Growing up, Colleen Bronstein spent all summer at her family’s summer home at the beach and when she married they had a pool and visited the beach house twice a year. Fair skinned, freckled and Irish she loved the outdoors.
Knowing the Signs
“I had an itchy spot on my back for a year or so and when I went to see my family doctor about something unrelated I asked him to check my back,” Colleen remembers. “He said you have a mole about an inch away you might want to have that checked.” Unfortunately Colleen didn’t know to be concerned. “Some time later, when I went to my dermatologist, again something unrelated, I had her check my back and she did a biopsy.” In 1999 at age 47, this wife and mother was diagnosed with Stage 1B melanoma.
Life Changing Diagnosis
At the time, Colleen was an award winning metal smith. She didn’t know anything about skin cancer and especially not melanoma. “After I realized what this diagnosis meant, I closed my studio and devoted my world to my daughter and husband,” she relates.
Creating Sun Protective Clothing
After the diagnosis, Colleen knew she couldn’t expose her skin to the sun’s harmful rays. “I searched for some key pieces for my active summer lifestyle and the designs at the time were not very appealing and very unisex…many still are unisex.” So now she uses her skills in design to create sun protection clothing.
Australia has been at the forefront of sun protection. Their “Slip, Slop, Slap”–slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat–campaign from the 1980’s has made protection from the sun a part of Australian culture. This is where Colleen turned when she needed sun safe fabric for her creations. The fabric she uses is SPF 50+, licensed from ARPANSA, the Australian Government’s Radiation Protection & Nuclear Safety Authority.
“I wear my sun protection clothing whenever I am out in the sun, I wear my sun protection gloves fall, spring and summer while driving. I can still go to the islands and Cape May, summer home, sail and swim,” she says. Colleen’s fashions can be found on her website: Sunthreadz, or at Faith & Hope Boutique at the Perelman Center University of Pennsylvania Hospital or Faith & Hope Abington, PA.
Award-Winning Metal Smith Again
Now that her child is grown, Colleen has reopened her metal smith studio, “I…applied to a few major shows, all are juried events, and was thrilled that I was accepted after all these years. It was exciting to know that my creations are still relevant.” Her winning pieces grace the White House. She’s exhibited at the Aaron Faber Gallery on Fifth Ave in New York City and she’s been a Pew Fellowship Finalist.
Advocacy for Sun Protection
Yet advocacy is a large part of her life. Her twitter handle is @sunscreensafe and her tweets include warnings against tanning booths “they are a hazard to your health and survival” and facts on how “tanning” started. Prior to her diagnosis, she didn’t know the signs of melanoma now she says, “If a smart patient is someone who researches and needs to know everything about a diagnosis then that is what I am.” And she’s making it her job to educate others.
Most importantly she shares a piece of advice based in experience, “Make …a vow to schedule a yearly Dermatologist appointment for you and your family…this could save a life!” Colleen Bronstein should know—that lucky visit to her Dermatologist saved hers.