The spots just never phased me. I have always had them...freckles, moles. You can find the Little Dipper on my right arm if you connect the dots!
So, there was this spot on my left arm that I had seen. Then, one day, another spot appeared over top of the one that was there. And, over time, that spot got very dark. Friends in the know started to notice.
"Maybe you should have that one looked at?"
"What?! What for? I'm covered with spots. This one just grew on top of the other one."
Then, the spot got a little taller, and a little wrinkly. Again, the friends were singing in harmony, "Maybe you should...." And then my Primary joined in, followed by my OB. The chorus was getting a bit deafening.
My dermatological referral, by eenie-meenie-minee-WOMAN and God's providence, ended up being with a skin cancer surgeon, not a dermatologist. But, she saw me anyway and quickly deduced that my spot-on-a-spot was most likely cancer...and most likely melanoma. The pathology report proved both her suspicions to be correct.
The biopsy had removed all the cancer cells, but she performed additional surgery ("the standard protocol") to make sure the surrounding area was clear as well. My scar from the fall surgery still looks like a pink scorpion tattoo, but that means it is healing well.
* * *
The surgeon was rather blunt with me about my future. Get a dermatologist. Regular appointments every few months. Sunscreen. Long sleeves. Hats. And watch for spots, "even in places where the sun don't shine." Yikes.
I'm not a sunbather, but I do like to be outside. I use sunscreen--50 SPF, even. But, that was only starting 10 years ago, after the girls came along. As I share with other friends, their stories are not uncommon. "We didn't know then." Now, we know!!
My first visit to a regular dermatologist came with noting several more spots of suspicion, including one that got him a little worried. You quickly learn "once a melanoma, always a possibility for a melanoma." Although the biopsy did reveal skin cancer, the spot was not melanoma, but basal cell carcinoma. If you could have a "good kind" of skin cancer, this is the one to have.
Unfortunately, this spot--which appeared bluish, like in this photo--developed on a birthmark on my head. I had joked before my appointment with the surgeon that he might as well take the whole thing out. My bald spot wasn't serving any useful purpose except to be a magnet for more bad spots. Surprisingly to me, the surgeon came to the same conclusion and took the whole thing (and got all the skin cancer, too!).
This was all well and good, except I was rather naive about what that meant for the recovery. Picture what would happen if God decided to connect South America into that area of Africa from where it looks like it broke off--evaporating the Atlantic Ocean and any spots in the way. And then, sewed it up with baseball stitching.
* * *Again, the good news is that I'm skin cancer-free and my wounds are on the mend. The dermatologist will be seeing me as many times this year as I will visit all of my other healthcare providers combined. He's a nice man. He says I just produce more pigment than most--"and that's OK," he says.
I now have open conversations with folks about spots and their experiences. And there are a lot of folks out there with stories! My story sent another friend to have spots checked and has other people asking questions.
Because the surgeon had to shave part of my head, I've got the new scarf-do/hat thing going on these days. Can't tell you how many times in the last couple weeks folks have commented about "how stylish" that is, leaving an opening for me to talk about the why's underneath.
How do you know if you're in a spot of trouble? I'm not an expert, though I'm on the fast-track to learning. If your friends (or doctors) are singing the same old song, your radio dial may be stuck for a reason.