GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. -- Ray Hubbard was born in Colorado 71 years ago. Now, he's paying the price for years spent in our blazing sun with little sun protection. He recently underwent skin cancer surgery that resulted in the removal of the bottom half of his right ear.
Hubbard, father of FOX31 anchor Jeremy Hubbard, is fighting the cancer with hope and humor.
"Somebody was talking to me the other day, and I said, 'You know, I can only hear half of what you tell me out of that ear now. Tell me twice, I'll get it,'" Hubbard joked to his son during a recent interview.
"I use an electric shaver, so I don't always have to look in the mirror. Because it's odd. It's something I haven't gotten used to. I never run into somebody with half an ear before," Hubbard said.
The problem can probably be traced to a freewheeling childhood spent outdoors, 5,761 feet above sea level in Glenwood Springs. It's where his parents ran the local grocery store and he spent every spare moment exploring outside.
"There was so much to do outdoors, and then the pool, of course. But every time I'd go in the pool, I'd burn. I got a farmer's tan on my arms but that's all. I wouldn't tan," Hubbard said.
And nobody even thought about sunscreen in the 1960s.
About 30 years ago, doctors found the first pre-cancerous spots on his skin. Years later, they found melanoma and removed a tiny part of his ear. Recently, that same ear started causing some problems.
"And I started feeling pain in my right earlobe, and there was a little bitty bump in there," Hubbard said.
The cancer was back.
"And that's when I lost half the ear and then, they went into my neck and took the melanoma out." he said.
Just weeks ago, Hubbard went under the knife yet again, and he learned the melanoma had spread to at least 19 lymph nodes.
Cancer is a humorless disease. But surprisingly, it hasn't robbed Hubbard of his humor.
"I told (the surgeon), 'If you cut me again, put a zipper on there (for easier access).' Not going to do the stitch thing (again)," Hubbard said. "My biggest fear is leaving my family behind."
Hubbard's fight is one 9,500 new people are diagnosed with every day. And Colorado has the nation's highest per-capita rate of skin cancer. Those of us who live at an elevation of a mile high get 25 percent more UV rays than people at sea level.
"See a dermatologist if you see anything suspect," Hubbard said.
Right now, doctors say his cancer is stage three. It hasn't yet spread to his organs.
Jokes are his favorite cancer medicine. And for a man who truly finds the humor in anything, this really made him smile: that old grocery store his parents used to run in downtown Glenwood Springs? It's now home to a dermatology clinic.
"So yeah, I thought, 'That's awfully ironic,'" Hubbard said.
Hubbard's goal in sharing his story is to drive home the importance of skin cancer awareness in Colorado. Our state's high altitude, outdoor lifestyle and abundant sunshine expose people to higher amounts of UV sunlight than much of the rest of the nation. The rate of new skin cancer diagnosis in Colorado is higher than the national average, and residents here are one of the most high-risk groups for death from skin cancer in the entire nation.
Dermatologists recommend wearing long-sleeve T-shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses at every opportunity, along with sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
They also recommend giving yourself a monthly skin self-check, so you can spot any changing spots that might be cancerous or pre-cancerous.
The Colorado Melanoma Foundation travels the state, offering free skin cancer screenings in a mobile exam room they call "The Sun Bus." The bus offers the screenings and sun safety education throughout the year as a service of the foundation, which is a non-profit aimed at promoting melanoma awareness in Colorado.
"The Sun Bus" will be visiting FOX31 on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 from 2-6 p.m., with free skin cancer screenings from 4-6 p.m. Feel free to drop by the FOX31 studios at Speer Boulevard and Lincoln Street near downtown Denver to chat with a dermatologist about your skin and the risk factors you face in Colorado.AlertMe