Grateful for Early Detection


I didn't want to tell you guys this on the answering machine...

That's how it goes when you and your parents work opposite schedules. Your dad’s a cop working the midnight tour and your mom ends up on his sleep schedule as a result.

"Please," the fear in his voice, " me as soon as they call you with the results of the biopsy." My grandfather would urge me when I spoke to him after I'd had the surgery to have skin cancer removed from my stomach.

I'd lose him to cancer a year later.

It was a routine skin exam. I was getting older. My "late 20s" approaching, I figured it was time for a regular dermatologist appointment for my "ginger skin." I love the sun, I have freckles and blond hair. But I take care of my skin. I always use SPF 50. Heck, my bathroom looks like a Sephora counter.

I called the doctor’s office, I told them I wanted to come in and have a skin exam. They weren’t surprised by it. They scheduled me pretty quickly. I moved on with my day.

I honestly didn't expect it. But I really should have.

The entire skin exam lasted about 15 minutes. The discussion around next steps for what looked like an abnormal freckle on my stomach, one I’d always thought I had, but now that you mention it, it does look discolored compared to normal, seemed to last forever.

We’d start with a biopsy to determine if it was cancerous, pre-cancerous. What type of cancer? …It could just be nothing at all.

More than a million people in the United States are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma every single year. These are non-melanoma skin cancers. “The kind of skin cancer you want to get, if you’re going to get it,” I’d tell my parents when explaining the basal cell carcinoma diagnosis the biopsy confirmed.

To be honest, looking back I have no idea why more people don’t “just chop things off.” The surgery was a breeze. Keeping my puppy away from the stitches was the hardest part.

The phone call to confirm that the margins were clear and I’d need no further treatment was the best part.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to detect most non-melanoma skin cancers early enough to cure them. Unfortunately, unless you are determined a “skin cancer risk” or have a family history of skin cancer, your doctor likely won’t ever recommend you get a routine skin cancer screening.

Mine never did.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone performs monthly head-to-toe skin exams on themselves. Skin cancers found and removed early are almost always curable. You can even learn about the warning signs of skin cancer (your ABCDEs) and what to look for during a self-examination (if it looks or feels different, it is different) from their website.

Last month, I was back at the dermatologist because I noticed a “weird spot” on my neck. It was a few months following my annual skin exam, that came back clear for the year.

“I’m getting surgery on my collarbone,” was the text I sent to my boyfriend 10 minutes into the appointment.

Early detection saves lives. I’m grateful for it every time I walk through those dermatologist doors. This time, it was benign. “Just a cyst.” But of course, I still have not figured out how to keep the pup away from stitches…