There’s no such thing as ‘just skin cancer,’ says survivor

Kim Gurtler

Kim Gurtler and her family have always made living a healthy lifestyle a priority. The part-time personal trainer eats well, doesn’t smoke and gets lots of exercise. She never thought about the possibility of getting cancer. But in 2008, at the age of 39, an odd-shaped mole on her thigh was diagnosed as melanoma skin cancer.

“Cancer has affected many members of my extended family over the years but we’re very healthy so I never in a million years thought about the fact that I could get cancer,” says Kim from her Ottawa home. “I was completely in shock when I found out.”

There is no single cause of melanoma skin cancer, but some things, including exposure to sun and indoor tanning beds, having light eyes or hair, and having skin that burns or freckles easily, can increase your risk of developing it. Kim, with her blonde hair and fair skin, burns easily. And she also admits to trying indoor tanning a handful of times.

Despite having successful surgery, her cancer journey hasn’t ended. “The scary thing about melanoma is that it can come back at any time,” says Kim, who now shares healthy living lessons as a Canadian Cancer Society prevention and outreach volunteer. “Don’t underestimate it – there’s no such thing as ‘just skin cancer’. When you have melanoma, you’re never really considered cancer-free. I worry that it’ll come back and whenever I find a new lump, it’s frightening. My oncologist doesn’t take anything lightly.”

When doing cancer prevention presentations as a Society volunteer, Kim uses her cancer experience to educate people on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle that includes protecting the skin from the sun’s harmful rays and avoiding indoor tanning.

Ontario youth steer clear of indoor tanning

Thousands of Ontario students across the province vowed to remain tan-free for graduation and prom this spring by making a pledge through a student-led initiative called Tan-Free Grad. Developed by the Canadian Cancer Society, Tan-Free Grad empowers Ontario teens to fight back against skin cancer by educating their peers about the dangers of indoor tanning, pledging to stay tan-free on their graduation and sending signed letters to their MPPs in support of indoor tanning legislation. As many as 36 schools in Ontario took part in Tan-Free Grad this year and 32 of these schools received a $300 grant from the Society to help boost their efforts to reach more students with their message.

Here’s how students at three schools brought Tan-Free Grad to life:


Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill CV&I student leaders rocking morphsuits and handing out orange slices with the tagline “Orange is a snack, not a skin tone”


Vanessa Pichelli
Student leaders at Sacred Heart Catholic School letting everyone know that hospital gowns are the perfect prom dress to go with that killer tan.


Delta Secondary School
Student leaders at Delta Secondary School declare their school tan-free!

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