Thursday, May 03, 2007

Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May is skin cancer awareness month. Having had melanoma twice now, I feel it is my mission to educate others on skin cancer: causes, treatments, and prevention. Removal of basil or squamus cell carcinomas are more common than melanoma, do not cause death, and will be removed in your dermatologist's office. Melanoma is the only skin cancer which can be FATAL as it can spread from skin to the lymph nodes and organs. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007, there will be 8,110 fatalities from melanoma. The rate of progression is unknown so once detected, it must be removed immediately. This requires seeing a special cancer doctor/surgeon (recommended by your dermatologist) and having surgery which extracts skin from the three layers of the epidermis.

Everyone is at some risk for melanoma, but increased risk depends on several factors: sun exposure, number of moles on the skin, skin type and family history (genetics). People who've been diagnosed with melanoma in the past are also at an increased risk.

Find a dermatologist in your area and go in for a free skin cancer testing!

My story...
In 2005, when I was pregnant with Drew, my obstetrician suggested I have a mole on my right leg checked out by a dermatologist. Soon after his birth, I went to the doctor as per her suggestion. I had the mole removed at the office and discovered two weeks later that it was cancerous: I had melanoma. I met with a fabulous cancer doctor at the hospital and in January of 2006 the melanoma was removed, a scar of 15 stitches remained, and my dematology saga began. Every 3-4 months I returned to the office and had 2-3 new moles removed. Some "moles" looked like tiny dark freckles, others were growing or changing in ways that looked suspicious, but none were large, oddly shaped moles. In December of 2006, I was diagnosed with melanoma for a second time. In January of 2007, I had surgery again with my cancer doctor, Dr. Miner. This time I was the mother of a toddler AND pregnant. I was awake for the surgery with only a topical anesthetic and no follow up pain medicine. It was incredibly scary and very painful. My left leg had nearly 20 stitches; I could barely walk; and I couldn't stop thinking about how I'd had two surgeries in a year's time.

I know I'm at a high risk of having melanoma again and I'm extremely concerned. I'm also worried for my children - melanoma is genetic. And while melanoma is not caused from sun exposure, the sun changes the pigment of the skin which might be an impetus for change in moles. Therefore, I need to be especially cautious when outdoors. Blue Lizard Sunscreen, from Australia, is recommended by my dermatologist. In addition to wearing strong sunscreen, I have become a big fan of umbrellas, cover-ups, and sun hats. And as an added bonus, I am helping to reduce the signs of aging :)

Educating other people on the dangers of sun exposure and encouraging friends to see the dermatologist gives me hope...hope that cancer can be prevented for someone else.

There's no denying that this "journey" has been difficult for me. Life changing, in fact. I was once a girl who adored the sunshine. At first glimpse of summer you'd find me on a lounge chair in my bathing suit, soaking up the rays. Now, if I find myself head tilted towards the sun...welcoming it's warmth, I feel guilty. I cannot allow myself to enjoy the sun as I might be trading a moment of pleasure for cancer. I live in fear that melanoma exists undetected elsewhere in my body...or that worse, my children will have to endure this. I look at my scars: legs, arms, back...stitches everywhere, and feel ashamed. I feel disgust for the skin I wear. I feel anxious for the next round at the dermatologist and scared to hear the results. After 11 different removals in just over a year, the results have not been good. Whether mild or severe atypia, or even worse melanoma, I am constantly reminded of the severity of this issue.

We all have a responsibilty to care for ourselves...for our own sake and for those who love us. I accept responsibilty for my skin and for the prevention of sun damage to my children. For the first time in two years I heard good news: one of the three moles removed two weeks ago was not pre-cancerous. FINALLY! There is hope.


At 6:14 PM, Blogger Brian said...

The key is to discover suspicious skin lesions at an early stage. Check moles for A)symmetry, for irregular B)orders, for multiple C)olors, for a D)iameter larger than a pencil eraser and for E)volution which is an enlarging or new mole. These are the ABCDE's for self-screening.

It is important to keep checking for new or changing moles, particularly if you are at risk. Those that have had a melanoma removed may be cured but they are at high risk for recurrence of new melanomas. If you have a lot of moles it is very hard (impossible really) to be able to tell if new or changing ones are present though.

DermAlert is an image comparison software program developed through funding from the National Cancer Institute that is inexpensive and lets you use your digital camera in the privacy of your own home to find changing moles over time. Then you can point out the changes to your dermatologist. You can see details and demo at

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

It's good of you to inform everyone you can. I was looking at this website to get some SPF cover up gear. It's not too ugly. But "safety first!'.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

more SPF clothing


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