A few years ago I bought my husband a t-shirt that says, “Scars are like tattoos, but with better stories.” It was especially funny because my “type” of guy before I met him was the one who had tattoos and piercings. My husband, on the other hand, has not one bit of ink on him but lots of random scars from various accidents (including a very manly one where he flipped over the handlebars of his motorcycle on a racetrack).
Well, thankfully even though I’m not the most graceful girl on the block, I’ve never broken any bones (knock on wood). However, my list of scars just keeps adding up. I had surgery when I was a kid which left a faint scar on my neck. I fell out of a tree in elementary school and have a small scar under my arm. I had a cyst removed from my knuckle in high school which left a funny little arrow shaped scar. And lately, my dermatologist has been removing bits of me one piece at a time.
I’m not really sure why I decided to ask my dermatologist to do my first full body scan a few years ago. I’ve never been that good at using sunscreen and pretty much got a terrible burn at least once or twice a year. I was also a kid of the 80’s and never even bothered to apply SPF during my hundreds of hours in the pool for swim team practice. Even with these indicators, I felt like skin cancer couldn’t really happen to me.
So, on a whim at an appointment for something else, I asked the doctor to check out my moles. It was a little awkward – she had me bare a part of my body at a time so she could check me out. After that first review, she was concerned about two moles on my body. One between my toes (yeah, I know it’s very random) and one on the front of my right thigh.
I made an appointment to have the mole between my toes removed and I was super nervous about it. I mean, it sounded pretty darn painful and I didn’t want to end up with some weird looking foot with two toes fused together! I’m a girl and I love my pedicures and sandals! But I went through with it anyways and had the quick procedure to remove the spot. Honestly, the most painful part of it was the needles they used to numb the area. That hurt like a… um, rhymes with witch.
After the surgery was finished, she bandaged my toes up and I was instructed to come back two weeks later to have the stitches removed.
Two weeks later, I was anxious to have the stitches taken out and didn’t even think about the fact that the lab test was coming back. Sure enough, I was smacked in the face with the news that the mole contained pre-cancerous cells.
Did she just say I had skin cancer??!!
Luckily the cells were still in the pre-cancer stage, but they were well on their way to becoming melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer. However, they hadn’t turned into melanoma yet because randomly I decided to have my moles checked out and caught it early.
In order to be super cautious, the doctor suggested that once the wound fully heals, I go back in and have the scar removed to be sure that none of those icky cancer cells jumped away from the main mole.
As you can imagine, my stomach totally dropped to the ground to hear that I needed to have the exact same painful procedure that I was finally healing from. But I did it anyways. I mean, who the hell wants cancer on their foot? And if I didn’t catch it while it was still hanging out on my foot, it could move to my lymph nodes, liver or brain.
According to WebMd, the estimated 5 year survival rate for melanoma is:
- 98% if cancer is found early and treated before it has spread.
- 62% if the cancer has spread to close-by tissue.
- 15% if the cancer has spread farther away, such as to the liver, brain, or bones.
So there was definitely incentive to go back in and have the additional procedure. Honestly, having the scar removed from my foot hurt even more than the first time because the skin was still sensitive from healing. Luckily the additional sample they took showed no signs of cancer, so I went along my merry way. Well, kind of – I also had the second mole on my thigh removed but it showed no signs of cancer so I was a-ok.
Fast forward a couple years. My scars pretty much healed up and you can’t really see them unless you look really close. And really, they’re like a badge of honor. Or at least a reminder to keep on top of my own health.
I went back to the dermatologist to get a prescription refill and she asked if I’d had a full body mole scan done within the past year. I hadn’t, so I told her to have at it. And she found two more sketchy-looking moles that she thought I should have removed.
I made the appointment to have the first mole removed a couple weeks later, but found out the very next day that I was pregnant with Jack. The doctor recommended that I wait until I was out of the first trimester to have the procedure, but I was super nervous about my baby falling out, so I waited until after he was born.
I went in two weeks ago and had a mole on the back of my left thigh removed. Yes, it hurt. And for some reason the wound was super itchy and red the entire time it was healing. I went back in on Monday to get my stitches out and found out that I’ve apparently developed an allergy to the Neosporin that I had been spreading on the scar.
I also found out that the mole contained pre-cancerous cells. This time even closer to melanoma on the spectrum of crappyness.
Luckily, they had taken the entire mole off instead of just a piece of it to test. Unluckily, they now want to go back in and remove the scar to make sure that they got all of those jackass cancer cells. And I’ll go through it again. And afterwards, I’ll have the other mole taken off that she was concerned about.
Because it is better to be safe than sorry.
Or I guess it’s more accurate to say it’s better to have scars than to have cancer.
Maybe I need to buy one of those shirts for myself – because any chance I get I’m going to tell the story of finding cancer before it’s too late. If I can influence just one person to go and have their moles checked, it will be worth it.
So I beg of you, if you haven’t had a full body scan at the dermatologist please make an appointment today. When you have a cancerous mole it doesn’t nudge you and say, “Hey dude, I have cancer.” It might not even look weird to you at all. It could be innocently sitting there on your skin waiting to spread its bastard little cancer cells all over your body.