Fan Who Spotted Cancerous Mole on Hockey Manager Credited with Saving His Life

By Steve Blanchard - January 07, 2022

The “New Year, New You” mantra is in full effect this first month of the year, but one area that requires attention all year long is our skin. Skin safety made national news over the holidays when a hockey fan spotted a cancerous mole on the neck of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team’s assistant equipment manager.

According to reports, Nadia Popovici, a fan near the bench, used her phone to write “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!” The words “mole,” “cancer” and “doctor” were bright red. After the game, she pressed the phone against the plexiglass so he could read it.

That quick interaction prompted Brian Hamilton to see the team’s doctor. He had the mole removed and biopsied, and it was indeed cancerous.

Being aware of our own bodies is important, according to Dr. James Grichnik, a dermatologist at Moffitt Cancer Center and chair of the University of South Florida’s Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery.  Listening to others who may notice something on our skin could save lives.

"Early detection is always key, and that’s something we preach here regularly."

- Dr. James Grichnik, Moffitt dermatologist

“Early detection is always key, and that’s something we preach here regularly,” Grichnik said. “In the case of this hockey manager, a young fan may have saved his life.”

Hamilton told several news outlets that he does believe Popovici saved his life.

“She took me out of a slow fire,” Hamilton said at a news conference. “And the words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignored that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. One in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer. This year alone, doctors will diagnose nearly 5.5 million people with the disease, but early detection can save lives at any age.

A screening is simple and potentially lifesaving, Grichnik stressed.

“Screenings for skin cancer are painless and noninvasive,” Grichnik said. “Most skin cancers are on the surface of the skin and provide us with an opportunity to diagnose and treat concerns early on. That’s the best scenario when skin cancer develops and doctors have the tools to save lives.”

In Hamilton’s case, doctors shared that he had malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer that, because it was detected early, was easily removed and treated.

Melanoma accounts for roughly 1% of skin cancers but causes a large percentage of skin cancer deaths. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma increases with age, but it is also one of the most common cancers in young adults. Most new melanoma cases occur in white men over the age of 55, but the cancer is also common among women age 50 or younger.

Grichnik reminds us that protection from the sun is the most important step people can take to prevent or reduce the chances of skin cancer — and in Florida, it’s especially important to protect ourselves from UV exposure.

Skin Cancer Screenings
Skin cancer can develop at any age regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or skin type. Common forms of skin cancer can have a survival rate greater than 95% when they are detected early. Routine skin checks are vital in helping spot cancerous moles. Know what to look for by using the ABCs of melanoma as your guide for self-skin checks.   

  • Asymmetry — a mole that doesn’t match when divided by an imaginary line down the center
  • Border — borders of a mole that look blurry, irregular, uneven and/or jagged
  • Color — a mole that has multiple colors or shades, such as red, blue, tan, white or black
  • Diameter — a mole that is wider than a pencil eraser
  • Evolving — moles that change in size, shape, color or texture over time

Early on melanomas may appear merely as a lesion that is different from your other moles.  Any skin lesion that does not match your others and is growing and changing should be checked by a dermatologist.

Follow these tips to make sure you stay protected while enjoying the summer sun.

  • Time of Day.  Ultraviolet light peaks in the middle of the day.  Outside activities completed earlier or later in the day helps reduce exposure.
  • Wear protective clothing. Try to wear long sleeves and long pants to cover as much skin as possible when you’re out in the sun for long periods of time. Sun protective clothing is the best and safest option; however, any material is still a great option if you do not own any with sun protective fabric.
  • Put on your hat. Wearing a wide brim hat is important to protect your face and neck. These areas are the most vulnerable as they are almost always exposed. Make sure your hat is made from tightly woven fabric so that the sun cannot peek through.
  • Use sunscreen! The easiest and most important way to protect yourself from skin cancer is by wearing sunscreen. Moffitt’s skin cancer experts recommend using an SPF of at least 30 and encourage you to reapply every two hours. Brands with physical blockers (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide) are typically the best options, however any sunscreen is better than going without. Remember to keep sunscreen with you at all times, in your purse, backpack or car, so if you end up outside when you hadn’t planned to be, you will always have access to this life-saving product.
  • Protect your lips. Many lip balm brands make products with SPF. Look for an SPF 30 reference on the label to keep your lips safe from the sun.
  • Grab some sunglasses. Your eyes can be severely damaged from the sun, so make sure to wear sunglasses when you’re outside. Your glasses should have UV blocking properties and fit your face well to help filter light through the lenses.

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