The Determined Dermatologist

It’s no surprise that dermatologists care about skin cancer. But what happens to a dermatologist who has a family member diagnosed with the disease?

Sunny Walia, assistant professor of dermatology and director of dermatologic laser surgery at George Washington University knows everything there is to know about sun safety, but when someone in her family was diagnosed with skin cancer, she re-dedicated herself to raising awareness in her patients.

“Any time you have a person close to you experience skin cancer, it makes you more diligent than you were before,” Walia acknowledges. “You gain an internal perspective. You feel more obligated than you normally would to educate people.”

For years, Walia has been raising awareness about skin cancer. In fact, she was involved with SkinPAC, a political action group affiliated with the American Academy of Dermatology, that helped push through legislation in Maryland requiring minors to have parental consent before using tanning beds. “Maybe it’ll go nationwide,” Walia says hopefully. “It’s a wonderful law.”

Walia’s personal experience with skin cancer has doubled her efforts to educate patients and herself. “When patients come in to talk about acne or psoriasis, I always hand them a brochure so that they can have a working knowledge base,” she says. “And I continue to read dermatology journals, so I stay up-to-date on the latest research findings.”

Those findings say the numbers are rising. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than a million new skin cancer cases are diagnosed annually. Rising numbers mean many people who come to Walia’s office will face a skin cancer diagnosis.

Luckily, now Walia is even better equipped to handle their emotions. “The personal experience makes you feel more empathetic. You want to put the person’s mind at ease. Being diagnosed with cancer is not the easiest thing to hear,” she notes.

“That’s why it’s so important to protect your skin by reapplying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and avoiding tanning beds.” Walia explains. “You can keep yourself healthy.”

Reduce your risk for skin cancer. Get more expert advice from Dr. Walia about how to protect your skin and play in the sun — safely.