Skin Check event key to sun-loving couple's successful cancer treatment


Richard and Karleen Kingsbury were fortunate to receive free skin screenings that revealed that they both had melanoma.

The Kingsburys benefited from Lifespan's multidisciplinary care

Cranston couple Richard and Karleen Kingsbury, like many in the Ocean State, are devoted beachgoers. Family photos displayed in their home show them, their children and grandchildren on the sand and by the water, all smiling broadly. It’s a summer pastime that they’ve enjoyed for decades, and much of their social life in the warmer months revolves around it – cruising in their classic convertible Corvette, passing the day on the beach with friends, lingering for dinner afterwards.

“The beach is where we’re happiest,” says Karleen. “We’re usually there every weekend, and for the past 17 years, we’ve spent our two-week vacation at Misquamicut.”

But all of that sun-seeking can come at a cost, especially for a generation now in their 50s and 60s, for whom sun damage and skin cancer wasn’t a concern and sunscreen far from a lifelong habit.

Last summer, Karleen saw a promotion for the annual summer Skin Check series, a free screening offered at beaches and other recreation areas around the state by WJAR NBC 10, Lifespan, the Rhode Island Department of Health and other organizations participating in The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island. On-site assessments are made by board-certified dermatologists and dermatology residents, with referrals made for any suspicious spot. 

Karleen had been meaning to find a dermatologist, mostly because she had concerns about a spot on her arm, but she knew that the wait could be weeks or months for an office visit. She decided to take advantage of the free screening, and Richard came along, too, knowing that he had a spot on his back that his primary doctor wanted him to keep an eye on. Their suspicions were well-founded. The Rhode Island Hospital experts who checked them out were immediately concerned enough to send them for a referral. And when they went for follow-up with dermatologist Sandy Chai, M.D., at Brown Dermatology’s Rhode Island Hospital location, both Karleen and Richard soon learned they’d need to be treated for melanoma. 

Karleen was treated surgically by Dr. Chai in the office for the spot on her arm. Another spot identified on her neck led to her being treated by dermatologist and Mohs surgeon William Higgins, M.D., using modified MOHS micrographic surgery. The method minimizes the surgical site by giving the physician faster feedback than the conventional method to ensure they’ve excised all the cancerous cells. Richard needed a much more invasive procedure with surgical oncologist Michael Vezeridis, M.D., of the Lifespan Cancer Institute and University Surgical Associates.

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While they’re not going to break their beach habit altogether, the Kingsburys say that after all they’ve been through in the last year, their awareness is certainly raised.

“I never wore sunscreen,” says Richard, who is a finish carpenter and often spends time outside in the sun at job sites cutting lumber. “I’m using a (SPF) 30 now.”

Karleen says she’s also begun a daily regimen of applying sunscreen and makeup that contains an SPF. She enjoys gardening, as evident from their home’s manicured landscaping, which also contributes to her time in the sun.

The couple didn’t want to worry their children too much over their experience, but were happy to notice that their daughter, who lives locally and has been involved in their melanoma care, began using sunscreen herself. They did share the ordeal with their beach friends, and are hoping that they’ll be more attuned to changes in their skin and practicing smarter sun protection.

The Kingsburys say they greatly appreciated the rapidly coordinated treatment they both received. 

“We were lucky that we were able to be seen quickly, have surgery within 14 days or so, and move on,” says Karleen. 

They’ll be cruising to the beach again, armed with sunscreen and sun-smarts.