Wright.

Drs. Heather and Scott Wickless of Durango Dermatology will be screening for skin cancers, including the three most common types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

According to Dr. Scott Wickless, over 100 people attended last year’s Skin Cancer Screening Clinic. The efforts of Scott and his wife, Dr. Heather Wickless, during the screening identified suspicious lesions in approximately 10% of patients.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Melanoma, one of the most serious types of the skin cancers, must be detected early to improve the prognosis. Individuals with blonde or red hair, freckles and a history of chronic sun exposure, sunburns or tanning bed use are at greater risk for melanoma, according to Eric Johnson, Family Nurse Practitioner at the Telluride Medical Center.

Johnson recommends annual skin screenings for everyone living in Telluride.

“We are physically closer to the sun, and there is more ultraviolet light. Particularly in the winter, people don’t seem to think about it as much, but our sun exposure is greater because those rays bounce back up from the snow.”

In its early stages, melanoma can be treated with surgical removal. It is often found by regular skin screenings.

Over the years, Wright had skin checks and precancerous lesions burnt off, almost always on his face. The growth that eventually turned into melanoma was on the back of his head.

“Some melanoma cancers show up on non-sun exposed areas,” said Johnson. “And with melanoma especially, it’s important to catch it early.”

He (Gary) just let something that didn’t really look like melanoma go too long; we didn’t know until the lab report came back how serious it was,” said Curry Wright. He underwent two surgeries to remove lymph nodes down one side of his neck and opted out of chemical therapies due to their dismal success rates and high levels of invasiveness.”

In February of 2011, the cancer recurred on Gary Wright’s spine. Despite neurosurgery, rehabilitation, and radiation, Wright developed brain lesions, which prevented him from participating in a promising clinical trial.

On May 1, 2011, Wright lost his battle with melanoma skin cancer.

The idea to host skin cancer clinic came to Curry Wright in the months following her husband’s passing as a way to honor him with an initiative that could save others. This year sponsors are encouraging people to come early to the Sheridan Opera House to ensure a screening.

“A lot of Gary’s friends, people he skied with, people in his business, which was painting houses, are exposed to the elements all the time, so I would urge them to take care of themselves, respect the sun’s powers, and make sure to get checked regularly.”

The Gary Wright Skin Cancer Screening Clinic is sponsored by the family of Gary Wright, Telluride Medical Center, the Sheridan Arts Foundation, Apotheca Pharmacy and Durango Dermatology.

The event will be held at the Sheridan Opera House.

Screenings are free, though donations will be accepted and lip balm and sunscreen will be sold to raise money for biopsies for those who cannot afford them.

“We hope to grow this event, little by little every year so that we can watch out for ourselves and watch out for each other,” said Curry Wright.
 “A little peace of mind goes a long way” she added.

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