By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Mitch Brogdon noticed an abnormality in his skin shortly before his 16th birthday.
That bump, which turned out to be cancerous, defined his junior year of high school.
Five years later, he's cancer free and grateful for the experience.
Brogdon is one of the honorees for this year's fourth annual AIM for the Cure Melanoma Walk at 8 a.m. April 6 at South Park. Quincy AIM chapter president Jean Anne Cook hopes this year's walk will encourage people to notice changes in their skin like Brogdon did.
"It just knows no age," Cook said. "Everybody should be aware year round, because the UV rays are there year round."
The walk will also honor Mike Badamo, who caught his melanoma in its earliest stages. Badamo always had moles on his body. As he entered his 30s, he began seeing dermatologists and having them checked for abnormalities. After several tests, the doctors diagnosed him with stage one melanoma in 2011. He had his malformation surgically removed and has received a strong prognosis.
He encourages others to seek medical attention if something seems abnormal.
"So many people have skin spots," Badamo said. "So many people think it's normal, but it's not normal."
Brogdon, 21, still doesn't know what caused his melanoma. He had used tanning beds before his diagnosis, but he never thought his recreational use of them or time spent in the sun could permanently damage his skin.
"When you're a kid, you don't think about it," Brogdon said. "You're kind of just being a kid."
He'd scheduled his first surgery for his 16th birthday, but still woke up early enough to pass the driver's exam at the DMV before the procedure. As he completed treatments, his aunt home schooled him during his junior year so he wouldn't fall behind in school. He eventually went on to beat cancer, graduate from Quincy High School and receive a degree from John Wood Community College.
"As I was sick, you realize what's important in life," Brogdon said. "You live life once, (so) pursue it, and let's make it happen."
Doctors used interferon chemotherapy to force the stage three melanoma from Brogdon's body.
During his battle, the teenager honed his music skills. He now creates music digitally and has traveled to Los Angeles to forge connections. He hopes his music eventually appears in movies.
"It's so weird, because I've been thankful for cancer. It opened my eyes, it made me do things that I never would have thought to do," Brogdon said. "I'm thankful for it. It made me a stronger person."
Cook says many melanoma patients don't always live to maintain that positive outlook. Each year, the walk also honors someone who hasn't survived. This year's walk will commemorate the life of Bill Martin, who died in February 2012.
Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. In 2009, 61,646 people nationwide were diagnosed with melanoma and 9,199 died from melanoma.
Cook hopes this year's walk reminds the community to care for their skin. She said wearing sunscreen and concealing the skin from UV rays help prevent melanoma.
"Your skin is your largest organ, and it's covering and protecting all your other organs," she said. "It needs to be protected."