The importance of being earnest about skin checks

May 22, 2010

Please welcome Julie Pippert, a friend and fellow member of the American Cancer Society’s Blogging Advisory Council.

It was just this little spot. An annoying little spot on my nose. It would start to go away and then would flare up, get a sort of crusty scab, then fade down to something like a scar. When it first arrived, I thought it was acne. It was on my nose, after all, and it flared up during PMS. But it never went away, it just kept cycling up and down as my body cycled up and down.

The thing is, I knew it was something. My mother had skin cancer years ago when I was in college. She went in for a day patient surgery to have it removed, and it all began with this annoying spot on her nose. In my early twenties about twenty years ago I had this mole that was exhibiting those “red flag” symptoms and the dermatologist excised the area and sent samples for biopsy. Nothing, thankfully, but the doctor warned me I was the poster child for skin cancer, and the pre-cancerous spot on my arm was a big screaming warning.

I heeded it, and became diligent about limiting sun exposure and wearing sun block. I always wore hats out, too. As a result, my skin looks pretty good for my age, but…it was not enough and too little, too late.

That spot on my nose was why my big Choose You goal was skin care and skin checks. So yesterday I went to the dermatologist for a long overdue skin check, and she found several areas of skin cancer. The spot on the nose, she treated right away. The rest are a little more complicated and I go back very soon for treatment of those. The bad news? Skin cancer. The good news? I got a check and it is all caught early. The shock? The area of largest concern was not even a spot I worried about. I thought it was just a no big deal freckle.

As soon as I got home I notified my Choose You group for support. I knew they’d accept my whining and give me the love I craved. The second thing I did was dive into the Google, as much as I knew that was a bad idea. However, I went to the American Cancer Society’s skin cancer facts site and got really good, non-scary information.

So how did I get skin cancer and what does it mean?

I am fair complected, got sunburns as a child, have a family history of skin cancer, and I am in the sun every day (with sun block on). My skin has little melatonin, and responds to UV by freckling. I also have moles, some of which have been atypical.

The important thing is that I got that check. So we caught this early and can treat it with one of the simple treatments, including cryosurgery ( liquid nitrogen freezing off of the area) and excision or Mohs.

The worrisome spot on my nose is very early stages and was treated with cryosurgery right in the office. I’ll return for a biopsy of the other areas. From that point, we’ll know better what the situation is and the best method of treatment. Right now, my doctor suspect, based on visual, that it’s all local. That’s good news. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma have a very high cure rate.

What made me suspicious?

I knew my mother’s story of her skin cancer, so when the spot on my nose didn’t heal, I knew I had a problem. I delayed longer than I should have — a warning sign is a sore that doesn’t heal in two weeks, so I should have gotten check a couple of months ago — but luckily I did go get checked.

Skin cancer is actually the most common cancer, and over 2 million Americans will get the same diagnosis as me this year.

However, the more serious areas did not even arouse my suspicions and I’m still not sure why they concerned my doctor. At best, I can think the only symptom might be a slight spread of brown pigmentation.

The point there is: GO GET CHECKED. You can’t diagnose yourself, only a doctor is trained to know for sure.

If you are at risk, you should get checked early and regularly.

Could I have prevented this?

Skin cancer is fairly preventable, but I had so many risk factors I’m not going to play the “if only I had” blame game. Nobody was taking skin cancer or sun block seriously in the 70s nor even in the 80s (aka the Baby oil and Crisco days). Because of my fair skin, and my tendency to burn, I was never a sun goddess. As a child, my mother even made me wear a t-shirt over my swim suit for protection. I don’t think we even knew about sunblock when I was a child. So even though I never stayed in the sun much, wore hats, and added in sunblock as soon as I was aware, I still got the cancer.

I have made lots of changes for my kids, even though, courtesy of their dark-skinned father, they have better melatonin and pigment than I do.

