Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A textbook case for early screening for skin cancer

First: I'm fine.

Second: I have a three-inch scar running down my right cheek.

Third: sunscreen! Hats!

But back to the first point.

I'm fine. I guess that's the most important point to make. That, and I'm sure glad that I'm not a super vain person about my looks. And, I'm ready for Halloween?

Nah, it's really not that bad. But it could have been.

Michael and I make our yearly dermatology appointments each fall with Dr. Silva when we're back in Sacramento, back on the job. Obviously, we're good --- ok, great? -- candidates for skin cancer. We live the majority of the year in sunny climates. And --- oh yeah --- we went sailing for about 16 years, most of the time sin sunscreen. We didn't burn, we weren't sunbathing. But we were undoubtedly damaging our skin.

Michael headed in first and discovered he had a squamous cell carcinoma on his chest, which he had surgically removed last week.


I headed in for my check up and pointed to the tiniest little bump on my cheek. I thought it was something like a zit but it didn't heal, didn't get red, didn't change color, didn't itch. It was just a tiny bump.

Fortunately, Dr. Silva didn't agree. We didn't even get to screening the rest of my face before she was biopsying that little blemish, which came back as a very aggressive type of basal cell carcinoma. I was immediately referred to a surgeon for a procedure called Mohs Surgery, where the surgeon removes and biopsies the skin, layer by layer, all on the same day, until a completely clean biopsy is present. It can often take two or three surgeries before they are ready to stitch you up and send you home.

What's apparently so good about the Mohs Surgery is they get it all the first time.

I got lucky --- lucky that I got in so early, lucky that it only took one surgery. The type of cell I have is aggressive, ill-defined, often spreading rapidly below the radar so that by the time the bump shows up, it's off and running.

I would hate to think what my face would have looked like if I had waited.

I'm not sharing this because I need to whine or I need sympathy or I need flowers. Really, all I need is for all of my friends to take the time to get screened by a good dermatologist.

Because, as I said, my little innocuous bump was tiny.


nancy said...

Glad you nipped those in the bud, so to speak! Even more important for us folks who live in those sunny warm climates in the winter!

Pat said...

Sylvia - Thanks for the "heads up" for all of us. Pat and I went in a few months ago - Pat had basal cell carcinoma on his forearm, which was removed; it had looked like a somewhat scaly bump, not too big. I had a couple of things taken off with that freezing tool - just reminds us to be careful. (carole & pat)

Pat LaMont said...

We all need a wake up call like this. Thanks for sharing.

Nancy C. said...

I had a small basal cell carcinoma on my removed a few years ago. My dermatologist sent me to a plastic surgeon. Same procedure as yours. No scar, but $2500 later (insurance only covered $1,500 as that was considered the normal and customary charge). My dad had the same thing done at Echarri in Manzanillo by the plastic surgeon with the total charge (including pathology report) for $400. No scaring. Go figure!

Nancy C. said...

Should have read "on my neck".

Brenda said...

Thank you for sharing your experience.
Bringing this to people's attention is so important. Early detection is crucial to saving lives. I had a spot on my birthmark and let it go resulting in an ulcerated melanoma stage III this past April. Was in the hospital for 8 days, skin grafting, and almost lost my leg. I now refer to it as my shark bite. I can't stress enough to people to have their entire bodies checked regularly for suspicious spots and don't let anyone just blow you off and say it is nothing - go to a dermatologist. Douglas