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Shining Light on Skin Cancer

After successfully enduring two skin cancers, Brian Davis takes precautions when his day job takes him out in the sun.
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September 8, 2010

Read a Charles Dickens novel, close your eyes and picture the setting of Victorian-era London. Overcast skies and a somewhat gloomy look is the milieu in which Oliver Twist lived. And so goes the stereotype—yet it’s a stereotype based on fact. Frankly, it’s just not that sunny in London, where Brian Davis was born. Davis doesn’t disagree with the portrayal in both literature and film of his home. According to the BBC, London averages about 1,400 hours of sunshine a year, or somewhere in the neighborhood of three hours a day. Yet Davis, a five-year veteran of the PGA TOUR who has played golf professionally since 1994 and is competing this week at the BMW Championship, has suffered from skin cancer twice—even though he comes from a city where, he laughs and says, “it’s sunny four weeks a year.”
Since his latest cancer, in 2009, Davis has affiliated with The Skin Cancer Foundation, hoping he can educate people about the dangers of the sun and what role prevention can have in helping people maintain their health. Recently, Davis stood on the driving range at Salisbury Country Club in Richmond, Va. The sun sat high in the almost cloudless sky, the occasional cirrus cloud unable to stop the sun’s penetrating rays. While wearing a golf hat, sunglasses and liberal amounts of sunscreen, Davis visited with Laury Livsey to talk about his bouts with cancer, his passion to educate people about the sun’s danger and why he’s partnering with this specific charity.

How did you decide to affiliate with The Skin Cancer Foundation?
We got in touch with them last year. They were all for it, and we’re working on a lot of projects right now that in the next couple of years could be really big. Hopefully we can get something going. It’s good for the charity and hopefully good for protecting the kids and future generations.

There’s a history of skin cancer in your family, is there not?
My dad got skin cancer, and he never sunbathed. You don’t need a lot of exposure. His was located by his eye. It was only my dad getting skin cancer that made me more aware.

Because of your father’s situation, as well as your own, is it safe to say you’re probably better educated than most?
It’s just one of those things where education is the best thing.  Obviously, science and technology has helped, and everything else has helped us. But ultimately it’s down to the people to, No. 1, pay attention to what is going on, and No. 2, minimize the sun exposure when you can. But, yes, I was made aware by my experience and my family’s experience.

What are some basic precautions you take?
Obviously, people like to be outside. But wear a hat, wear glasses. I play in sunglasses all the time now to protect my eyes because I’m out in the sun 10 hours a day.

As someone who has endured skin cancer, how would you characterize your health?
I have had two operations now. The first was on my neck. My wife noticed a mole that was slightly discolored. It had grown into my neck and my back, so they had to go down and get it. But I was lucky. They got it all. I then had an episode on my nose, where they had to go in and cut open my nose to get that. It’s just one of those things. Fortunately with my nose, after that first episode, being aware I caught it early enough where I didn’t have to have major surgery. With my neck, it could have gotten out of control. You just have to be aware. I go to my checkups, and I have found some pre-cancerous stuff. So I go and get them taken care of. Early detection is the key.

With your health background, I guess it’s safe to assume your job is something of an occupational hazard?
Being out in the sun all day, as much suncream as you put on, you’re still open to the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, us English people aren’t that educated about it. For Americans, it’s a little better. On TOUR, every week, it seems, we’re playing in 90-degree heat. Everywhere we go, we’re in the sun, so I think it’s important for people to understand how dangerous the sun can be, especially for the younger generation.

And your education is translating to your family, to your children?
I live in Orlando, and we have a pool. If the kids want to go outside, they have to wear the protective vests with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in them.  We say to them, “If you want to go outside, you have to put suncream on. If you don’t put on suncream, you don’t go outside.” They hate putting it on, and there’s all the tantrums and the screaming, but I just say, “Look, it’s as simple as that.” So they do it. I feel we have to teach them early. My generation, we weren’t taught that at a young age, and, obviously, I’ve paid the price.

Does it make it easier to be passionate about a charity when you’re personally invested?
I obviously feel more because of my own experiences. I’ve gone through it, and like Phil (Mickelson) with breast cancer, he’s heavily involved in that. But it really does hit you. When you stop and think and see what this charity does for kids and for parents and all the people who are ill, I think of the impact. Since I’ve come to the States, I’ve been amazed in the last five years how much this country does for charity and for different causes. What I’ve seen in the last five years is more than I saw in the first 25.

It’s a balancing act, isn’t it, finding time for your career, for your family and for your charitable pursuits?
I got involved last year with Wounded Warriors and Homes for Our Troops, as well. You have to be productive in what you’re doing, saving time for your family. So I’ve picked a few charities and tried to do my best for them and help out when I can.

Was there a defining moment for you regarding charitable work?
I remember my first year on TOUR, I played in the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. I went to the Children’s Hospital for the terminally ill with Stewart Cink. That was the first time it hit me. These children, in many cases, are not going to come out (alive). I was able to meet different kids with different kinds of illnesses. I was just there for a couple of hours. A lot of these kids are not even supposed to be outside. But just to see the smiles on their faces when they were allowed to go outside, it hits you. So I try to use my celebrity the best I can to help provide the best help available for the people who need it.


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