Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May is skin cancer awareness month, so this seems like a good opportunity to encourage everyone to reduce exposure to the sun and GET YOUR SKIN CHECKED EVERY FREAKIN’ YEAR.

Trust me on this. Please.

Late last fall I noticed a few little bumps on the back of my neck. I hadn’t felt them before, so I had Chris check them out. He said they didn’t look like much.

But, I had a nagging feeling. So, I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist to get my entire body checked. One of those little bumps didn’t look right to the doctor, so she sliced a little piece of my neck off and sent it off for testing.

To my untrained eye, all three bumps look the same, but thankfully my doctor recognized one as problematic.

A week after the appointment I received a vague voicemail from the dermatologist’s office: “You have basal cell carcinoma. You need to make an appointment to have it removed.”

I was like 92% sure that basal cell carcinoma wasn’t cause for huge alarm, but the 8% of me that was unsure felt a quick sense of panic. Cancer. For a moment in time, I felt so vulnerable and scared.

Fortunately, the 92% of me was correct. Basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable, slow growing, and rarely causes serious problems. The doctor said I could wait a few weeks before removing it, but I wanted it off ASAP. I went in for the minor hour-long surgery the day before we left for our spring break trip to Florida.

The surgery was painless (I watched Real Housewives of Atlanta on my phone while the doctor removed an inch of my skin), but the weeks following were very uncomfortable. The wound felt like a terrible burn, and I had an adverse reaction to the prolene stitches. I kept my discomfort in perspective knowing that for many people, a cancer diagnosis and the marathon treatment are much, much, much more challenging and frightening.

Two weeks after the surgery

Even though I had a bout with minor skin cancer, I feel so relieved:

  1. I trusted my gut. When something about my body felt different, I did something about it.
  2. I live in a time and place when access to medical care is as easy as picking up the phone. While my HMO makes it a HASSLE to get an appointment with a female dermatologist in my network (of which there are shockingly few), ultimately I was able to get the care I needed. I am grateful to have health care coverage.
  3. My doctor’s trained eye knew exactly what to look for. She found it. She removed it.

According to the American Cancer Society, basal cell cancers usually develop on areas exposed to the sun, especially the face, head, and neck, but they can occur anywhere on the body.

These cancers can appear as:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels spreading out like the spokes of a wheel
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back

Basal cell cancers are often fragile and might bleed after shaving or after a minor injury.

My neck two months after the minor surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma.
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