This month is Skin Cancer Awareness month; a month dedicated to educating people about skin cancer, how to incorporate regular skin checks into your wellness regime, stories, and other prevention strategies. For some, this may be a yearly reminder of skin cancer and how to be aware. For many, the awareness is an every day reality. I have a friend who is suffering from the effects of stage 4 Melanoma. My father has had many instances of skin cancer in his life, and one of my earliest childhood memories is of his head wrapped from a skin cancer surgery. In his older age he has had to have a skin graft to his ear for treatment of a malignancy.
Even with my relative awareness of the dangers of skin cancer, I find myself new to the daily awareness reality and the journey that is to potentially take me through the rest of my life.
November 27, 2018: I received a notice on my phone that my biopsy test results, from a spot on my forehead, had been posted in my online chart. I opened it and while skimming through it, stopped at the words “Squamous Cell Carcinoma, in situ”. I showed it to my husband and we both froze on those words for a few minutes. The next day I set up an appointment to have the area treated with an “ED&C” (Electrodesiccation and Curettage) procedure, to remove any remaining cancer cells. Due to my schedule and doctor’s availability, I had to wait until January 2, 2019. During that time I did a lot of reading and research and found out that in situ means the cancer cells had not spread.
January 2, 2019: I had the ED&C done which took only about 10 minutes. Several days earlier I had noticed some small growths on my scalp, areas which had been treated in November with Cryosurgery (using liquid nitrogen) to remove suspect spots. I made an appointment for July, 6 months out from the ED&C treatment to have a follow-up and head to toe exam.
April 25, 2019: The growths on my scalp had grown exponentially and I sent photos to my doc comparing January to April. I was asked to come in immediately, First the area on my forehead that that been previously treated was examined. Looking good!
Then my scalp was examined. There were three growths. One was treated with cryosurgery and other two biopsied. My doctor told me it was good that I came in now instead of waiting until July. I had a massive headache the rest of the day and off and on head pain for the next 6 days.
May 1, 2019 – First day of Skin Cancer Awareness month, six days after the the biopsy. The test results came in: Squamous Cell Carcinoma, *at least* in situ, possibly more deep since the margins were affected. Fortunately I was able to get this treated the very next day after the results had been posted. The two areas on my scalp s were treated via ED&C, with three passes and confidence that remaining cancer cells were eradicated. I have been cautioned to look for any appearance of scaly areas around the treated areas and to come in immediately if that is noticed. We all chuckled over my comment that I could now be called a “numb-skull” due to the anesthesia that numbed by scalp.
May 5, 2019: My scalp looks like it has two bullet holes in it. The next 3 weeks will be spent attending to the areas as instructed to ensure proper healing. I’m not sure if the damaged hair will grow back, and frankly I don’t care. I am resigned to covering my head as needed and appropriate.
Three diagnosed skin cancers in 5 months. I’d like to think this is the end, however I thought that with the first one. “Hindsight is 20/20,” “It’s just skin cancer,” “Be thankful it’s not melanoma,” are all phrases I keep hearing. My self-education and awareness, however, have led me to the realization that all skin cancer is serious, and not to be taken lightly. All one has to do is just read the stories of those diagnosed. If that doesn’t help one’s awareness, a personal diagnosis of skin cancer for sure will shock you into awareness.
Vigilance will be my companion from here on out. Advocacy, education, setting the example, checking myself, photographing suspicious spots ( I have files in folders on my computer now), wearing protective clothing, daily thoughts of living with skin cancer on my mind….all that and more are part of my daily existence now.
I say “part” because my existence is filled with so many good and positive aspects that help direct my focus and for which I am thankful. And so my vigilance is the measure I must take to continue living my life in those positive and fulfilling ways.
The photos throughout this post are representative of me in my life, often outdoors without protection. I have always been a happy person and plan to continue my happiness, despite any obstacles I encounter or changes to be made as a result of those challenges.