PSA time! Did you know your skin is your body’s largest organ? May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. If you think skin cancer isn’t a big deal, think again. Speaking from experience here. Yep. Another cancer. Another specialist. Another scar.
Right off the bat, I want to say this new cancer is nothing to worry about. It is, or was, merely a pesky skin cancerous growth. And as skin cancers go, it was merely of the basal cell carcinoma variety. Basically a nuisance, a low on the totem pole sort of cancer.
Still, it’s another thing to worry about. It’s another dart thrown by cancer that literally hit the bull’s eye — my face. It might not be a serious sort of cancer, but nonetheless, it is another cancer, another scar and yet another specialist to add to my ever lengthening list of medical specialists.
I even hesitated to write/share this post because it’s not a big deal. Even the nurse at my new dermatologist’s office said, “Well, if you’re going to get a cancer, this (basal cell, not talking about melanoma!) is the kind to get.”
When have we heard that before?
But in this case, it’s probably true. Still, medical people should not say that sort of thing. Ever.
And then she went on to ask (I’m sure she later regretted asking), “Have you ever had any other cancer?”
Let’s just say, the conversation took a downturn and there was that look of, oh you poor thing, in her eyes.
Have you seen that look?
But that is a post for another day.
I decided I would share about my skin cancer, even if it is/was only basal cell carcinoma because it is important. It does matter. It might not be life threatening, but it can be serious over time if left untreated.
There are three kinds of skin cancers:
As a person who is BRCA2+, I am at higher risk for any or all of these. And now that I’ve had one, the odds for more rises. Click on the above links to learn more about the three kinds of skin cancers. I’ve certainly learned a lot about all three.
Again, if basal cell cancers are not treated, or removed, they keep growing and over time, this can create problems. Eventually, the tumors can potentially become embedded in places they don’t belong, damage nerves and/or bone, interfere with vision (a concern in my case), become ulcerated or infected and of course, just get uglier and uglier to look at.
The “upside” is that basal cell cancers very rarely metastasize or spread to other areas of the body. My particular cancer was located on the very delicate skin under my eye, which btw, made no sense, as this area has been most consistently covered (by sunglasses) through the years than other areas of my face. So go figure.
At my last oncology appointment, my oncologist and I discussed a different spot on my nose, and he suggested I see a dermatologist to get it checked out. Turns out, that spot was fine. That other one, not so much.
So you just never know. When in doubt, get checked out.
Bottom line — check your skin regularly. Have your partner (if you have one) do it too. Be sure your primary care physician examines your skin at your physicals as well. Sometimes, this gets missed or bypassed because everybody’s in a hurry, and it’s one more potentially embarrassing exam.
If you’re BRCA+ like me, I suggest seeing a dermatologist for a comprehensive skin exam and see what she or he recommends for follow up. I will now be seeing one every six months to start with.
We should all be more mindful about sun exposure.
This doesn’t mean stay out of the sun. It means protect yourself because now we know how much it matters.
My new mantra before leaving the house now is: Sunscreen. Cap. Sunglasses. Repeat. Daily.
And what’s one more scar, right?
NOTE: For anyone interested, my tumor was removed using the Mohs surgery method, so check that out if you want to.