Saturday, June 8, 2013

Round 2

I have been wanting to write about recent events, but when I have the time, my mood hasn't been right.  I have been on an emotional roller coaster since this happened, and I knew that some of those emotions needed to be shared in a more constructive way than I was prepared to do at that time.

At my last dermatologist check in February, she removed 3 moles, but told me that "The mole on your scalp still looks fine"  While she meant that as reassuring, it set off warning bells for me.  She had always called it a freckle before.  So I began watching..

I went to get my hair cut, and my hair dresser is also a good friend.  As we talked, I mentioned it to her.  She said, "Yeah, I noticed that too".  My dermatologist does free scans on a specific date in May, so I decided that when I took my son in 2 weeks I would just have her take a peek again.   Well, paranoia set in.  I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I thought it was getting darker, raised, irregular borders, irregular colors, etc... Or was it?  I really couldn't tell.  When my son went out of town the week of the free screening, I decided to call.  I got an appointment for the next day, with a different dermatologist on the day that my dermatologist was doing free screenings.  I decided if anything happened, I didn't want to have to come back for that biopsy.

He walked in and barely looked at it and told me that it didn't set off warning bells, but since I said it was changing, and with my history, he wanted to biopsy it.  He assured me that he wouldn't take more hair than he had to, but of course I told him that would grow back.  I left the office with a 3/4" incision with 3 stitches in it.

7 days later, Dr B called me.  It was the news I expected, but that I didn't want to hear.  I went back the next day and wow, what a procedure.   Dr B met me in the waiting room, since his nurse was busy.  Before I even sat down in the room, he was looking.  He's very tall, so he just stood over me and looked.  After measuring he said that he wouldn't be able to do a larger punch biopsy as planned, because it is an odd shape and bigger than he remembered.  So scalpel it was.

We talked the entire time. The nurses changed shifts. I thought he was done stitching, but then he asked for the cauterizing tool.  I don't want to think about what the tugging I thought was stitching really was.  Then he asked the nurse to push my head together like a gift box. He then made a joke about an unnecessary face lift.  

Long story short I walked out an hour later, it seemed like a few hours though, with what he called 3 buried stitches and then 4 on the top. Since it was basically taking a larger section around what had already been taken, the new incision didn't look much larger than the first, but it was a lot more painful than the biopsy, I spent the weekend doing a rotation of ice packs and pain pills (not prescribed, unfortunately).  I spent the first week getting migraines.  My wonderful husband planned a Memorial Day cookout at home, since he knew I couldn't do what I had planned to do, thanks to the headaches.

On the 3 year anniversary of my original melanoma diagnosis, I got the call that the second time the margins were clear.  So thankful.

This is just proof that knowing your own body is a good thing, it is required when it comes to melanoma.  Considering that he said the spot had gotten bigger in the week between biopsy and excision, it was on the move.  If I had waited until my regular appointment in August, who knows where it would have spread to.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Life in Situ

Life in situ is a very strange and confusing place to be.

Almost three years ago, when I got that diagnosis, I didn't know how bad melanoma could be.  I had my initial screening with the dermatologist.  She performed the original punch biopsy that left me with a 1" incision and three stitches.  Then she called and said that it was Malignant Melanoma in Situ, but that they could not rule out a tumorous spread, so I needed to see a general surgeon.  He would take out a 6 cm x 2 cm section of skin around what had already been removed.  Then I would see her every three months for a few years and every 6 months for a few and after 5 years if it hadn't come back, I could go to yearly.

Ok, lets get this sucker cut out and move on with life.  But wait! There was more...  What is this about seeing her every few months?  It's gone. That's when I began doing research.  

Doctors hate it when we research.  We definitely know which questions to ask, but we also make situations much worse than they really may be.  As I researched, I became uneasy.  They originally couldn't rule out the tumorous spread, but they believe they got it all the second time.  Why was it in situ if they had to go so deep I had two layers of stitches below the skin and a steri-strip seal on top?  Why have I never gone for any kind of scan beyond a skin screening with my dermatologist?  Should I be?

On on hand, I am extremely thankful that it was caught early.  I am so blessed and I thank God for that every day, every time I see my scar, every time someone asks about my scar.  I watched this mole for several years, it was a "twin" and the previous dermatologist decided to take the other one first for cosmetic reasons because it was between my toes.  It came back fine, so I had a false sense of security, and the "come back next year to check your arm" became 3 years very easily.  It wasn't until I realized that people were talking to the mole on my bicep instead of me (or even my chest) that I went back.  For it to still be in situ, I have no words for how thankful I am.

