Choose You Blog

The importance of being earnest about skin checks

May 19th, 2010 by - comments (20)

Julie says, 'I choose skin care and thank goodness I did!"

It was just this little spot. An annoying little spot on my nose. It would start to go away and then would flare up, get a sort of crusty scab, then fade down to something like a scar. When it first arrived, I thought it was acne. It was on my nose, after all, and it flared up during PMS. But it never went away, it just kept cycling up and down as my body cycled up and down.

The thing is, I knew it was something. My mother had skin cancer years ago when I was in college. She went in for a day patient surgery to have it removed, and it all began with this annoying spot on her nose. In my early twenties about twenty years ago I had this mole that was exhibiting those “red flag” symptoms and the dermatologist excised the area and sent samples for biopsy. Nothing, thankfully, but the doctor warned me I was the poster child for skin cancer, and the pre-cancerous spot on my arm was a big screaming warning.

I heeded it, and became diligent about limiting sun exposure and wearing sun block. I always wore hats out, too. As a result, my skin looks pretty good for my age, but…it was not enough and too little, too late.

That spot on my nose was why my big Choose You goal was skin care and skin checks. So yesterday I went to the dermatologist for a long overdue skin check, and she found several areas of skin cancer. The spot on the nose, she treated right away. The rest are a little more complicated and I go back very soon for treatment of those. The bad news? Skin cancer. The good news? I got a check and it is all caught early. The shock? The area of largest concern was not even a spot I worried about. I thought it was just a no big deal freckle.

As soon as I got home I notified my Choose You group for support. I knew they’d accept my whining and give me the love I craved. The second thing I did was dive into the Google, as much as I knew that was a bad idea. However, I went to the American Cancer Society’s skin cancer facts site and got really good, non-scary information.

So how did I get skin cancer and what does it mean?

I am fair complected, got sunburns as a child, have a family history of skin cancer, and I am in the sun every day (with sun block on). My skin has little melatonin, and responds to UV by freckling. I also have moles, some of which have been atypical.

The important thing is that I got that check. So we caught this early and can treat it with one of the simple treatments, including cryosurgery ( liquid nitrogen freezing off of the area) and excision or Mohs.

The worrisome spot on my nose is very early stages and was treated with cryosurgery right in the office. I’ll return for a biopsy of the other areas. From that point, we’ll know better what the situation is and the best method of treatment. Right now, my doctor suspect, based on visual, that it’s all local. That’s good news. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma have a very high cure rate.

What made me suspicious?

I knew my mother’s story of her skin cancer, so when the spot on my nose didn’t heal, I knew I had a problem. I delayed longer than I should have — a warning sign is a sore that doesn’t heal in two weeks, so I should have gotten check a couple of months ago — but luckily I did go get checked.

Skin cancer is actually the most common cancer, and over 2 million Americans will get the same diagnosis as me this year.

However, the more serious areas did not even arouse my suspicions and I’m still not sure why they concerned my doctor. At best, I can think the only symptom might be a slight spread of brown pigmentation.

The point there is: GO GET CHECKED. You can’t diagnose yourself, only a doctor is trained to know for sure.

If you are at risk, you should get checked early and regularly.

Could I have prevented this?

Skin cancer is fairly preventable, but I had so many risk factors I’m not going to play the “if only I had” blame game. Nobody was taking skin cancer or sun block seriously in the 70s nor even in the 80s (aka the Baby oil and Crisco days). Because of my fair skin, and my tendency to burn, I was never a sun goddess. As a child, my mother even made me wear a t-shirt over my swim suit for protection. I don’t think we even knew about sunblock when I was a child. So even though I never stayed in the sun much, wore hats, and added in sunblock as soon as I was aware, I still got the cancer.

I have made lots of changes for my kids, even though, courtesy of their dark-skinned father, they have better melatonin and pigment than I do.

I follow the skin care/cancer prevention advice from ACS:

Can skin cancer be prevented? The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are to avoid intense sunlight for long periods of time and to practice sun safety. You can continue to exercise and enjoy the outdoors while practicing sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade: Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
  • Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you are out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
  • Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen (about a palmful) and reapply after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
  • Wrap on sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
  • Follow these practices to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous because they can damage your skin.

20 Responses to “The importance of being earnest about skin checks”

  1. Morra says:

    Julie, I am so grateful you caught it early and it will be ok. You have inspired me to set up an appointment TODAY. I am covered in freckles and better get them checked. Thank you!

