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.