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Tucson skin cancer survivor educates, protects with clothing line | Solutions

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Tucson skin cancer survivor educates, protects with clothing line | Solutions

Candice Mason was diagnosed with skin cancer five years ago following a routine mole-removal.

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“When I was first diagnosed, I thought, ‘I have a bucket list, so I’m going to move it up,'”Mason recalls. She had always wanted to start a business.

“As I was sitting in the (chemotherapy) infusion chair, I thought, ‘How can I turn my negative into a positive and educate others in my community about the dangers of UV radiation?'”

She invented the idea of UPF protective clothing, and accessories.





Mason, now 39 years old, is the founder and owner Desert Camo Apparel LLCTucson-based company,, which produces desert-themed clothing & accessories and is certified with a UV Protection Factor 50+.

“What makes me different than anyone else is the desert element in the pattern and the prints,”She spoke. “I feel like I’m developing new kinds of camouflage.”

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With patterns that include prickly pears, saguaro ribs, javelina hide and a gem show design that resembles the inside of a geode, Mason’s camouflage is not your typical mossy oak pattern. Her designs are also distinct from the majority of UPF clothing’s tropical- and water-themed patterns.

After purchasing a camera and learning how it takes photos of her clothing, she does all the design work. She edits the photos on her computer, and then sends the final product to a manufacturing company.

Desert Camo offers clothing for men, women, and children. There’s even a dog version!

Since Desert Camo’s 2018 launch, Mason has had to deal with the recurrence of her melanoma and metastasis; the global pandemic; supply chain issues; and inflation.

She continues to push forward, working to expand her brand and educate others on the importance of skin safety.

Officials at the University of Arizona Skin Cancer Institute are pleased with Mason’s contributions to the community and beyond. They say it helps advance their mission.

Success requires overcoming obstacles

Mason was only 34 when she was diagnosed with superficial spreading melanoma. After two invasive surgeries and a second round of chemotherapy, her diagnosis was elevated to Stage 3 melanoma. The cancer had spread from a nearby lymph node.

The most common form is skin cancer. Melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer. However, it accounts for less than 1% of all skin cancers. American Cancer Society.

According to the Cancer Society, nearly 100,00 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States of Melanoma in 2022. About 7,650 people are expected to die from it. According to the organization, melanoma rates have increased rapidly in the last few decades and the lives of patients have varied according to their age.

The risk of developing melanoma increases as you age. The average age at diagnosis is 65. According to the Cancer Society, melanoma is common in younger people, even those under 30. It is also a common form of cancer in young adults, particularly in young women. 

Mason’s business was just beginning to take off in 2019 when she was diagnosed with melanoma.

“I was rear-ended by a young man near Houghton and the freeway and I started having a chest pain,”She spoke. “A week later, I went to the ER to see if I had bruising, and there was an unidentifiable lesion on my lung.”

Mason was tested positive for Valley Fever. But she said that deep down, she knew her cancer was back. She was positive for Valley Fever. Further scans revealed that she had three lesions in her brain and pelvic walls.






Peanut, a dog model, poses with Desert Camo glasses.




“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions around skin cancer,”She spoke. “People assume you can cut it out and you’ll be fine, but with melanoma, it can spread and potentially be life-threatening.”

Her diagnosis was upgraded to Stage 4, and the wife and mother of three boys started a journey of doctor visits, surgeries (including a double craniotomy), bloodwork, radiation, immunotherapy and body scans.

She was diagnosed with brain tumors in November 2019 and, in the middle of her recovery process, the pandemic struck.

“It felt like every time I’m trying to keep going, something happens,”Mason said. “There was the supply issue, and now there’s inflation. Every time I try to get going, it’s something. Building a brand is hard. If you build it, they will come, but maybe not right away.”

Mason has persevered despite all the obstacles, and her brand message is slowly gaining traction.

“I wish it were to the moon and back, but we’re not there yet,”She spoke.

Get the word out

Although Desert Camo is online-based, it’s still available in downtown Tucson’s Chic Boutique and Spa at 25 E. Congress, owned by a longtime friend of Mason’s, since the start of the year.

Tempe Fashion Week featured Desert Camo, but the pandemic caused a halt to trade shows and other events.

Mason said that she tries to share her story with the community when she can, but she also focuses on the misconceptions around melanoma.

“It’s not just the clothing. I’m trying every avenue and route to get my message about skin cancer out there,”She spoke.



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Desert Camo Apparel sells products online and at Chic Boutique and Spa 25 E. Congress St. 




Desert Camo’s brand ambassador Alyssa Diaz helped her to enter the pageant scene.

Mason met Diaz on Instagram Live during the beginning of COVID, when Mason was Miss Pima County Outstanding Teen.

“My platform was ‘believe in a cure for cancer’, and that’s how we kind of bonded,”Diaz recalled Mason’s rainbow-colored hair while undergoing brain radiation.

“A little bit after that, we did our first photo shoot and ever since then, we’ve just been like this,”She said, crossing one hand over the other.

