May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so here's a question for you: How vigilant are you when it comes to wearing sunscreen and taking care of your skin’s health?
I wish I could say that I’ve been applying sunscreen all of my life and have had no troubles with skin cancers, but that’s unfortunately not the case for me. I have thus paid the consequences!
It takes about 20 years for your sun damage to catch up with you. So, once I was in my 40’s, I started having things ‘show up.’ Basal cells, squamous cell, and even melanoma. The melanoma was a total shock and surprise, as it didn't look too suspicious, just a small pink blotch that was on my left arm. After going to a dermatologist, who also thought it appeared like a minimal basal cell, we learned indeed it was melanoma. This put me in a whole new ballgame, and due to my fast metabolism, you can be at risk for having it spread fast. So, I had to have it cut out ASAP.
The cut itself and how big it would be was a big surprise, too, because the spot itself was so small. But not the surgery. In fact the cut went long and deep to my bicep, in order to have large margins around the initial site, and then margins had to be checked.
Unfortunately, the margins had not been clear, so there was a period of six weeks that I had to wait until the next surgery was to happen to determine whether or not it had spread to the lymph nodes and throughout the body. It would involve cutting more as well as some lymph node examination. There was some real concern that it may have spread, but luckily it was discovered through the second surgery that it had not.
There is a 95% cure rate with what I had done, and I was now in the clear. Today, it is ELEVEN years later, and I have not had a recurrence of melanoma. However, I've had about six other skin cancers removed since then, which luckily were more superficial and treatable via surgery. So, yes, I have quite a few scars, but it is a small price to pay to be here – and healthy!
The thing about skin cancers is that they are preventable. They just require your being vigilant about sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Now, I see the dermatologist at least every six months for ‘scans,’ to see if there’s been any new issue that I must tend to.
So, let National Skin Cancer Awareness Month serve as the impetus to make your skin cancer screening appointment! There’s no downside to doing so, and only upside in catching something early! Be well and be in good health, friends! If you've had any stories you'd like to share, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org