  2. Path says:

    Julie — I’m so glad you made a commitment, kept your commitment to getting checked — and that everything will be alright. And thanks for sharing your story! I’m way overdue for a check myself, and our situations are so similar — down to the mother and baby oil — that you’ve convinced me this is URGENT! Be well — Pat

  3. Growing up in MIami, I was also a poster child for skin cancer –and to my shock was diagnosed with it before I was 30. (fortunately basal cell, the least dangerous and most curable) I’m sad that you got this wake up call but glad that you can use it in such a positive way to wake up so many others.

  4. Morra and Pat, so glad you guys are motivated to go get checked! May all be well! And good for you.

    Darryle, yeah, Texas is about the same. And thank you. :)

  5. pgoodness says:

    I am so glad that you’re going to be ok and that you decided to get checked out. Sadly, I think that all of us from the sun loving 70s and 80s are going to have some sort of skin cancer issues eventually. My melanoma diagnosis was a huge wake up call to keep a better eye on myself.

  6. Hi Julie. Thankfully you caught it early. I know you will go on to be an inspiration for many others to get checked.

  7. Mary says:

    Julie, thanks for sharing. As a baby boomer, this sounds exactly like my own story. Hopefully many others will recognize themselves in your story and make the commitment for regular check-ups.

  8. Tracey says:

    Hi Julie…I am so glad you made that appointment! My mother discovered a mole on her left arm when she was 23 yrs. old and it turned out to be malignant melanoma! Because it was caught early, it literally saved her life! The mole was removed down to her bone and they did a skin graf from her thigh to replace it. I t just hits home the fact that you need to get checked as soon as possible!

  9. Debi P. says:

    Awww…Julie. {{hugs}} It took as much courage to write that post as it did to go to the doctor. I’m so happy they caught it and caught it early. And I’m thankful for the Choose You campaign.

  10. You guys — thank you for so much support!!!! And I am *so happy* to see so many women inspired to go get checked!

  11. magpie says:

    Damn. I’m glad you got it checked out.

    My mother had lots of those little cancers; my sister had a very early melanoma. Thus far, I’ve been lucky, but I do go to the dermatologist regularly…

  12. YAY for getting checked! BOO for skin cancer!

    But most of all, HURRAY for Julie and the guts to go CHOOSE YOU and take care of yourself!

    Love to you –

  13. christine says:

    sorry to hear about that julie, but i’m glad you had it checked out. lots of people think, “skin cancer” no biggie. but it IS a biggie. and it CAN be fatal. the malignant melanoma i had had the potential to take my life, and most people just don’t understand that. thanks for posting!

  14. Miss Britt says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I’m trying to figure out the best way to “go get checked”.

  15. Miss Britt — what’s your obstacle to getting checked? Is it insurance? Choosing a doctor? Knowing which doctor?

  16. Heather says:

    Thank you, Julie, for sharing. My last surgery was on September 16th on my neck. They had to put me to sleep, and make three incisions in highly sensitive areas. I am still in some pain. It sitll hurts to talk and swallow, hurts moving my neck and hurts when my pulse increases. I was out of work all of last week. I realized THIS time that I am a cancer patient. Like you, I grew up in the 70s at the beach. One of the removals was basal cell, one was close to squamous and one was squamas. I have been burned and cut since I was in my upper 20s. The best way to go get checked is get it done NOW! And don’t be timid – allow the dermotologist to do a FULL body check. My doctor even checks between the toes1

  17. MYRNA SOLL says:

    I have a long horror story/, I will make it as short as possible. I was exposed to lots of sun as a child, I am now 75. I also was very careful to be checked yearly.
    In 2006 I had something suspicious on my leg, the doctor assured me it was NOTHING but an age spot I scratched. I was back every 3 months, because it was changing, he never biopsied it. Finally in 2008 he biopsied it, It was melanoma!! I had surgery and a skin graft. It took a long time to heal and close. I have since had several other spots all melanoma removed. In August of 2010, I had a Regional Limb Perfusion to try and stop the mealnoma from spreading.I am still recovering.
    I am now under the watchful eyes of several doctors, I need PET scans every 4 months. Of course I do not use that doctor anymore. But had he been doing his job, maybe I would not be a cancer patient now.
    I take one day at a time, and I Thank G*d for every day.
    I do not know what will happen in the future, but who does???

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