In June of 2012, I had a dental check-up and regular teeth cleaning at Dr. Keith’s. My favorite dental hygienist, Erin Stahl, noticed the dark spot on my nose that I had been ignoring for a few months. It was getting bigger and darker. She suggested that I get in touch with a Dermatologist to determine if it is something to be concerned about. As a point of interest, once I actually called, it took around 6 months to get the first appointment. Dermatologists are in high demand, as I found out.
At the first visit, I was assured that there was nothing to worry about (it looked like a cosmetic age spot, not skin cancer), and they would freeze it off if I wanted them to. The follow up visit was about 3 months later, and the Dr. used liquid nitrogen to freeze off the top layers where the spot was. Within about 6 weeks, the spot returned and I scheduled another follow-up. The Dr. was concerned that it came back so fast and suggested I get a biopsy. Without getting into the why, I deferred that biopsy appointment until the next available slot, which ended up in late June of 2013 (yep, gave away another 6 weeks of precious time). The news I got on July 2 from the biopsy was scary – Melanoma. By July 8, I was in a plastic surgeon’s office, and on July 17, I was in surgery. The doctor gave me great news in the first post-surgery visit – cancer free “margins” around the area removed. About as good as that kind of news can possibly be. So, I am thrilled that the doc gave me the “OK to run” signal, but even more blessed that the test results were clean. God is good!
So, with any happy ending, there are lessons learned:
· Wearing sunscreen and hats - as a distance runner, and long ago, as a teenager working farms, with no hat & no sunscreen, there’s plenty of history there that contributed to my case. More recently, I’ve been pretty disciplined about using sunscreen/wearing a hat when mowing lawn, running, etc.
· Listen to any and all early warning signals – whether it is something you see on yourself, or something someone else sees. Erin was my “kick starter” to actually do something when I knew something was not quite right. Thanks Erin – you saved my life! By the way, ask your Dentist about new oral cancer detection technology. Very cool stuff!
· As with every type of cancer, early detection gives the best chance of survival. One of my colleagues did not know she had melanoma until it was already in stage 4. She survived only one month after learning of her condition. Truly tragic. The lesson here - when you are not sure about something, ask, and insist on the quickest resolution to “is it something, or isn’t it” – get to the biopsy sooner rather than later.
So, please go see your dermatologist if you have any spots you are not sure about. A good friend encouraged me to do so and I have a clean bill of health because of her. So, I’m passing that on…