I follow the skin care/cancer prevention advice from ACS:

Can skin cancer be prevented? The best ways to lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are to avoid intense sunlight for long periods of time and to practice sun safety. You can continue to exercise and enjoy the outdoors while practicing sun safety at the same time. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade: Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
  • Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you are out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
  • Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen (about a palmful) and reapply after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
  • Wrap on sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
  • Follow these practices to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous because they can damage your skin.

Thanks for listening, friends. You can read more of Julie’s journey at Julie Pippert: Using My Words and the Choose You Blog for the American Cancer Society, where this post was originally posted. I’m also hoping she’ll come back here and share more with our Mothers With Cancer community.


N.E.D. – THE BAND

December 29, 2009

I have heard that having a guinecological surgeon and oncologist in one is a good find.  I was lucky in that even though I didn’t have a guinecological cancer, there was one of the best of them in the building when my oncologist suggested a hysterectomy along with my mastectomies.  Not only is his picture on the brochure for The Da Vinci machine which shows he knows his stuff, his picture is also on the cover of a new CD his band N.E.D. No Evidence of Disease has just put out.  Every member of the band is a guinecology oncologist or guinecology medical person of some sort.  Here is what I picked up at his office about their mission:

N.E.D. is made up of six gynecologic oncologists who always hope to deliver the sweetest message their patients can ever hear: “NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE”.  Their mission is to enhance knowledge about gynecologic cancer, to save lives, as well as to bring hope through music to those undergoing treatment, and to the world at large.  Proceeds from every CD sold will be donated to N.E.D. Fund at Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF), which promotes awareness and early detection, and research of gynecologic cancers.

Order the CD at:  www.marjiesfund.org, www.amazon.com, www.borders.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, www.itunes.com    

I wouldn’t normally promote one thing over another, but I know Dr. Winter personally and he’s a good guy who believes in their mission.  He never once said anything to me about his band, or their projects, I only learned of it through other doctors and a small flyer at NW Cancer Specialists.  I haven’t heard the music myself yet, but I am going to pick up a cd soon because I know the proceeds are going to a good cause.


The cancer binder

July 8, 2009

At my first official appointment with the oncologist after diagnosis, Melissa the breast cancer consultant who visited with us first, handed me a large colorful binder. In it were all the phone numbers I could possibly need to their office, sheets of chemotherapy drug descriptions, various pages of resources for support, and a book titled Breast Cancer Survivor Guide. I was so numb I just kept shaking my head up and down to show that I understood everything, not really hearing a word. One thing stuck with me though, and I’ve been thinking about it alot this week. When she was done explaining the binder, she closed it and said ‘this is your cancer binder. There are sections to keep all of your paperwork, a calendar to keep track of your progress, and pockets to keep anything else you might need. You take it out when you need to use it, and when you’re done it gets put away and you go on with your life just like before.’ She set the binder out of sight at that last moment for emphasis on her point. I understood what she was trying to tell me- that I was still me, my life was still the same besides having cancer. I appreciated the concept, but her words unknowingly (until now) transformed that simple binder into the symbol for my cancer at that point- and it didn’t leave my sight for a full month lol. Having it in my hands somehow made me feel like I was a little more in control of the craziness that had taken over. Instead of being able to put it away and go on about my day, I felt more comfortable knowing exactly where it was. Then I could be positive and say ‘I’m going to beat this, I can do this no problem.’ A little control, even if it was an illusion, gave me needed distance. Looking back on the last 3 months since diagnosis, I think it was a blessing. An Inflammatory Breast Cancer diagnosis means things move rapidly- diagnosis, oncologist, port, chemo, scans and tests all within days. It takes a month just to get a grip on what is happening, all the while adjusting to yummy Adriamycin/Cytoxin which I got every 2 weeks at dose dense, not to mention the wonderful Neulasta shot that almost crippled me from the pain. The last 3 months have been nuts for sure, but I somehow have managed to arrive at the place Melissa originally intended. I thought she was crazy to suggest I could think about anything but the big C, but she knew what I didn’t- that it takes time. I no longer think about my (or anyone else’s) cancer all day, the gripping fear is almost gone, chemotherapy has become movie time for dh and I, and death and dying isn’t on replay in my mind anymore. I would even go as far to say I’m starting to feel like my old self again, just more aware and appreciative of life. Except with no hair- I’m even starting to care less about that as well. It’s kind of silly that the cancer binder changed from my control to a measure of where I am emotionally compared to when this all began, but I have no idea where the binder is now, and it has definitely been easier to ‘shelve’ my cancer and move on to other thoughts and events.

