Skin Cancer

Former Tennis Standout Discusses Two Deadly Diseases – Skin Cancer and Depression

By Cliff Richey

The following is written by Cliff Richey, a former U.S. No. 1 tennis player, who was a semifinalist at the 1970 French Open and the 1970 and 1972 U.S. Open, who was also a member of the winning U.S. Davis Cup teams in 1969 and 1970. Richey is author of the book “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0942257669/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_iLEBvb1W4RNYX

When I was younger the scariest thing in my life was facing Arthur Ashe’s serve! Trust me, that was scary. But it doesn’t compare to two potentially lethal diseases I’ve been in treatment for. Nineteen years ago my skin doctor diagnosed me as clinically depressed and three weeks ago my current skin Doctor gave me the news that I had Melanoma. It is ironic that a skin doctor diagnosed these two different diseases. And as different as they seem to be these two diseases have a lot in common. For one thing in my case the two sick parts of my body are only about twelve inches apart–my right shoulder and my brain! Both diseases at their most basic level are human cells gone awry. Why does that happen? The best researchers of both diseases say there are two main reasons. The first is genetic predisposition inherited from your forebearers in other words. The second reason is stress. For your skin, stress can be the sun, tanning lamps or too much radiation. For your brain, stress can be the negative circumstances life throws to all of us–job loss, divorce, addictions, illness. So a predisposition combined with stress can produce both of these diseases. The good news is both are treatable and curable. I am in good treatment for clinical depression and my recovery has been very good. I had the melanoma leasion removed and thankfully it was caught very early and in spite of eleven stitches i am told it is 100% curable.

Now the bad news. Both diseases left untreated can kill you. Only 30% of our population who need treatment for depression receive it and 20% commit suicide. Of those who get proper treatment 85% gain good recovery. Melanoma has a high mortality rate unless caught early.

I am going to switch gears here for just a bit and get on my soap box. But lets create a more warm and fuzzy setting. I’m on my easy chair and you’re on my couch and here is what i want to tell you. We ain’t doin’ all this stuff the right way. Yes both of these diseases kill but only one of them has a higher mortality rate that has nothing to do with the disease! Stigma! Stigma of mental illness is killing many people. Obviously no one person is at fault. But our community can do better. My brain is only 12 inches from my right shoulder and guess what? the DNA is the same in both places. Look i’m a pro athlete. I know that there is a lot of male maucho tied in with even whispering the words mental illness. Pros are comfortable asking for help in order to win on the playing field. We had head coaches, trainers, dieticians and team doctors. We see asking for help as a maucho strength. Wanna win? Get good advice! In my tennis career i had great coaches and others who helped me in areas i needed help with. I felt more confident and performed better when i got that help. I played 1500 pro matches in 500 events all over the world. I wanted to know all about each opponent i played. I had a game plan every time. I wanted to win.

I truly looked at clinical depression and melanoma as opponents i want to beat. I reached out for help with experts that know both of these deadly foes. As a pro athlete i looked to my doctors much the same as i did the coaches in my career. Of course there is just a slight difference one helps you win a tennis match the other can save your life. Mental illness or Melanoma can kill if we don’t ask for help. My serve can be improved (and it needed help!) but hey the worse that can happen if i don’t ask for help is that I lose a tennis match!

So pal, my preaching if over. Ask for help when you need it. As we say in the locker room “Don’t be a dumb ass.” Stigma is an opponent too. Let us all reach out. We will beat stigma and remember — never, ever, ever give up!