On the other hand, you become a bit of a hypochondriac.  Every single mole, and even my millions of freckles, are suspicious and many have been sacrificed "just to be sure".  As I've done research, I've discovered that melanoma probably wont reappear on my skin.  That is worrisome, and I am not the worrying type.  Although I was in situ, that ugly bugger was still on my body, so the fear of it returning in my body is sometimes hard to shake.  Just this week, while sick and on cold medicines, I was stuttering and slurring.  My ADD has gotten much worse since things in my personal life has changed.  It's hard not to let the mind go there, when you know what this monster can do.  I suffer from polycystic ovaries, if I have pain and it isnt the usual time in my cycle, guess where my mind goes.  Now I know that because I caught it early, there is an extremely high percentage of a chance that I will never see melanoma again personally.  That does bring me comfort when my mind starts going where it should not go until the time for it to go there gets here.  However, it also plays a very motivating factor in why I have changed my and my family's lifestyle and am always eager to get the word out.

People in my life treat me differently.  I've mentioned several times that I do not share who I am publicly because my close loved ones are not the most supportive.  I'm told that my odor makes them think they are at the beach, that I'm to pale, that I am overreacting because any damage I have now came from my childhood.  I'm told that I need to let my child be a child as I put sunscreen on them.  That I should relax because they have had pre-cancerous lesions removed too and they are fine.  I have been told to stop preaching.  I have been taunted with a "well, you cant come out in the sun, you have to stay under that tree". I've gotten eye rolls as I have been creative in my seeking slivers of shade.  I have also seen support from unlikely places, like the outdoorsy sun worshiper who tells me to keep sharing, that she may not have changed yet, but she hears me and so do others.  Or my former tanning friend who now has a pre-teen daughter and wants her to be confident in her own skin.  Or the molemate who was very private in her journey, but one wrong comment about her being pale and now she is getting loud.  You have people who stare at your scar, many will ask, some act like they understand, some ask questions.

In the online melanoma community, I really struggled with whether or not I was worthy to go to an event because I was "just in situ", but I was welcomed with open arms by those I met.  I have also met adversity in the online community too.  I was added to a group, welcomed by many.  I was friend requested and emailed by a few.  One heard my brief story and disappeared from my friend list.  Another responded to my brief story by asking why I thought I belonged in that group, they also are no longer on my friend list.  I hesitate to include that, but I wouldn't be as real if I didn't share both sides. More importantly though, I have seen and felt so much love and support among you.  Besides, we all are warriors supporting each other and working together to get the word out.

I don't know if there is any purpose to my sharing this.  It is something I have had on my heart for a couple of months now, and for the past two weeks every chance I have gotten to sit down I have had an overwhelming urge to share a perspective on life in situ.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Friends That Still Tan....

I want to talk about friends who still tan.  How can we get through to them?  A couple of weeks ago, I came home and checked my facebook.  As I scrolled down my feed, three of my "friends" had checked in at various tanning salons on their way home from work.

One of them is a life-tanner.  If I share something about melanoma or skin cancer, she changes her profile picture to one of her in the tanning bed. She is very proud of her darker than her brown hair complexion.

Another is someone I met when she was in high school, and I was a little younger.  Even then, when tanning with the brown and gold bottle that had to have a number 2 on it was popular, I thought she was very pretty as a fair skinned blonde.  Now she is always very tan, and even before melanoma, I saw her golden brown skin as a little overcooked.

The final irritated me the most.  This is someone who has liked my posts, sent prayers my way as I had my surgery or have awaited results of the maybe 20 biopsies in the past (almost) 3 years.  She has brown hair, fair skin, light eyes.  She is our target audience.  She is who is at risk.  She is aware of my struggle, yet she doesn't care.

A few days before this, a friend had posted a status tagging me, saying that she had been told that she didn't look like just gotten off a cruise because she wasn't tan.  In the comment stream that followed, she referred to a statement I had made about being miserably sunburned at the end of my high school cruise and not enjoying it, but even more that after hearing about my melanoma experience, she was more aware.  So I texted her and told her that seeing these tanning bed posts were like a punch in the gut.  We agreed that I would post a stat later, that wouldn't call anyone out, but just bring more awareness.

As I thought about this through the night, I couldn't decide what to do.  Then I logged on to Pinterest.  The final girl puts everyone to shame with her pinning habit.  There it was! That was my new battleground.  The last time I searched Melanoma on pinterest, there wasn't much there.  It is there now.  Since then I have been randomly repinning to my melanoma awareness board.  Between that and my facebook posts, which I admit need to be more, I know it will be seen.

I have another sun loving friend who has told me several times that she is more aware of the risks thanks to me, and she appreciates my posts.  She still gets very tan, being outdoors a lot, but I believe awareness is the seed that will grow into action.  I have been pleasantly surprised that she has repinned every melanoma awareness pin that I have shared.  She has a preteen, hopefully the seed will grow in time to prevent bad habits for the little one.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dermatologist Appointment Approaching

In September, my dermatologist moved me from the 3 month follow up schedule to the 6 month schedule.  I expected that to happen in December, so she did catch me off guard.  She told me that I didn't have many moles and the few I did have weren't concerning to her and that it had been over 2 years, so she felt comfortable making that conversion.  She made it very clear to me that if I had any concerns to call in, and that I should call her advice nurse and remind them that I've had melanoma, rather than just call the appointment line, so that I would get in faster.

