I have had a couple of disturbing conversations recently regarding skin cancer. It seems that if someone has had a non-melanoma form of skin cancer, they often don't know what type they had or what their risk of it returning is. I will be honest, I confuse them too. I know that the names indicate which layer of the skin it is located and how it will grow. I also know that one has a risk of returning and the other I'm not so sure of. I know I need to do more research myself too, but my priority has been on melanoma and the risks and dangers associated with it. Yes, practicing sun safety can prevent all forms of skin cancer. I guess I am just biased. I need to fix that. I also know a couple of people who have had melanoma, had it removed, and never went for the follow up exams as recommended by their doctor, because "It's just skin cancer".
To me, this is the perfect example of why doctors need to do a better job at informing patients about skin cancer. We need to all get the word and the resources out there. Pretty much all I know is what I have learned on my own, courtesy of the internet and others who are on the same journey.
When I was diagnosed, it took a few days for the realization to kick in. Like I have said before, my doctor has a personality that is comforting, not alarming, but will get you excited about what is going on. That is a good thing and a bad thing. I hung up with her ready to march into battle, "okay, we are going to call the surgeon, get this cut off, here's how it'll look after, etc, etc." Then a couple of days later, I was looking at my notes because a funny thing happened, I heard and wrote down that the incision would be 6 cm x 2 cm, but my brain processed inches. Even though I'm a big girl, I couldn't figure out how 6 inches were coming out of my bicep. So I was looking at my notes, relieved to discover it was centimeters and not inches, when something else caught my eye. "follow up exams, 3 mo/2.5 yr, 6 mo/2.5 yr, --> yearly if good after 5 yr" What? It's just skin cancer, they cut it out and your done, why do I have follow up like a cancer patient?? Now, I always knew that skin cancer is cancer, but I had been brain washed by society that it was different. So I started doing my research. I was blown away. This melanoma stuff was nothing to play with. Then when I went for my first 3 month scan, and I'm standing there in my bra and underwear, and she actually pulls out the back of my bra and underwear and the cups on my bra to check under them, no skin unchecked. Three months later, she biopsies a spot and tells me that if I'm ever concerned about any moles, she will take it because I have had melanoma and earned that right.
So for me, I knew melanoma was serious when I was given a follow up screening schedule for the next 5 years, and when I was told that I could have any spot removed that I was ever concerned about because I had the melanoma card. Both of those things came from my doctor, but other than a bookmark with the ABCDE examples on it, my knowledge of melanoma is self taught.
So I have to wonder, for those who were diagnosed and don't follow up, why don't doctors provide a little more education about it? Just enough that they understand that they need to follow up. If they were told to follow up, why doesn't it click with them that this is more than just something you have cut out? It's very disturbing to think that, with the way melanoma can return, that there are people out there thinking that they are perfectly safe because it was removed. I pray that they are right, that they are the ones that will live a complete lifetime without it returning. It is just a scary thought to me.