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Go Beauty, Stop Cancer — That’s the slogan for Eyes on Cancer, a nonprofit cancer awareness organization that teaches beauty professionals to identify skin cancer in its earliest stages. We’ve taken a few moments to catch up with the husband-wife responsible for this innovative organization: retired orthopedic surgeon and cancer survivor Dean Foster and his wife, Jeanne Braa Foster, a beauty guru who spent the latter part of her career working closely with the legendary Paul Mitchell.

Sola: Before getting down to nuts and bolts, we want to hear more about Jeanne’s career!

Jeanne: I was Paul’s stage partner, and became his artistic director for nine years until I retired. It was just this fun, wonderful lifestyle — and yet something felt like it was missing. It’s so amazing now coming back fifteen years later with a purpose that involves the fashion and fun of the industry, but also brings about saving lives.

Wait a minute. Starting a nonprofit organization doesn’t sound like much of a retirement. Where did the idea for Eyes on Cancer come from?

Dean: We’re retired, but not really. This is a second marriage for both of us; we really love each other, and we wanted to do something together. 

Jeanne: And, it was Dean’s personal experience that inspired Eyes on Cancer.   

Dean: I spent two years fighting cancer holistically with herbs, nutrition and a special diet, and it actually shrank for a little bit. The cancer came back and became more aggressive, though, so I had surgery. We’ve continued our cancer prevention lifestyle, and we’ve found it helps tremendously with skin cancer.

Just how big of a problem is skin cancer anyway?

Dean: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. It has increased 300 percent in the last forty years, and has become a silent epidemic among young people. In the U.S. alone there will be about 3.5 million new cases diagnosed this year. Everybody knows about malignant melanoma; there are about 78,000 cases a year, with about 29,000 deaths. The prognosis is good if you catch it early. Early is the key. And, that’s why we want to promote awareness.

But, how’d you land on promoting awareness in the beauty industry?

Dean: About a year ago we were invited to the Paul Mitchell School Owners Summit in Los Angeles. Jeanne was asked to tell a few stories of Paul in the old days, and I felt like a fifth wheel. I thought I’d come up with something to give everybody; that ended up being cancer awareness. I did a presentation on the topic, and everybody said we should start doing it in the schools, too.

We can’t help ourselves: Jeanne, what was Paul like in the old days?

Jeanne: Paul was amazing! He was a visionary, and his vision was to bring art and fashion together by building retail business to make stylists successful. In the early ‘80s that was life changing, and we all grew thanks to Paul. And, man, Paul was just so fun-with-a-capital-F. Everything was a party! His cutting was out of the box. Cancer took his life, and that added to my passion to unite in the battle against cancer.

Tell us more about your current role in the battle? What’s Eyes on Cancer?

Dean: Eyes on Cancer is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a free assessment stylists can take online to become certified in recognizing skin cancer. 

Jeanne: It’s important to remember that the program is for awareness only. We aren’t asking stylists to diagnose cancer.

Dean: That’s right. We’re teaching them how to recognize skin cancer, and how to handle themselves appropriately and professionally if they do see it. We don’t want stylists to have negative conversations with their clients. Rather, we want them to be able to point out a suspicious spot, ask the client if they’ve seen it before — maybe take a picture for the client, and recommend seeing a doctor.

Jeanne: We just launched our new website, and we have two courses available online. The primary course teaches stylists about early skin cancer awareness.

What will stylists learn from the online course?

Dean: They’ll learn the ABCDEs of melanoma, so they’ll know the difference between skin cancer and a mole.

Jeanne: Dermatologists use the assessment as a standard, and we include a dermatologist as part of the teaching.  

Stylists are busy. Is the course a big time commitment?

Jeanne: Not at all! A stylist can complete the course and quiz in about an hour, and then become part of the Eyes on Cancer family.

Gulp! Quiz?

Jeanne: Dean designed the assessment as a learning tool. Participants can see which questions they’ve missed, and they can retake it, if needed. But, if you watch the video, you’ll pass the quiz!

What happens after a stylist completes the online course and quiz?

Jeanne: Everyone who finishes gets a certificate. 

Dean: That certificate is good to have for when you want to give a client a heads up about something you’ve seen. You can point to it and say you’ve been through the program. We’re also coming out with a card that stylists can keep for even easier reference.

How much will this certification set a stylist back?

Dean: It’s totally free! If you feel moved after completing the course, we are asking for help with fundraising — which could be as easy as sharing a link on social media. But, that’s not the goal of Eyes on Cancer. What we’ve found about cancer is that if you find it early you can treat it and live with little or no evidence of it. We’re here to accomplish our mission of early detection in the beauty industry. 

Why’s Eyes on Cancer such a good fit for this industry?

Jeanne: Look: I didn’t like doctors at all until I met Dean. But, this knowledge is an amazing tool for Sola professionals to have while working in the intimate atmosphere of a private salon studio. Skin cancer is a visual cancer, and we realized that it’s a natural fit for the beauty industry, as we are visual learners who can automatically look into the scalp area while working. Plus, we’ve found that hairdressers are enthusiastic learners. Wherever we’ve gone we’ve been very well received.

What do stylists like most about Eyes on Cancer?

Jeanne: Hairdressers work closely with their clients, and care about so much more than hair or beauty. Hairdressers care about the people they serve, and can actually save a life by referring an early skin cancer to a medical professional. Without trying to play doctor, I really want them to own that!

For more information about Eyes on Cancer, please visit: http://eyesoncancer.org

To download a Skin Cancer Card to have on hand in your salon, click here.

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