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Students promote skin cancer awareness

Megan Gonzalez

Sun Shield dispenser releases sunscreen into a user’s hand. The dispenser will be located by the pool at the Wellness and Recreation Center in Edinburg./Courtesy Photo
Sun Shield dispenser releases sunscreen into a user’s hand. The dispenser will be located by the pool at the Wellness and Recreation Center in Edinburg./Courtesy Photo

RGV Against Skin Cancer, a nonprofit organization founded by siblings and UTRGV students Alexia and Marco Jauregui, plans to install sunscreen dispensers across the Rio Grande Valley.

Constant overexposure to the sun can cause damage within the skin cells and increases the risk of basal, melanoma and squamous cell skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Every year, new cases continue to appear. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime while one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma.

“There are a lot of people in the Valley who work outside,” said Marco Jauregui, a pre-med biology major. “Just in general, there’s not a lot of protection here. We live about 45 minutes from South Padre Island, so everybody’s constantly going over there.”

Walking across campus can expose people to the harmful ultra-violet rays of the sun.

The idea originally started in 2014, when Joe “Mark” Noe, an associate professor in Writing and Language Studies, assigned a project to his class.

“This started in the Tech Writing Class, that used to be 3333 for UTPA and now it’s 3342 in UTRGV. I thought the students could learn better if there was a reason to write and a reason to learn how to write,” Noe said. “I asked them all to come up with projects that they could write proposals on that would have life after the class was over. I call them actionable projects.”

At legacy institution UT Pan American, the original team of the RGV Against Skin Cancer project proposed its ideas to the Health and Human Services Department at the Edinburg campus, but no funds were awarded. So, the assignment was abandoned.

However, when UTRGV started, Noe decided to give the project a second chance and assigned it to another team, composed of Alexia Jauregui, Delia Duarte, Eli Ruiz and Victoria Cerna. The new team applied for a grant from the RGV Community Foundation for the pilot phase.

After receiving a $5,000 grant, the team partnered with RGV Community Foundation and now relies on sponsors and donations to bring the first sunscreen dispensers to the Valley.

Dr. Carlos Gomez-Meade, a Brownsville native who is a dermatologist in Austin, was the first donor and used his online clothing company, Little Leaves, as a sponsor for the program.

Gomez-Meade works with Vitalogy Skincare, a full-service dermatology practice specializing in Moha micrographic surgery, medical dermatology, cosmetic dermatology, plastic surgery and clinical aesthetic procedures. In his spare time, Gomez-Meade and his wife, Dr. Carley Gomez-Meade run Little Leaves, which promotes a sun-protective clothing line that is designed to help protect children and adults from the harmful effects of chronic ultraviolet rays.

“We are trying to take small steps towards including people’s awareness about skin cancer and particularly in [youth],” Gomez-Meade said. “It’s very important to protect our children, young adults and everyone, really, to teach our children good habits as far as protecting themselves from the damage of the sun because sun damage at that age has big correlation with developing skin cancer later in life.”

Gomez-Meade donated $500 to the organization.

The Advanced Medical Program Initiative (AMDI) student organization’s members will conduct monthly inspections of each dispenser location. The dispensers will contain broad spectrum SPF 50-hypoallergenic sunscreen.

“This isn’t just an assignment anymore, but a goal of mine to get implemented all over the Valley,” said Alexia Jauregui, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology last May.

Dispenser locations have been secured in Mercedes, McAllen, Edinburg, and South Padre Island.

To donate to the organization, visit www.gofundme.com/RGVSUNSHIELD. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/RGVAgainstSkinCancer.

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