Hi everyone, I’m Lyn Kirby, a 30 year old mom of a 3 year old and a 2 year old married to a great guy and I was diagnosed with IBC the end of April 2009, I’m stage IIIB. I finished AC and have the second Taxol/Herceptin tomorrow. There are a planned 12 weekly sessions afterwhich I will have a full mastectomy plus lymph nodes on the left side-around Oct. ’09 and a (my choice) bi-lateral on the right. Then it’s scheduled radiation daily for 6 weeks followed by a year of weekly Herceptin treatments, and then another year of Herceptin though probably not weekly. I will have a full reconstruction when I’m able to, I haven’t even begun to think about that yet. I’m happy to be here and look forward to reading your blogs and posts!


New Diagnosis

May 1, 2009

Another member of the blogosphere has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Dermatofibrosarcoma, to be exact, and she has three little girls, ages 4, 8 months, and 8 months.  Brandi blogs at Ramblings of a Tired Mama and twitters as @brandi_b.  If you see her about the internets, please say hi.


A hat

December 12, 2008

Before you read my post about the hat you see below in the picture of me, I wanted to introduce myself as one of the new Mom writers here at Mothers With Cancer. I have a history of breast cancer in my family, including my own mother who was a thirteen year survivor of the disease, so I wasn’t all that surprised when I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in September of this year. I’ve had two surgeries and have a stage 2 breast cancer with 1 lymph node involved. I will be beginning chemo (AC/T) after Thanksgiving. I’ve been blogging for years, most recently writing book reviews at my blog Stephanie’s Written Word. I have two daughter’s (a biological 6 year old and a 2 year old adopted from China). Thanks for having me!  – Stephanie

 

hat 004OK, I’m not what you would call a “hat” person. Unlike those svelte models sporting cute winter hats on the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog, hats tend to make me look strange. I just can’t seem to pull off the look. And yet, I spent the bulk of my weekend knitting up myself a couple of hats.

When I first found out that I had breast cancer, I told my husband that if I lost my hair I would NOT be wearing a wig. It kind of flew out of my mouth without much thought behind it. Over the last few weeks I’ve had the time, mostly while knitting, to think about why I felt so adamant about not wearing a wig. When faced with a disease that can change the way we physically look, I understand why many people opt to wear a wig. My Mom, when she was diagnosed thirteen years ago with breast cancer, purchased a wig even before losing her hair. I remember that she wore her wig most of the time and I think it gave her a sense of normalcy that she needed. But there was another reason she wore that wig. My Mom was very secretive about her disease and didn’t let many people know about her cancer. I suppose breast cancer wasn’t as prevalent in the news as it is in 2008 and maybe she was afraid of the social stigma of having cancer. This always makes me a little sad, since I really didn’t understand at the time why it was such a big secret.

Even though I don’t usually like to be the center of attention, I am also not embarrased by the fact that I have breast cancer. I don’t want it to be a secret. I want other women to know that a routine mammogram has saved my life. I am not afraid of my disease and even though I probably won’t really like the way I look when I put on my home-made knitted hat in the morning, at least I’ll be being true to myself. This is why I won’t be wearing a wig if I have chemothereapy. If you’ve been through this before, what made you decide whether or not to wear a wig?


Welcome, Princess Hedgehog!

December 12, 2008

Welcome to our newest writers, Princess Hedgehog and Stephanie!   Read on for an introduction to these amazing women, and come back to check out their posts!

