Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but it doesn’t have to be. What can you do to protect yourself?
•Avoid excessive UV light exposure from both the sun and tanning beds.
•Pay attention to changes to your skin and tell your doctor if you notice something different.
•Get an annual full body skin exam with your dermatologist.
C.N. (we use our patient’s initials to protect her identity) might have dismissed a change in a birthmark because she’d had it since childhood. Luckily, she didn’t and is alive today thanks to the swift action of Dr. Evans. We love this story because melanoma is almost always curable when it’s caught in time. We share it with you to inspire you to move beyond any fears you may have about what you might uncover. Knowledge is power and in this case, powerfully life saving!
SoCo: What brought you to SoCo Dermatology?
C.N.: SoCo was recommended by a friend a number of years ago.
SoCo: What were your concerns at that time?
C.N.: I don't remember why I went originally.
SoCo: Were you in the habit of getting annual full body skin exams?
C.N.: No, before going to Dr. Evans I think I only had one full body exam and that was a long time before I started going to her.
SoCo: So for a while, your visits with Dr. Evans were uneventful. What changed?
C.N.: I only saw Dr. Evans a few times for routine visits for a rash mostly. Since I was a very young child, I had a birthmark in the middle of the calf on my right leg. It was always there and I never paid much attention to it. Then, one day about 2 1/2 years ago, I noticed it had greatly changed. I was going to Dr. Evans for something else, but while I was there I asked her to take a look at my leg. As soon as she saw it, she immediately said that I had a problem. She was sure it was a melanoma and it didn't look good.
SoCo: That must’ve been shocking, especially since the mark had been there for so long. In what ways had it changed?
C.N.: It had always been a pale spot and then suddenly it turned dark brown and was raised.
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SoCo: It’s a good thing you noticed and didn't dismiss it. What happened next? Did Dr. Evans do a biopsy?
C.N.: Yes, she did a biopsy even though she was sure about what it was. Once she knew the results, she said I had to have it removed. She immediately called an oncologist that she knew in NYC and made an appointment for me to meet with her that Thursday. When I met the oncologist, she immediately said that I was going to meet with a surgeon. Even though I was only supposed to be there for a consultation, I met with the surgeon and ended up spending the day having all the necessary tests and scheduling an appointment for the surgery for two weeks later.
Initially, Dr. Evans thought I might need a skin graft because the melanoma was deep, but the surgeon said no. The surgery went fine. He said everything looked good and that he was pretty sure that I would not need any follow-up treatment, but that we had to wait for the final results from the pathologist. We also had to see what the oncologist thought. She agreed and I have had no follow-up treatment. I do have quite a long scar along the side of my right leg, but the surgeon did a magnificent job. Although the scar is long, it is not really that noticeable.
SoCo: Was the surgery out-patient?
C.N.: Yes. I don't think the surgery was too long, but I was sick from the anesthesia for several hours.
SoCo: How did you feel once you realized the surgery was a success and that the cancer had not spread to other parts of your body?
C.N.: You can well imagine I was greatly relieved and very happy that I did not need any follow-up treatment. However, I know that it was cancer and it is always in the back of my mind.
SoCo: There is a tricky mental/emotional component to cancer. What steps do you have to take to make sure that it doesn’t come back?
C.N.: For the first year, I had to go to Dr. Evans every three months for a complete outer body scan. Now, I go to Dr. Evans every six months. I also have to go to NYC every six months. One visit is in the early part of the year for a check-up and blood work by both doctors. The second visit, which happens in the summer right around the time I had the surgery, is a few hours. I have to drink a radioactive liquid for a full body scan. When that test is approaching, I am usually very nervous for several days before because I am worried that something may have changed. So far it has all been good and this August will be two years since the surgery. The oncologist said I will need to do this for five years so at times it is not easy.
SoCo: Have you found ways to manage the apprehension?
C.N.: Most of the time I'm busy with work, my friends and family, and church so it really isn't too bad. The worst of it is when the time is getting closer for the tests during the summer. When I just go for a check-up, it really isn't so bad. Each time everything is ok, it makes it a little easier.
SoCo: How did your family react to your diagnosis?
C.N.: They were concerned when I told them, but everyone kept assuring me that everything would be ok and that I was in the hands of the top doctors.
I just feel very fortunate for all the doctors who are taking care of me. Dr. Evans who acted immediately and got in touch with the oncologist, whom she knew, and then the oncologist, who brought me to the surgeon. Both of the NYC doctors are top of their field so I know I am in the best of hands and I trust in what they say.
SoCo: Having gone through this experience, is there any advice you’d like to share?
C.N.: Be aware of any changes in your body. Even if you are not sure whether it might be anything, don't hesitate to have it checked out with your doctor. It is much better to find out that it isn't anything than to wait until it's too late when it might be something serious.
If you're concerned about spots on your body, please schedule an annual skin exam today! 203-323-5660