Like many moms, I worry about a lot of things. I worry about the health and wellbeing of my family and friends. I worry about finances, about terrorism, about my kids’ health and happiness (a LOT). I worry about breast cancer and heart disease. One thing I haven’t worried much about is skin cancer. But that doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible in the sun. In fact, I think it’s my responsibility in the sun that has led me to be less worried.
I never had an outdoor job – as a kid, I worked in an office 40 hours a week in the summer. I never spent much time at the beach, and when I do, it’s always with loads of sunscreen. I’ve never had an outdoor hobby – I don’t kayak, garden, or swim. Because of my Portuguese heritage, I have olive skin that rarely burns. I don’t think I’ve had a painful sunburn in over 20 years (and even then, it was only a few times that I was burned). I’ve always lived in a cooler climate – Upstate New York, Washington State, and New England.
As I’ve mentioned here a lot, I have dealt with adult acne for almost a decade. During that time, I’ve spent lots of hours at the dermatologist’s office. It was during one of these visits that she recommended that I have an annual skin check. I readily agreed, and after my first exam, I had a small mole on my chest removed. It came back completely benign, and I never thought about it.
Last month, I had a dermatology appointment for an annual exam and prescription update for my acne. I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I didn’t even bring along my planner. I didn’t expect to make another appointment. But my doctor found a mole that was concerning – it didn’t look right and she didn’t have any record of it in my past exams. I made an appointment to have a shave biopsy – a quick procedure.
Although I was 99% sure it was nothing, there was that small 1% in my mind that thought it might be an issue. I was stunned when I got the call that it was severely atypical. I heard the words not quite “melanoma”, “a near miss”, “turning into melanoma”.
Last week, right before the holiday weekend, I had the mole removed. Because of its severity, it was treated as though it was melanoma, with 5 mm margins required. It’s on my calf – a tough place to heal – so I have an Unna boot to help with healing. This week, I’ll have the boot replaced, and next week, I’ll have the stitches removed.
This was a close call, and I’ll need to be very careful in the future. I have to visit my dermatologist every six months now, and I have to avoid sun exposure. I’ll be in the shade, wearing SPF 50+ clothing and loads of sunscreen for my beach visits now.
For now, I want to spread the word to get those regular skin checks. Even if you aren’t worried. Even if you don’t think you are at risk. Because you could be saving yourself.
I’ve been asked what the mole looked like, and prior to the biopsy, I took this photo.