Friday, May 8, 2009

A Spot of Trouble

he 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.


Bonita said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story (and pictures) and I rejoice with you that you're free of skin cancer!

I'm a spotted creature too. I used to pay no attention, but as I've gotten older I watch them a lot closer. I have one particular mole that I've had all my life and I watch it very carefully. I guess what got me started watching my spots more closely is the fact that in my thirties I noticed that whenever I'd been in the sun a lot I didn't just tan, I spotted. I've also had a few incidents of sunburn (accidental) in the last few years and I've noticed more discoloration after those.

Like you, I love being outside, though!

Leslie said...

Wow, that's scary! My husband has a lot of moles on his body as does his dad. My hubby has our doctor look at them once in a while, but I'm wondering if he should see a dermatologist. Our younger son has them too on his back, and I know our older son has one on his back.

My mom has had a few spots removed from her face which were basal cell. And then I think of my teenage years as I used to lay out covered in baby oil!!!

Glad you're okay!

Chatty Kelly said...

well if anyone can style a hat or scarf it's you! You look great!

I'm glad this story has a happy ending! I'm a fan of regular dermatologist appointments. I'm spending my life trading moles for scars and I'm okay with it!

You should be too! Thanks for the words of wisdom.

On Purpose said...

Way to educate us all today!

Tea With Tiffany said...

Thank you for sharing. I need to get checked. Not because I have the dark mole but because skin cancer runs in my family and I have lots of freckles. Glad you are doing better.

KelliGirl said...

Thanks for this. I had cancer and I know how scary the "c" word can be. I know how slowly time passes waiting for biopsy results. And how the internet can be our worst enemy as we self-diagnose and predict outcomes (always the worst!).

I'm so thankful that you're cancer-free. Thank God we live in a time when cancer is treatable and that every year strides are being made to improve outcomes even more.

Thanks for being brave and sharing've got me thinking about having my many spots checked out.

BTW, I'm sure you look way cool in your scarf. If you make it a do-rag, you can get a Harley to go with it (you've already got the scars!). ;-)

I'm rejoicing for your health and praying for swift healing.

Happy Mothers' Day.

Beverlydru said...

Yikes! This strikes real close to home for me. This is a family issue. I've had numerous moles removed and all good reports thus far but I am probably a little paranoid about this. Lived in FL all my life without disregard for sun protection when younger. Glad you are healing. I'll stay vigilant.

Julie Gillies said...

Wow-I am so grateful that God sent you a choir of people to sound the alarm. Glad for your good report, too.

And this post is timely for me...I have lots of freckles, etc. as well and just noticed a new tiny black spot, almost just a speck, really, but it wasn't there before. Soooo, I will be getting it checked out. All because of your post. Thank you!

Edie said...

I am so glad you're cancer free!

I'm always checking for spots but I have to confess I don't know that I would go to the doctor without some prodding myself. :)

The Patterson 5 said...

Thanks for sharing your experience and the photos....Photos that look harmless enough but will prompt others to take their health seriously. I am so glad to hear you are cancer free and on the look out! Pass the sunscreen....from a fellow pink healing scar, cancer free gal!