I am sitting here behind my keyboard and unsure about how to begin this post. I have been thinking about how to share some health news and I knew I wanted to share because I hope to raise awareness.
That is the purpose of writing this – to ask everyone to be aware of this form of skin cancer because it has now become personal for me. The title has already revealed what I am about to share but here it is and how it came about for me.
Late last summer my doctor of the last eight years retired from seeing patients so I had to find a new Primary Care Manager and was able to do that within the same network. That meant all of my medical history for the last eight years would be at my new doctors disposal very easily and quickly.
When I met him for our initial appointment, we reviewed my health status and among the things we discussed were a couple of spots on my skin. So due to my family history – my Dad had melanomas on his nose and received radiation treatment following their removal – he recommended I get a referral to a dermatologist to get checked out from head to toe.
I had that appointment in early November and the doctor checked out those areas I had concerns about plus others as he examined me from head to toe. One spot, back on the crown of my head, did not look right under his dermatoscope so he suggested taking a shave biopsy to get it examined by a pathologist.
We did that and I headed home to await those results.
About a week later I called back for the lab report and was told it was melanoma. As anyone who has had the cancer word spoken to them by a doctor knows, there is an initial moment of shock when that word is out in the open. We immediately scheduled outpatient surgery to have the melanoma removed the second week of December.
Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest form of skin cancer because it has the potential to spread to other parts of the body. My blessing was that the melanoma the doctor found on my head was a Stage 0 (out of four possible stages) malignant melanoma in situ. Early detection means the surgical procedure to remove it was all that was necessary to cure this instance of skin cancer. Since it was confined to the epidermis – the outer most layer of the skin – it has not had the opportunity to grow and metastasize to other parts of my body such as the lymph nodes. The five and ten year survival rates for this type of cancer at this early stage is 99%.
It has been nearly a month since the melanoma was removed by cutting out a large divot, about 1 1/2 inches in circumference on the crown of my head. I have pictures but choosing not to share them – I even gasped when I saw things after the removal. The reason for such a large surgical site was to make sure the margins around the melanoma were clear and that everything was removed. That area was sent to a pathologist and two days later I went back after the lab verified everything was clear from my head.
Since then it has just been wound care – thanks to my awesome wife – because I can not do the bandages looking backwards in the mirror.
What’s next for me?
Well, I will now be seen for the foreseeable future by my dermatologist about once every four months to document my skin and all of its details. This will give the doctor a baseline to monitor for changes to any skin features that could potentially be another case of melanoma. I am blessed to have good healthcare in my retirement from the Navy and have access to these services for continued care.
I am also blessed due to the early detection. That is not the case for many people and this form of skin cancer, with its aggressiveness, can quickly effect other parts of the body as it spreads if untreated.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 9,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer everyday and nearly 50 people die each day from the disease. These numbers are only expected to get higher moving forward and that means early detection is critical.
Check out the American Cancer Society’s extensive information about skin cancer and then take the time to talk to your own doctor about any strange areas on your skin. If it gets checked out and is OK – then all the better. However, if it happens to be a melanoma, that early detection means dealing with it now and minimizing its impact on your health.
One of the most recent high profile names to die from melanoma is Sam Wyche, the former NFL head coach and player. According to reports, his melanoma was only recently diagnosed and had already spread to his liver. He passed away today.
Melanoma is personal for everyone and no case is just like any other. If you have concerns, I encourage you to address them as early as possible.
Visit Melanoma Just Got Personal for more information.