Princess Hedgehog, “Hedgie”

Hedgie is not really a princess, although she wouldn’t mind hanging out in an enchanted forest. After being diagnosed with stage IIa breast cancer in 2006 at the tender age of 45, this Midwestern transplant to Northern California underwent the “standard of care” as they say: bilateral mastectomy (although only one breast had a tumor), chemo (A/C, Taxol, Taxotere), radiation and Tamoxifen. A year after starting chemo she bowed to pressure from her Agent of Doom (aka oncologist) and had an oophorectomy, which is medspeak for having one’s ovaries yanked. The following month she switched from Tamoxifen to Aromasin and lasted 26 days before realizing that she was losing her mind on the drug. Arimidex was also poorly tolerated and Hedgie bailed on all hormonal therapies. She hopes her efforts with acupuncture, diet and exercise will do as much if not more than the AIs to hold recurrence at bay.

A few months after finishing radiation, Hedgie was accepted into the Commonweal Cancer Help Project , a week-long retreat in Bolinas, CA. There she met and was transformed by incredible travelers on the cancer road, some who provided guidance for the body and spirit and some, friendship for the journey.

A former book editor, Hedgie also worked as a newsletter editor for a university before accepting a full-time motherhood gig. A 6-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl occupy her time and heart, sharing space with a busy husband and too many pets to list. The children provided Hedgie with her nickname when her hair began to come back following chemo; she resembled their favorite character from the Jan Brett stories. Because their mother took the Time of No Hairto play with dramatic, long wigs, the entire family gave the different looks personalities and names (Serena worked for the CIA). Thus, Princess Hedgehog was born.

Hedgie hopes to find her way back to the writing world. She blogs here and at Princess Hedgehog Chronicles.

Stephanie
 
My name is Stephanie and I am a thirty-five year old stay at home mother of two young daughters. I’ve been married to my husband Joe for ten years and live in New Jersey. My oldest daughter Leah is six years old and in first grade. My youngest, Maya, is two and was adopted from China in 2007 at the age of 9 months.
 
My mother was a breast cancer survivor for thirteen years. I have three cousins who have had breast cancer. I’ve been having yearly mammograms since I was thirty. In July 2008, just two weeks after my mother died of a Leukemia-like cancer, a small lump was found in my left breast at a routine mammogram. After having spent many months visiting my mother at a leading cancer hospital in NYC, I now have found myself a patient at the same facility. In September 2008 I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I had a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy, then a separate surgery to remove my remaining lymph nodes. I had one lymph node involved and have stage II breast cancer. I will be starting chemotherapy AC/T treatments in December 2008 that will last four months. I plan on having a bi-lateral mastectomy in the spring of 2009.
 
I have been blogging for years (first writing about my adoption journey, then highlighting some of my craft projects on-line). For the last two years I’ve been blogging at Stephanie’s Written Word www.thewrittenword.wordpress.com where I write book reviews. I also write over at C is not for Cookie www.4cookie.wordpress.com.


You’re not going to believe this….

November 16, 2008

We have another new writer. Wendy Harpham, a friend of the site and of Toddler Planet, is joining us effective immediately. Wendy is a wonderful woman and mom, and she writes her own site about survivorship. Here’s her introduction, in her own words:

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D. is a doctor of internal medicine, best-selling author, long-term cancer survivor, and mother of three. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1990, and in-and-out of treatment ever since, Wendy was forced to redefine her career. She turned to writing as a way to continue to educate, comfort, and inspire others while raising her children (who were 1, 3, and 5 years old when she was diagnosed).

She has written six books for patients and their families. Her bookset—When a Parent has Cancer with the children’s book Becky and the Worry Cup— was awarded 2006 Consumer Book of the Year by the American Journal of Nursing. She also co-authored another children’s book, The Hope Tree, with Laura Numeroff (of, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), which can be purchased from the Komen for the Cure site (and with all author’s proceeds going to Komen). Her newest book, Happiness in a Storm, is about getting good care and finding happiness when you are sick or injured. In addition to her writing, Dr. Harpham has become a nationally recognized speaker for professional and lay audiences. Dr. Harpham devotes her energy to helping survivors directly through her writing and speaking, and indirectly through her activities as a patient advocate. Limited stamina prevents her from returning to clinical medicine at this time. Website: www.wendyharpham.com


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