I wasn't going to let basal cell carcinoma stop me from a life outdoors.

By Ellen Marmur, M.D. as told to Mary Anderson
May 07, 2020
Ellen Marmur
Credit: Ellen Marmur

Ellen Marmur, M.D., is a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City, associate professor of dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, founder of MM Skincare, and member of the Shape Brain Trust.

Even though I'm a dermatologist and surgeon, I'm not immune to life-altering, scary skin issues like you'd expect. In 2006, I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, and had surgery to remove the cancer cells on my nose. Three years later, I found out that I once again had basal cell carcinoma, this time on my cheek.

Despite my repeated skin cancer diagnoses, six years ago I suddenly realized that I needed to live life to the fullest, outdoors. So I started an annual charity hiking trip—called Skin Cancer, Take a Hike, open to anyone willing and able—to raise funds for and awareness of the disease. Since 2014, I've organized hikes up Mount Kilimanjaro and through the wilderness in New York, Patagonia, Chile, and Alaska.

Skin Cancer, Take a HIke!
Credit: Ellen Marmur

The Restorative Power of a Hike

On our Alaska hike two years ago, we were airlifted to a remote lake and then bushwhacked our way back—so you can see why some people call hiking a forest bath. Even when I’m walking city streets, I imagine the rush of hiking over crunchy earth. It’s a physical-spiritual feeling.

Tent while hiking

Gearing Up for the Big Outing

I increase my training to seven days a week before a trip: cardio, plus core strength and light weights. I also hike local smaller mountains to check my gear for all weather conditions.

Skin Cancer, Take a Hike!
Credit: Ellen Marmur

Lessons in Sun Safety

The hike locations I choose, like Mount Kilimanjaro and the one this June in Italy, are meant to increase our understanding of how altitude, ozone, latitude, and attitudes about sun protection affect skin cancer. But I've also learned just how invigorating hiking can be, both for the mind and body. Sweat is the best cleanser, and exercise is the best holistic way to have amazing skin.

Shape Magazine, May 2020 issue