It’s beach season. Time to pay some attention to your largest organ. Today’s “little spot” could be tomorrow’s health scare. I know this from personal experience.
It looked to be nothing. A barely there tiny pimple under my nose no bigger than a sesame seed which would get slightly scaly, flake off, and go away; only to return every few weeks. Over many months I went through this little cycle often, each time thinking, hmmm… I wonder if I should get this looked at?
One day, instead of flaking away, this little spot started to bleed. We’re not talking something akin to a zombie flick here, just a little irritation. When I casually mentioned this to my Dad and showed him the spot, he noted;
“Ya know kiddo, I think you should go have that checked.”
No sugar-coating from Dad; just the nudge I needed.
Skin cancer runs high in my family – Irish ancestry and Florida sunshine do not mix well. And, as we sit here in our middle-aged cheap seats perch, it’s important to note that the average age of diagnosis for skin cancer is 52.
What I was honestly prepared to hear from my doctor was a quick little;
“We’ll just take care of this right here in the office, no big deal.”
What I was a surprised to hear from my dermatologist was;
“I think we should take a biopsy.”
What I was VERY surprised by was the diagnosis: nodular basal cell carcinoma.
Let’s go over a few terms, because everyone out there needs to be educated:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. Nearly 3 million cases are diagnosed each year (http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma). In almost all cases it is NOT life threatening.
The risk factors for BCC include:
- Light-colored or freckled skin
- Blue, green, or grey eyes
- Blond or red hair
- Overexposure to x-rays or other forms of radiation
- Many moles
- Close relatives who have or had skin cancer
- Many severe sunburns early in life
- Long-term daily sun exposure
Would you believe I met seven out of eight of these factors? Hello?!
Melanoma. This is the most serious form of skin cancer. This was NOT my diagnosis and I am very grateful.
Mohs Procedure. With my diagnosis, my dermatologist referred me for a Mohs procedure. Dr. Frederick Mohs developed this form of surgery which is considered to be the most effective way to treat skin cancer. This surgery removes the least amount of tissue while at the same time ensuring clean margins – clean meaning the area is deemed cancer free. The success rate for Mohs procedures is nearly 99%. You can see why I like my odds here.
You may ask yourself, why am I sharing all this? Because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. I was lucky to have a friend who had experience with skin cancer and who talked me through what I could expect during and after my procedure. Even with this wonderful source of support and information, I was still a bit unprepared for the extent of the procedure – that small little scaly imperfection was hiding a bigger problem just below the surface.
Here is what I want to emphasize: if you’re wondering about anything, go get it checked out.
This one inch scar I sport has faded over time, but remains my little reminder to always put my health front and center as a priority. Each year now I have a thorough scalp-to-toes review with my dermatologist.
Please know that I’ve kept these matters in perspective. I do not for one minute regard skin cancer as a laughing matter. However, there are many, many, illnesses and afflictions that are far more serious. I am committed to a healthy awareness of the risks of skin cancer, but wish to keep my circumstances grounded and proportional. I do know I’m very lucky.
(This post originally ran on The Middle Aged Cheap Seats)
About the author: Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes is an accomplished king salmon slayer, estate sale junkie & sometimes writes books including “I Was In Love With a Short Man Once” and “Magic Fishing Panties”. She recently had a limerick published by the Washington Post & vehemently believes this is a legit publishing cred. Find her at http://kimdalferes.com/ or hanging out on her blog “The Middle-Aged Cheap Seats” http://kimdalferes.com/blog – where midlifers come to sit, laugh & “occasionally” drink tequila. Follow her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and on Google+.