Pedroia helps fight against skin cancer

Pedroia helps fight against skin cancer

BOSTON -- Just about every time Dustin Pedroia is asked about his status as the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player, he tries to turn the subject of conversation back to his team -- the Boston Red Sox.

But when it comes to parlaying his individual success into a good cause, the second baseman is all for it.

There was a large action photo of Pedroia in Friday's USA Today, with the caption "SPF MVP". It was part of a Major League Baseball-sponsored ad to promote the prevention of skin cancer. The ad was the kickoff of this year's Play Sun Smart campaign, an initiative MLB started in 1999. Pedroia is this year's spokesman.

The cause is near and dear to Pedroia, whose wife, Kelli, was a victim of melanoma when she was 18, and had several skin-cancer recurrences -- though not melanoma -- in the ensuing years.

"I don't really care personally that I'm the MVP, but if I can use that to get my point across to people ... if it saves people from getting skin cancer or melanoma or having to go through what Kelli has gone through, that's awesome," said Dustin Pedroia. "That's definitely good to use that to get my point across to people and understand that they need to take care of themselves."

In a sport that is played on many a hot summer day, Pedroia takes constant precaution when it comes to the sun.

"Wear sunscreen," Pedroia said. "That's why I wear those sleeves that are down. You can't see my arms that much because I wear tape. I'm always protected from the sun. Obviously in Kelli's situation, we're thinking about that stuff all the time. Always make sure you're smart about when you're out in the sun. You need to be protected."

Kelli Pedroia is active in getting her message out there, speaking regularly at high schools. And yes, having an MVP for a husband makes her message more powerful. That is something she embraces.

"I do a lot of work for the Melanoma Foundation of New England and through that, I'll go to high schools and I'll speak to the high schoolers and as soon as you say your last name, that grabs their attention, so they're listening and then you can send them the message," said Kelli Pedroia. "While you don't want to use your last name, it helps in this situation."

Play Sun Smart, one of several cancer-fighting initiatives of Major League Baseball, was put into motion by Commissioner Bud Selig, one of many skin cancer survivors.

Selig said he got his "four-month checkup" in New York earlier this week and continued to emphasize the importance of the initiative he launched earlier this decade.

"Skin cancer has just exploded as a concern," Selig said. "People need to see the doctor. It's been five years for me. I talked to the doctor, he said, 'You were in shock back then.'

"It's important to know not to sit in the sun unprotected, to know what it can do. I'm thankful to Dustin and to his wife. She had it. Dustin has done great things for us with this."

Selig also emphasized that this is part of a larger overall umbrella attack on cancer by Major League Baseball. In addition to the Mother's Day concentration on breast cancer with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and to the annual prostate cancer focus on Father's Day, the national pastime continues to work with Stand Up To Cancer in search of major breakthroughs by focusing an institution on an important cause.

"We have been very active with Stand Up To Cancer," Selig said. "It's quite an effort across the board."

The Pedroias are grateful that they can help.

"I think that's great what MLB is doing because so many people look up to the baseball players, and if they're saying something, people will listen," Kelli Pedroia said. "I think it's a great program."

Kelli knows that there is a lot to be learned from her story.

"I was 18. I was irresponsible," she said. "It could be part genes, part lifestyle, but I could have easily prevented it. I think that's the word that we're trying to get out. You can still go out and have a good time. Go to a baseball game -- no problem. Go sit in the shade or put sunscreen on before you go. These guys have sunscreen available to them in the locker room. They can put it on. It takes two minutes and you're not putting yourself at risk.

"I think when I was diagnosed, I didn't even know what melanoma was. I think that just goes to show how much it was not talked about then. Now, of course, I feel like it's everywhere. Maybe just because I'm around it. It was definitely scary to hear the word cancer at 18 and to know that I had kind of brought it on. I'm from outside of Chicago. So I would go to tanning beds and lay out during the summer and when we'd go on vacation and just not protect myself."

The Pedroias are expecting their first child -- a boy -- in August.

"He'll be decked out in a hat and sleeves, and he's going to be white from sunscreen," Kelli Pedroia said.

Though in many cases, a person might have skin cancer and get cured and then sort of forget about the trauma, Kelli Pedroia's situation is an eye-opener.

"I've had skin cancers since [the first time], I had one removed in December," she said. "I've had it on my neck, clavicle. It's an ongoing process and that was, I think, the hardest thing that we've learned together is that, as much as we do good now, it could still come back. It's very easy to get recurrences. My recurrences were not melanomas, which was a good thing, but they were still cancers enough to where, if we hadn't been watching them, they could easily turn into melanomas."

Dustin and Kelli both speak with passion about the value of skin cancer screenings.

"You've still got to get checked," Dustin Pedroia said. "That's the biggest thing. I know it's a pain. It only takes two minutes. It can save your life. If you find it early, then you're fine."

"They have a screening [at Fenway on Friday], in the afternoon, for all Red Sox employees -- staff, players, wives, everybody," said Kelli Pedroia. "They say that every single year they find a melanoma. It just doesn't take long if you go in and get yourself screened."

Dustin Pedroia is proud of his wife's drive to spread the word, which is why he will continue to lend whatever help is needed.

"She's done a great job getting involved with everyone and showing everybody how to be smart about the sun," he said.

"That's the biggest thing. Once you know what she went through, you don't want to see anyone go through stuff like that."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.