Okay so I’ve had lots of other things going on lately and because of that, it’s been so so long since I’ve posted a Wellness Wisdom column – and golly gee with the “when it rains, it pours” thing really coming true for me lately… do I have one fun post for you today!
So being a fair-skinned native Oregonian who’s seen more overcast days than sunny ones in her life, whose gotten her share of sunburns as a kid (never blistering, fortunately), and whose with that purchased gallons upon gallons of sunscreen, I’ve always been hyper-alert about looking at my skin, making sure my moles aren’t changing, that I wear facial moisturizer every day with SPF 15, reapplying sunscreen, wearing hats, blah blah blah.
Here’s my story:
Eleven years ago I had a mole removed from the back of my shoulder because my bra strap irritated it, and it grew back super ugly! Who knew those buggers could grow back? But this time it’s about five times the width and flat – basically an ugly scar.
Five years ago I made an appointment with a local dermatologist to do a skin care check to take a look at it, and everything else, including a few small random sores that would appear on my leg or arm, not growing or doing anything, and often going away after a year or so. This particular doctor spent maybe a minute looking at everything, measuring and noting nothing, and said “everything looks fine” even though she couldn’t tell me what the sores were.
Last week I went in for a skin care check with a new dermatologist (yay for Yelp reviews, I gotta say – I found the best reviewed ones on my side of town then checked my insurance to pick the best one that was also in-network). Not only did she spend more time but she had her assistant note all of her measurements of my existing moles, and looked at the two little sores (one on my calf, very small, and the other on my left upper thigh, a little bigger at about half a centimeter wide). The little one she said are often genetic and related to hormone fluctuation, but the big one she immediately said we need to do a biopsy on it. For those who haven’t had one for this type of thing, she described it well to me – like getting a really bad scrape. She put numbing cream on it so within seconds I couldn’t feel it, but honestly y’all, I’ve had my share of big ass IVF needles so my pain threshold is a bit different than it once was – I was fine with it.
Today we got the call from her office, and you never like the “do you have a sec?” question that precedes bad news. Turns out that little sore that the other doctor blew off indeed is a form of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer called a basal cell carcinoma. Over FIVE MILLION cases are diagnosed every year, and fortunately, they are the easiest and fastest to treat (and insurance covers most if not all of it, whew!). Treatments can include surgery (longer, more expensive and recuperation time is also longer with time required off work, but scarring is totally minimal after healing – so it’s best for those areas like your face, etc. that you don’t want to look gnarly afterwards) or ED&C which is basically a more in-depth scrape (and takes 10 minutes – scar is noticeable but it’s healed in a few weeks and no time off needed). So because I’m not exactly wearing micro-minis or worried about my thighs in a swimsuit (cellulite is much more of a worry when it comes to vanity, LOL), next week I’ll go in for the ED&C.
While ultimately I’ll be just fine, it doesn’t mean I didn’t have a quick teary moment with my husband after the call – no one wants to hear any sentence that includes the word “cancer” or words that end in “noma”. Especially being 24 hours after my thermography results requiring a breast MRI, 6 weeks from our 4th and final DEIVF attempt, and days after unsuccessful acupuncture treatments on my foot are seeming more and more like a heel spur…ugh!
Here’s the big thing I learned: We are all told over and over again to look for MOLES – ones that have changed, are asymmetrical, etc. But this didn’t in any way look like a mole. Just looked like I’d scraped/cut myself and it was a little sore that wouldn’t go away. It didn’t bleed, it didn’t itch, it didn’t change in size. And the first dermatologist ignored it. And guess what, it’s cancer, and untreated can lead to major nerve damage. Fuck! So the lesson? If there’s something funny on your skin, get it checked out. And if the doctor cannot identify it – get a second opinion!!!!
In the meantime, here’s the Australian campaign from my husband’s childhood that was so great for skin cancer awareness – here in the US there are no requirements like in Oz that kids wear hats and have sunscreen at school…and I so wish there were! Below the video I also have included an awesome infographic about skin cancer including some common myths. Only thing I’d add? They don’t always come in “commonly exposed areas to the sun” – I wear a swimsuit maybe once every two years, y’all, and wear bermuda shorts, so this upper thigh is not what I’d ever consider a danger zone!