Diaz, who will be going to Arizona State University this month, said that she hopes to help Mason with Desert Camo and advice about the pageant world.

Mason said that Diaz, who models Mason’s clothing on the company’s website and has modeled in New York Fashion Week, “really helped start the catapult of getting my product out there.”

Mason competed in the July’s Royal International Miss Scholarship Program, Orlando. Last year, Mason helped raise funds for the University of Arizona Skin Cancer Institute.

Mason shared that she has found support through a large online community for melanoma survivors, in addition to her family and friends. Mason has joined forces with other survivors of melanoma, many of whom are from Arizona, and called themselves the “The Alliance”. “mela-homies.”

“When it happened to me, I felt like I was the youngest person. When I go to the doctor, I still feel like I’m really young,”She spoke. “(Through this community,) I realized I’m not alone and that there are other people out there like me nearby who have undergone what I have.”

It is important to have skin checks

Mason’s efforts to help Tucson are not going unnoticed. The Skin Cancer InstituteLisa Quale (the health director at ‘), is familiar with Mason’s work.

“She’s got this great product, but she’s also very committed to sun safety and the education behind sun safety,” Quale said. “Her situation is just incredible.”

The University of Arizona Cancer Center, Banner-University Medical Center, and the Skin Cancer Institute are both part of the University of Arizona Cancer Center. It was founded in 2006 to combat and cure skin cancer.

Quale said that she’s seen a change in the way society views skin carcinoma and the messaging about it over the years.

“There’s more awareness about how to be sun safe and smart about to going to the doctor and checking your skin,” Quale said.

However, there are still some misperceptions that the institute is trying rectify, she stated.

“People kind of think that if they put sunscreen on in the morning before they leave the house, they’re safe for the rest of the day. But you have to reapply every couple hours for sunscreen to be effective,” Quale said.

According to Delaney Stratton a cutaneous-oncology nurse practitioner at the institute, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every one and a half hours if a person is in water and every two hour if they are not.

“I think naturally in Arizona, no one wants to be outside from 10 to 2 because it’s so stinking hot,”Stratton said. “And that’s when most of the ultraviolet rays are out.”

She said that even if someone isn’t outdoors during peak hours, it’s still important for them to apply sunscreen and reapply sunscreen on cloudy days.

“The second it hits your skin, it’s not going to work 100% the whole time,”Stratton said. “The nice thing about UPF clothing is that you don’t have to reapply it. They can look cute and sporty as well, and it’s definitely a little more socially acceptable.”

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends use of a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. The association recommends that sunscreens with higher numbers of SPFs block slightly less of the sun’s harmful UVB radiations. However, no sunscreen can block all of those rays.

It’s also important to look at the ingredients in sunscreen to make sure they include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or avobenzone, which all protect against the different types of damaging sun rays, Quale said.

However, it’s not a guarantee, she stated.

“If you don’t put enough sunscreen on, you can get burned, or if you miss spots or don’t have any sunscreen around and it’s time for reapplication,” Quale said. “Covering up is the way to go. As much as people can wear long sleeves, long pants, sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats, the better off they’re going to be.”

Quale stated that skin checks are equally important, especially if there is a family history or other types of skin cancer.

“Start at the top, work your way down and check anywhere you have skin. If you find anything unusual or that makes you stop because it looks weird, feels weird or you haven’t seen it before, you’ve got to go in and get it looked at,”She spoke. “When in doubt, go and get something checked.”

“Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate” 

Quale stated that over the years, research on the sun’s effects upon aging has boosted interest in sun safety. He also mentioned the development of UV cameras, which show the extent of skin damage.

“A lot of places do take the angle and say the sun causes wrinkles, age spots and sagging, and I feel like that is a really motivating message for all the different age groups,”She spoke.

Quale also stated that something else has changed since the institute was established in 2006.

In 2009, World Health Organization classified exposure to UV emitting tanning beds as carcinogenic.

The organization claims that more than 40 authorities worldwide have now banned tanning beds and imposed restrictions. 

“Back in 2006 and 2010, we wouldn’t have been able to talk about that, but enough people know now that tanning beds are bad and we should be actively trying to get them regulated,” Quale said. “And it used to be you couldn’t send a bottle of sunscreen to school with a child because it was considered medicinal. It wasn’t legal to send sunscreen to school with kids until 2017. There’s been progress.”

The UA and the institute have been proactive over the years in promoting sun safety on campus and in the community, including removing tanning beds from campus buildings and creating a health education program — Project Students are Sun Safe — that trains students to be peer educators. Project SASSTeachers go to local schools and events to teach middle and high school students about sun safety, skin cancer prevention, and other topics.

Mason is glad to know that others are also working towards raising awareness. She said she’s found strength in sharing her story, and there’s no better place to tell it than in sunny Tucson.

“People come here for the sunshine and that’s fine, but let’s cover up a little bit when we’re in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,”Mason said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your beliefs, your race or any of that stuff.”

Caitlin Schmidt, Star reporter at 573-4191, or [email protected] Follow @caitlincschmidt

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