In the spirit of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Indico’s Brandi Corbello decided it was time to speak up about her own battle with skin cancer in hopes of helping others prevent the disease as well as send a message about life and leadership.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve been through because it made me a better leader,” Corbello says. “It’s made me more vulnerable, empathetic, thoughtful, honest and a better listener.”
Skin cancer diagnosis and treatment
Now VP of Global Delivery for Indico, Corbello was VP of Transformation for the commercial real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield in the summer of 2019 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 skin cancer.
It all started innocuously enough. Near the end of July she went to a dermatologist to have a mole removed. As is the norm, the mole was sent to a lab to make sure it’s not cancerous. About a week later, while on a business trip in Kansas, Corbello got a phone call. “It’s melanoma. You need to see a surgeon,” she was told. “I was only on the phone for 90 seconds.”
She returned early from her trip, got surgery within a week and a few days later got more grim news: the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She had stage 3 skin cancer. Unusual for a woman in her late 20s, but not unheard of.
What followed was a whirlwind. Another surgery took place in early August and plans were made for immunotherapy treatment, then a relatively new option that is less toxic than chemotherapy and radiation. Before that could begin in October, eggs had to be frozen.
Once treatments started, it meant 13 monthly infusions for 60 to 90 minutes apiece. All the while, most weekends Corbello was flying from Chicago, to where she had recently moved for work, back to Charlotte, where she was finishing her last semester of grad school.
The good news is the therapy is having the desired effect and Corbello is in remission. She now goes to the dermatologist every six months for labs and scans, down from every three initially. Once a year she has an MRI because, she says, “Melanoma loves the brain, apparently.” There’s also a retina specialist every six months, to monitor “a weird freckle on the back of one eye.” These checkups will continue until she’s in remission for 10 years.
A new outlook on work life
What is also likely to continue is the revised outlook her cancer treatment has had on her professional life. That includes showing a more vulnerable side, meaning being open to sharing her personal life and emotions at work. Cancer sort of forced that point.
“My team found out the week after I did. They knew when I was going through treatments,” she says. During one particularly difficult 90-day stretch, she was in and out the hospital frequently and had trouble eating. Whether or not she could work was a day-to-day decision.
But the ordeal has taught her it’s OK to be vulnerable, as well as honest and direct. Cancer has a way of getting people to focus on the now, and to not waste time, while still being empathetic.
“Going through cancer has made me not take things personally. Work isn’t personal. If you can build a culture of trust, people will know you have their interests at stake,” Corbello says. “When you have to be direct, they’ll know you’re not attacking them personally; it’s about work.
Apparently, her message resonated. In the midst of her cancer odyssey, as well as the global pandemic, Corbello succeeded in building an automation team at Cushman & Wakefield that scaled from 0 to 50 people in a matter of months.
Skin cancer prevention tips and resources
Beyond work, Corbello is also interested in spreading the message that the risk of getting skin cancer is real, and the consequences can be dire. But prevention is relatively straightforward.
“Don’t go to tanning beds. Wear sunscreen. I put it on every day, even in winter,” she says. “Go to the dermatologist every year.” That’s right – every year, just like annual physicals with your primary care doctor. “It’s the easiest thing you can do for yourself.”
She also advises people to know their bodies. It was only because she recognized a freckle had turned into a mole that Corbello went to the dermatologist in the first place. “Next thing you know, I’m down path of stage 3 skin cancer,” she says.
A look at some facts assembled by the Skin Cancer Foundation show she is far from alone:
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
- More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
- Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
- In the U.S., more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. More than two people die of the disease every hour.
- More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.
She’s right about the tanning beds and sunscreen, too, as studies show about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The good news: when detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports.
For more information and resources, including how to spread the word about skin cancer prevention, see the foundation’s page on Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Or check out the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Melanoma Awareness Month page, which includes info on its #GetNaked campaign aimed at encouraging everyone to conduct monthly skin checks on themselves. It’s a simple exercise that may well prevent dire consequences.