Bill Cowher has one of the most recognizable faces in football, but he’s hoping his popularity transcends the game that made him famous. Two years ago, the former Super Bowl champion head coach of the Steelers lost his wife to melanoma. In the time since, he’s become a strong advocate for awareness and prevention of this deadly form of skin cancer. He recently teamed up with advocacy groups and Bristol-Myers Squib to become the spokesman for a new public awareness campaign called Melanoma Exposed.
Cowher stopped by the Men's Fitness offices with Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, on the campaign’s launch day to talk about how important the cause is to him personally, and the uphill battle the campaign faces to make people take the disease seriously.
There are an estimated 160,000 diagnosed cases of melanoma each year. Statistically, that’s not huge. How hard do you think it will be to get people to realize the danger and get screened?
Bill Cowher: If it’s detected early, it’s almost always curable, but once it gets into your body, it’s fatal. So we’re talking about a four-stage approach: Screen. Protect. Know. Tell. So the first part of that is to get screened. Go to melanomaexposed.com and you can find places in your neighborhood to get screened. The second is protection from UV Rays and understanding that no one is immune to this. It touches everyone, every race, not just blonde hair and blue eyes. Altitude is also an issue. The higher the elevation, the stronger the UV rays. The third: Knowing what to look for, knowing how deadly this disease is and then the fourth: telling your friends and sharing that information.
Men are twice as likely to die from melanoma as women are, and I don’t think men are as aware. They’re not as mindful of the protections they should have. It’s a very dangerous cancer, one that’s very easily treatable when detected early. We’re trying to promote that through this campaign.
And one of the ways you’re trying to do that is by getting involved with NFL teams. Is that to sort of make awareness seem cooler?
BC: I don’t know if it’s cooler. If you look at coaching, coaches are out in the sun a lot, particularly during training camps. A long-time defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles Jim Johnson died from melanoma. With the NFL, we’re trying to be proactive and bring this awareness to people, and provide opportunities to get screened at a game, at a stadium. Because that’s the first step, being aware of your body and getting screened to create baselines and then getting checked on a regular basis. I think this is a great campaign. We’re trying to use that format and that platform to raise awareness, screening, protection, and knowing what to look for. I lost my wife to it almost two years ago. I’m just trying to do something proactive so no one has to through what I went through.