Friday, February 24, 2017

Skin cancer- a cautionary tale

almost all of us know about the importance of self breast checks and mammograms. we are getting more familiar with "check your neck" or thyroid cancer awareness. but i think there is another type of cancer that needs to be addressed, and that is skin cancer.

i am a natural redhead with fair skin and freckles. i will admit to "touching up" my red hair to ward off some stubborn gray hair that i am not quite ready to show off. with my skin/hair combo comes some challenges. it was not until i was in college that i began to appreciate my red hair, i.e., instead of getting teased all the time, i actually got some dates because i had red hair ( amazing). it was also, unfortunately, in college that i began to understand that no matter how long i sunbathed, or how much baby oil i used, i would only get more freckles or worse, a very bad sunburn. i owe my enlightenment to a college roommate. her dad was a plastic surgeon in raleigh, and she said that her family never went to the beach for vacation- they went to the mountains. her skin was snow white when it was not fashionable. my roommate also said that some of her dad's " best" customers were people who had had too much sun exposure.

sadly, the damage to my skin that i am seeing now occurred when i was a child. i remember many bad sunburns growing up. i fell asleep on the beach for a couple of hours one time and was in agony for the whole trip home as well as  several days afterwards. to be fair, no one really connected skin cancer with too much sun exposure when i was growing up.

which leads me to the "cautionary tale" part of my blog. i went to the dermatologist yesterday for a skin check. last time that i went, my dermatologist told me that i could wait a year for my next checkup if i wanted to. i told the receptionist when i made my appointment that i would feel better coming back in six months. as it turns out,  that was a good idea. i had 3 pre-cancerous places on the back of one of my legs( aka, actinic  keratosis) which were frozen off. i also had another squamous cell carcinoma on the same leg as last time, which was cut off. squamous cell is a relatively serious skin cancer in that it can spread to other parts of your body if not treated fairly soon. basal cell is the least likely to spread, followed by squamous, and then the really bad one, melanoma.

i also had a place on my face, close to my mouth. ( talk about putting your money where your mouth is). my dermatologist told me something that he has never told me before. " bea, i honestly do not know what this is! it could be another basal cell, and if it is, you will need more mohs surgery. or it could be just a benign cyst." so he did a biopsy of that place, and i will get the results in two weeks or less he said. as a side note, he recommended this time that i return in six months, not a year, for my re-check. i agreed.

i am not entirely sure why skin cancer has decided to pick on me,too. i now have three types of cancer that i have to get checked out every four to six months. i have my  breast cancer check up with my oncologist on this monday. that one is a biggie. i will be a two year survivor in may of this year, so test anxiety is still pretty high for me for that one. i am doing better about my thyroid cancer checkups. my doctor seems more encouraged, and so am i. unfortunately, there is no " five year mark and you are clear" when it comes to thyroid cancer. recurrence can come at any time. my doctor has had patients have a recurrence at seven or even 20 years out. but i am grateful for each day that i can say that i am cancer free.

so please, if you are not wearing sunscreen, do so. you can not change how much unprotected sun damage that you may have received when you were a child, but do the next best thing. visit your dermatologist yearly, or more frequently if necessary, for an all over skin check. it is not a difficult test, and your body will thank you.

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