Friday, June 10, 2011

"You Have Melanoma"

Around 2003 or 2004, I noticed a mole had developed between my big toe and second toe.  At first it wasn’t dark, and I had just began wearing flip flops that year for the first time since I was a kid, so I thought maybe the strap had caused a bruise.  The mole continued to get darker, and another almost identical one developed on my arm.

In February 2006, I finally went to the dermatologist to get them checked out.  I had not been to a dermatologist in years, and every spot I had removed in the past had come back clear.  The doctor took one look at the two spots, and decided that yes, they should be checked out.  She decided that she would biopsy the one between my toes, because the scar wouldn’t be so obvious.  She said if it came back positive, they would have to also check the one on my arm, but if not, then she would want to check my arm again in a year.  It was negative.

In the spring of 2010, I still had not gone to get my arm checked again.  One of my best friends was getting married in June, and I was going to be a bridesmaid.  After one of her bridal showers, I was standing outside talking to her and her Matron of Honor.  I noticed that her MOH kept looking at my arm.  This had become a habit for many people at this point.  The mole was on my bicep, it was big, black and brown, shaped like a ghost from an 80’s video game.  You cant really say “Eyes up here” in the same way with a mole as a woman could with her chest, though.  I decided right then that I was going to get it looked at again. Soon.

A few weeks later, I was talking to my aunt about her vacation, and she mentioned that she was disappointed that she was going to miss the free skin screen because she was leaving that day.  In May, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, my health care provider offers a free skin screening clinic, whether you are a member or not.  I decided I had to take advantage and go to that.  There was no appointment needed, so on May 5, I go in, fill out my form and wait about 10 minutes to be called back.  They asked if I wanted to do an upper body or full body screen, and I told them upper body because I had one spot I was concerned about.  Within another couple of minutes, the dermatologist comes in.    I pulled up my sleeve and she did not hesitate.  “Yes, we need to get that one checked”  We set an appointment, the first available, for May 24, to have a biopsy done on my arm.

Now, here is how naïve I was.  In between that time, I was wearing tank tops, standing out in the sun, just wanting to get my freckles to pop.  I loved the freckled, sun kissed look.  When my face had just a little sun, the dark circles under my eyes weren’t as obvious, I could just wear eye liner and a little powder to keep the shine down.  It was easy.  I also went to a festival, wearing a tank top, and even though I reapplied sunscreen to myself and my daughter every hour, but we both got really red that day.  In my mind, I was still invincible.

On May 24, I went in for my biopsy.  The doctor said hello and asked me to show her the mole again.  As soon as I pulled my sleeve up, “Yes, I remember this one”  My heart sank. I knew then that my results were not going to be good.  She used a 10 mm punch, like a hole punch to remove the mole.  It required 3 stitches, and the incision was approximately 1 inch long when she was done with it.  I also had her remove a spot on my leg that I was tired of nicking it with my razor.  That spot required a 4mm punch and only 1 stitch.  I was to come back in 10 days to get the stitches removed.  My dermatologist is so enthusiastic and informative, that the geek in me left the office more excited about how neat the process of using a punch to remove a mole is, than worried about results that I should get in 7-10 days.

Less than 24 hours later, I get the phone call. The spot they removed from my leg was fine, as expected, but my arm was not.  I had Melanoma In Situ.  She explained that “in situ” means that it is in the surface layers, but then continued to say that while they felt they got it all, but that they couldn’t rule out that the tumor had spread.  I would need to see a general surgeon, he would remove a 6 cm by 2 cm section of tissue around my biopsy spot, and I would be left with a line scar.  Again, my dermatologist left me with such a calm about the entire process.  This was what was going to happen, and I would be okay.  I am so thankful that God saw her as a good match for me the day of the walk in screening.

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