I was anxious and around December, I did convince myself that one of my moles was getting bigger.  I knew it wasn't, but it is amazing the tricks you can play on your mind at times.  Once the stress of my husbands entire family visiting for almost 3 weeks passed, my mind also calmed.

I also was struggling with an important decision regarding my health coverage.  Since my diagnosis, my premium has gone from a figure that was about 30% to about 60% of my part time income.  I did explore changing insurance companies. I knew which dermatology group I would switch to, highly recommended by others who have experienced all forms of skin cancer.  I got quotes and applied.  I was told that melanoma was quite common and normally not a big deal. Since I was able to have my site removed and no further treatment, I was hoping he was right.   Needless to say that same agent was surprised that I was ineligible by both applications I sent in, and said he would have to find out why.  I haven't heard from him again.

So after admitting that I would have to suck it up and pay the higher premium, I decided yesterday to call and schedule my skin check.  I would be due in March, but due to work schedules, I asked if I could come in February even though it would be 5 months instead of 6..  I basically got to pick my date.  So I get to go on Thursday.  Even though I am not concerned about any spots, I do have a list already made of questions for her and I will be asking her about the spot I allowed to get in my head in December along with two others that we have discussed before.

I was overheard scheduling my appointment and was questioned by a co-worker about why I have to go for follow ups.  We have talked about melanoma before, his wife recently had several pre-cancerous places removed, so I do appreciate that he is asking questions.

Face Mapping

One of the many excuses (notice I didn't say reasons?) people give for wanting to tan is that it gives them a clearer complexion when it comes to the dreaded acne.

I do have to admit that in my early 20's, when I was not living the healthiest of lifestyles, that was one of my excuses too.  I have always been lucky, most of my breakouts are thanks to female hormones and are usually just one or two a month.  However, at that time in my life, my depressed overeating and   the fact that my social life consisted of crashing my friends company happy hours took it's toll on my skin, acne-wise.  My answer? I went to the tanning bed.  Luckily, I went to a place with sub-par beds and after a month, I quit because I didn't like having stripes down my back.

So the other day I came across this article on face mapping.  Basically it is saying that where your acne appears can be linked to your health.  I haven't done any follow up to the accuracy of this article, but I do find it very interesting and worth cautiously sharing.  I know there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, a healthier lifestyle and less acne do run hand in hand. I also know that looking back at what was going on in my life at times that my face has broken out at various places, this is definitely worth exploring further.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


In Georgia we like to say "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes".  I know that statement can apply to many states.  This week, Georgia proved it right.  Last weekend, we hit 75 degrees, then had a few days of rain where it was 65, then Thursday morning we started out in short sleeves, but by the end of the day, metro Atlanta was on a winter weather watch (translation - there might be about an inch of snow accumulation beginning about rush hour).  Nothing happened other than it got bone chilling cold.  Friday, we were back up in the 60's and the sun finally reemerged.

As I drove my daughter to school, I was thinking about how the sun used to feel so good on my skin, like a warm hug from God.  About how I have struggled over the past 2 1/2 years, because something that was so good, has become so harmful.  I finally have come to terms that it is still a good thing, but with all things, should be done appropriately. I knew I had my new facial moisturizer on that has a SPF 50, that I also applied to my hands, so I embraced the warmth through my car windows.

As she left the car in the carpool line, the school administrator, told me to enjoy the sun.  I was pondering that, and what kind of post I was going to make regarding sunscreen, as I headed for work. The weather reporter came on the radio and stated that we had traded umbrellas for sunglasses and details would be coming up.  I was wishing he also mentioned sunscreen.  When he came back he said it!  He said we would be needing our sunscreen for the next few days..

There's no point to that story, just events that were on my mind this morning.

I have been contemplating the title of my blog along with the direction it um.. hasn't been going.  I have loved the pale movement that we are seeing in celebrities along with all the postings sharing that. Previously tan celebrities are now embracing their natural skin tone.  They are all beautiful.

I've found that one of my biggest struggles with going natural over the past 2 1/2 years is that skincare and make up are different.  When I am not using the sun to dry out my oil prone skin, I am constantly "de-shining" my face.  When I was tan, I could just wear a powder, but fair skinned, I have to wear foundation and finding one that matches my skin tone has proven amusing.  "No Ma'am, I do not want my make up to match my freckles.... No, not in between the freckle color and the skin color either."  Seriously.  Also, when I am fair skinned, the dark circles under my eyes are more pronounced.  I have yet to find a concealer that doesn't feel like it weighs 10 lbs, that would do the job.   Then there is another surprise, the past year I have been eating healthier, the nutrients in certain foods affect my skin tone.  Sometimes even looking like I have been in the sun, when I haven't.  You are what you eat, but I never expected it to change my skin tone.

I am going to explore more in the skin care and make-up arena.  I know make up isn't as appealing to the men who read my blog, but I hope what I discover about skin care will help everyone.

On top of this, I will also share more of my experiences with getting the word out about melanoma. I have some great stories and observations.  Some are on here already, rapidly typed, in need of major editing.