Here is something written by my lovely mother about getting diagnosed with skin cancer. I wanted to share her post because I think it’s really important for people to know more about the dangers of the sun. I hear so many of my friends say they are going to the pool to “tan,” and I understand wanting to have nice color, but it can come at a very high price. I’ll do another post soon about a few of my favorite products (self tanner, bronzer, vitamin D tablets, clothing items, and a few other things) that keep you healthy and make you feel like you have a nice, summery glow. Without further ado, though, here is my mom’s message about skin cancer.
One of the biggest fears most people have when getting a diagnosis from the doctor is hearing the “C” word, and in March that’s exactly what my dermatologist told me I had.
As a child I spent most of my summer days in our backyard pool or at the beach. My mother always insisted I wear a t-shirt over my swimsuit since I was fair-skinned, and thankfully she always kept me in a sun hat. As I got older I admired my sister and friends who could get a deep, golden tan, which is when I started using concoctions like baby oil mixed with iodine to attract as much sun as possible. My best friend and I would sit out in the midday sun when the rays were their brightest in hopes of looking like the model on the Coppertone ad.
As a young adult, I discovered that nearly anyone could get a “healthy” looking tan by going to the tanning booths that were popular in the early 80’s. It seemed like they were everywhere, and everyone was doing it. Looking back I am so happy that I only purchased one package, as I hated the strange smell and the claustrophobic feeling they gave. The beach was still my favorite place, so whenever I had an opportunity to travel I chose somewhere with lots of sun and sand.
I have always been interested in health and wellness, which is why I decided to become an esthetician many years ago. By then I knew that any kind of tan is considered sun damage. I did whatever I could to avoid having sun on my face and always used a good amount of sunscreen. My kids who were avid swimmers never left the house without being slathered with sunscreen and an SPF shirt. I lovingly nagged all of my clients about the danger of too much sun exposure and my “platform” was reinforced when a sweet young man treated his mom to a relaxing facial with me. He had driven her straight from the hospital. To my horror, when she removed her hat she had a giant scar from one side of her scalp to the other and had received the diagnosis of terminal melanoma. Her sweet son was treating her to something he hoped would make her feel better. That poor lady and her son will be forever ingrained in my mind, so you can see why this has always been one of my most important platforms when educating my clients.
This leads me to my doctor’s appointment this past March. I have always been diligent at getting my annual skin cancer screenings. It’s never fun sitting in the paper gown knowing that someone will be scanning every part of you from head to toe, but the alternative of not being checked could always be worse than the embarrassment, so I bit the bullet and went into the office. “No changes, you look fine,” the doctor said. I showed him a very tiny dry patch of skin just below my throat that I had been concerned about. “Oh that’s nothing,” he assured me, so I left feeling confident and proud of myself for being able to cross the annual appointment off my “to-do” list. A couple months later I accompanied my daughter to the same dermatologist for one of her appointments. Before the doctor left the room I asked him if he would mind taking a look at that tiny patch of dry skin again that he had dismissed as normal before, and told him I had tried exfoliating it but that it kept coming back. Again, he took a look with his doppler glasses and said casually, “Nothing!” I felt relief, because in the back of my mind I kept thinking of that poor lady and her sweet son who had visited my esthetics office some years back.
About three months passed and I went to my family doctor for my annual checkup. During the exam, I showed her the tiny patch below my throat and she said she wanted me to see the dermatologist she refers to, so I went to see him that Thursday. I showed him the dry patch and he biopsied it right then and there in the office. He told me if it was positive, someone would call me within 3 business days. Tuesday rolled around and no call. Great, I thought! I’m in the clear. Another week passed, then another. Several weeks later the phone rang. “I’m calling to tell you that your biopsy was positive for cancer,” I heard on the other end of my phone. Wait, didn’t they say they would call within three days? Now my mind was racing back to months before when I had first asked my dermatologist about the cancer I now realized had taken residence in my body! When I asked the bearer of my news why she didn’t call me sooner she simply said, “Ma’am, we have a stack of calls to make every day.” I asked her what my next step was and she said the doctor would do the surgery to remove an inch around the area. My first concern was getting these rogue cells the heck out of my body, but realizing this scar was going to be significant and unable to hide above any neckline outside of a turtleneck I said I would get back to her to make the appointment — I wanted to check with a skin surgeon I knew of who was also a plastic surgeon. Then she informed me that by law I needed to let her know within a few weeks that this procedure had been completed. Why then did it take the dermatologists’ staff three weeks to let me know I had cancer in the first place?!
Due to the busy demands of the doctor, yet another three weeks passed before I was able to reluctantly go in for the surgery. The surgeon performed what they call MOHS surgery, which is a procedure in which they take as little tissue as possible and test it for cancer cells right away. They continue to take more if necessary until it is all gone. I was so thankful that it only took one “pass” until I was told they had gotten it all. They stitched me up, put dressing on the wound, and told me they expected to see me again as most people who have these types of carcinoma become “repeat customers.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
Shortly after the procedure I was talking with my friend and described my cancer patch to her. She grew quiet and said she had the same kind of thing just above her eyebrow. “I’m sure you are just overly-concerned because of what I just went through,” I reassured her, but knew there was always a chance, so suggested to get it checked — just in case. She phoned me a couple of weeks later to let me know that her doctor had found bad cells!
My platform for maintaining healthy skin now feels even more important and I am asking you to thoroughly check yourself. Get on the phone and make that yearly dermatological appointment to get yourself checked head to toe. A good exam includes the doctor checking your scalp, behind your ears, between your toes and even inside your mouth. If you have a strange feeling about a mole or a freckle or a dry patch of skin that just won’t go away, get to the doctor as soon as possible. If you feel that someone might not be right about your diagnoses, it never hurts to get a second opinion. Early detection is your best friend.
My scar is healing well. A couple of weeks ago I knew that my incision was healed enough to use my needling roller to smooth out the scar. I honestly can’t believe how much that has helped! I’m guessing there will always be a small scar but I will wear it proudly as a reminder for myself and others to take precautions when outdoors, and to always get your annual dermatological skin screening.