My Story: For Glenna

"A Death by Suntan at Age 26," reads the headline of a 2009 Cosmopolitan magazine profile on Glenna Kohl’s battle with skin cancer. A decade later, her mother, Colleen, continues to keep Glenna’s story alive. 

This is her daughter's story.

What type or stage of cancer did Glenna have?

Glenna was initially diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma in August of 2005. It was traced back to a mole that she had removed many years earlier, and at that time we were told that it just contained abnormal cells. This was a misdiagnosis and the melanoma was left to spread through her body for years, which later moved her to Stage 4 metastatic melanoma.

What was the primary cancer treatment facility involved in her care and what was your experience there?

After her diagnosis, Glenna was sent to Mass General Hospital in Boston. The experience there was wonderful. She had the best doctor and team we could have ever hoped for — Dr. Donald Lawrence. She was also treated at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, where she was involved in many clinical trials. This facility was amazing. They do incredible scientific work and treat both patients and families so well.

Skin cancer treatment

What would you say was the most impactful experience of her treatment?

I would say her time spent at NIH. Glenna knew that these were clinical trials and of course, she still hoped for positive results, but we know that she felt very empowered and proud to know that no matter what the outcome, she was involved in the scientific trials that would someday save other’s lives.

What would you most like people to know about Glenna?

How strong she was, how she never gave up hope throughout her horrible ordeal, and that she was the kindest, most caring friend anyone could ask for. Because of the kind of person she was, she has such a huge fan club to this day that loves her and keeps her memory alive (learn more at glennasfund.org).

What is your greatest source of strength and/or inspiration?

Glenna is my inspiration. My husband, son, and grandchildren are my strengths.

Was tanning or sunbathing a significant factor in Glenna developing melanoma?

Yes, Glenna was an avid tanning bed user. Since she was a lifeguard for many years, she got very used to being tan at an early age and wanted to continue being tan throughout the year. She admitted that her one big regret was that she continued to use tanning beds. She became a strong activist against their use and she participated in our state’s legislation hearings to fight to raise the age limit in which children could be admitted to them.

When did she start using tanning beds?

She probably started using tanning beds around age 15 or 16, in order to look tan for a school dance.

Is there an inspirational quote or song that keeps you moving forward and gives you strength in your life?

One of her favorite quotes was, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” We had this engraved on her burial stone.

Sun damage

What is the best advice you can give to someone who thinks that skin cancer won’t happen to them?

Think again. Melanoma is a very dangerous disease, but it is also very preventable by remembering to use sun safety measures — no tanning beds, use and reapply sunscreen always. Wear protective clothing. See a dermatologist every year.

Do you have any final thoughts? 

Thank you for being in the business of protecting people from the dangers of the sun and spreading awareness about the dangers of skin cancer and melanoma. And thank you especially for keeping alive the memories of those we have lost to this terrible disease.

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