Monett teacher to compete in Boston Marathon, raise awareness of melanoma

·4 min read

Oct. 1—After completing her first marathon in 2016, avid runner Amy Sampson, 41, of Monett, plans to run her next race in the world's oldest annual marathon, the 125th Boston Marathon on Oct. 11.

Sampson, an English teacher at Monett High School and a college educator, has finished five marathons, including the Big Sur International Marathon in California in 2016 and the Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York, in 2018. Joplin was Sampson's home for five years while she attended Ozark Christian College, where she played basketball and volleyball before graduating in 2002.

With only a few days remaining until the marathon, Sampson has been spending her free time training. This will be her first time competing in the Boston race. Sampson has run at least a mile every day for four years.

"I only had nine weeks to train for the marathon, which is not normal," she said. "Most people train for a marathon in 20 to 30 weeks, and I got an email from Impact Melanoma that they have one spot open, so I went for it. A couple years ago, I tried qualifying for Boston, but I wasn't sure if my body could handle it at the time."

Impact Melanoma is the charity Sampson is running for in the Boston Marathon; she's already raised more than $5,000. The national nonprofit provides education, prevention and support for skin cancer in an effort to reduce the incidence of melanoma.

There are three main types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Derek Towery, a dermatologist at Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center in Joplin, said basal cell carcinoma is the most common, and it usually forms on the head, neck, nose and ears.

"Basal cell carcinoma is not typically considered a dangerous skin cancer, in that it doesn't spread or go to lymph nodes; it's just a locally destructive cancer," he said. "Squamous cell carcinoma does have the potential to spread, but thankfully, most do not. But if they're on the head, neck, ears or on the lips, those do have a higher tendency to metastasize, especially to the head and neck lymph nodes."

Due to their extensive time outdoors, marathon runners can have an increased risk for skin cancer including melanoma, which is the most serious type. Towery said there are several risk factors that can cause melanoma such as family history, freckles, fair skin, multiple moles and sunburns.

"Melanoma is the one that most people fear the most because it does have the highest death rate," he said. "It's probably the most aggressive of those three with the highest potential for metastasis."

Warning signs for skin cancer can include scaly patches, atypical moles, brown spots that are irregularly colored, a lesion that bleeds easily and pigmented lesions, according to Towery.

"If there's a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma, we recommend testing once a year," said Towery. "If you have a lot of freckles, red hair, sunburns as a child and meet those other risk factors, then we recommend annual testing."

Important cause

Melanoma awareness is an important cause for Sampson because she had a close family friend die from the cancer and friends who have been affected by it.

"I think it's one of those things that, until it bothers you, you don't even think about it," she said. "My dad has pre-cancer spots every year. One of my triathlon coaches from a couple of years ago had gotten melanoma within a week of me joining the Impact Melanoma charity. It was a spot that looked like a bug bite."

Now, Sampson makes it a point every year to get checked for skin cancer and takes steps to protect herself from excessive sun exposure while running outside. She recommends anyone who spends time outdoors to get tested annually for skin cancer, which can be highly treatable if caught early.

"I coach cross country right now for our middle school, and we're outside constantly," she said. "The big thing is prevention. I try to run at times when there isn't a lot of sun. There's a lot of different things you can do, like wear protective clothing. They have cooling shirts now, too, that are amazing. I wear a hat every time I run."

Not only has running left Sampson in great physical shape, but it's also been extremely beneficial to her mental health, she said. Sampson was battling depression during training for her first marathon but received help through counseling.

"I knew that I needed to find things that would make me happy, and I had all of these things on my bucket list," she said. "I signed up for three races within a week. In that time period after I finished my half marathon and started training for my full, I realized that even in my depression, running was something that kept me going. I decided that's why I wanted to run a mile every day."

Sampson is looking forward to the whole Boston Marathon experience.

"When you hear about marathons in the U.S., Boston is the quintessential race," she said.

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