May is Melanoma Awareness Month: Check Yo’Self!
Each year I like to bring attention to the fact that it’s important to check yourself for skin cancer.
Not a particularly fun topic to nudge you about, but a necessary and serious one.
That’s what we skin cancer survivors like to do, you know: nudge you!
We like to remind ourselves that we dodged a brutal bullet, and we like to remind you to check your moles, so you can hopefully dodge that bullet, too.
This post stands the test of time.
Melanoma is on the rise.
This is a scary cancer (aren’t they all?), as it can be tough to treat.
Don’t mess around if you think you see changes in a mole or on your skin.
The Melanoma Research Foundation is an in-depth site to find the information you’re seeking for all things melanoma.
Can’t hurt to go check out all they have to offer.
As a melanoma survivor, I feel a strong responsibility to share this post every year.
It’s important information that can save your life.
If you’ve read this post before, whoohoo!
If not, please take a few minutes, if for nothing else but to look through the infographic and then Pin for later or email to someone you know who might benefit from reading.
Not to keep repeating myself, but I’m gonna keep repeating myself: it could honestly save your life or the life or someone you know.
Melanoma loves the sun.
I feel a strong pull to inform sun-lovers (and those who would rather stay inside) of the importance of being aware of melanoma’s warning signs, just as the summer activities get underway.
Summertime is spending more time in the sun time – and, oh man, how we look forward to that warmth all year long.
At the first sign of warmer days, we’re itching to get outside.
Getting outside in warmer weather also means more exposed skin, as we try to stay cool.
With more time spent in the sun, there’s also an increased risk of of mole changes.
It’s time to check yourself.
No better time to get in the mole-checking habit, than Melanoma Awareness Month.
It’s fitting that we take the beginning of all summertime fun to bring awareness, because it’s the beginning of warmer temps and lighter clothing.
I mean, it would just be weird to have December be the designated month for checkin yo’self.
Can someone help me with my bulky sweater and thermals?
Although…you could totally decide the first day of every month was check yo’self day.
(now you know what I’m doing every first of the month)
Summertime means taking precautions against sunburns and routinely wearing sunscreen (for those of you who don’t already), and now the start of a beautiful habit.
Come on now.
I am a melanoma survivor.
I’m fair-skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed: the perfect candidate for skin cancer.
To top that off, I live in a Southern state where the sun shines the majority of the year and I spent my youth happily and ignorantly getting sunburned.
Laying out in the sun was the thing to do in my youth.
Add some baby oil to your skin, for extra crispiness, and you were doing it right.
Little did I know that my carefree days in the sun, and my inability to tan, set me up for the perfect skin cancer storm.
Before I was diagnosed with melanoma, I was already seeing a dermatologist yearly, as was my son and husband.
She was and still is a trusted doctor whom I credit with saving my life.
I noticed an atypical mole that seemed like it was changing, but just ever so slightly.
My yearly appointment was already on the books, but that year there was a scheduling conflict.
Boy was young and busy with summer camps and fun, so I cancelled my exam and rescheduled a couple of months later.
I was diligent and kept an eye on it until I saw my doc.
Certainly nothing to worry about (or so I thought).
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Two months later, I kept my appointment to discuss my changing mole.
When I saw my doctor, we discussed that I thought the mole had changed somewhat, but upon visual inspection it looked fine to both of us.
I felt like a worry wart, but was still a bit concerned because it had changed. And my sunburn history. And my paleness.
It didn’t fall in the regular category for irregularity or color markers that usually distinguish melanoma.
We truly weren’t too worried.
Although, my dermatologist advised since I had noticed a change, even though small, she wanted to biopsy it “just to be safe.”
I’m forever in her debt that she insisted on that biopsy, that she listened to my concerns.
I’m also grateful I had paid attention and was checking my moles once a month for changes, however small.
I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Melanoma.
My doc called me herself, to deliver the news.
I answered the phone (before we had caller ID) while I was in the middle of cleaning a toilet.
She asked me what I was doing, then asked me to sit down.
I still had my yellow gloves on and the toilet brush in my hand; I’ll never forget that moment.
My life changed dramatically in those hazy few minutes, as she explained to me what I had and what was next.
What kind of treatment would I need to rid myself of the dreaded melanoma?
Back in ’99, there were no drugs, or chemo, to treat melanoma, not in the traditional ways of thinking about chemo.
There were experimental drugs, but only the worst case folks had that choice.
I took comfort knowing I wasn’t in that category.
My treatment options for the worst skin cancer the world knows, were laughable:
#1: Surgery, as in mole removal.
That means the doc excises the mole, and specific margins around the mole to ensure the cancer cells are completely removed.
This is also sent to pathology to ensure no cancer remains.
#2: After surgery – the waiting game to see if your melanoma returns, begins.
All I could do was wait and pray that I’d never go through this again.
#3: Make friends with your scar.
Your surgical scar will always serve to remind you of your cancer.
Mine took 5-years to fade (that pale pale skin, y’all).
Today, there are days I find myself surprised that I have a scar on my thigh, because it’s faded in time to almost unnoticeable, but in the beginning it weighed on me.
It was a daily reminder that all I could do was wait it out.
I was scared and furious, all in one.
I’m a proactive kinda gal and I wanted to blast the cancer from my body.
No chemo and no radiation.
Just wait and see.
It was torture, especially since I had Garry and and a young son to think about.
Yet, I was one of the amazingly lucky ones: my cancer hadn’t spread: it hadn’t metastasized.
The tests showed no lymph node or other organ involvement.
Honestly, I came THISCLOSE to passing out from relief when he gave us the news.
My newly obtained oncologist advised me that, God-willing, I’d live to be an old woman.
The game plan was to cut that mofo out (and I wanted it out IMMEDIATELY) then monitor me for signs they had missed one stinkin’ cancer cell.
That’s all it would take for it to gain a foothold again.
Living with cancer is hard; living with the knowledge that it can resurface at any time, is also a kick to the nards.
Yet, my diagnosis was in 1999, 20 years ago in August, and I’ve been cancer-free ever since, thanks be to God.
Not all melanomas are caused by the sun, but a large majority are, and that includes tanning beds which mimic the sun’s rays.
For all that is good and right, stay outta of those beds.
The long lasting risk is not worth the short term golden skin.
So, where does that leave us?
You should do a mole self-check once a month.
You are totally worth that full body checkaroonie.
If I hadn’t been diligent in doing self-checks, I might have missed pointing out the mole to my doc and she might have missed the slight change.
If you see anything that has changed, even in the smallest way, get thee to a dermatologist.
Also, wear sunscreen.
It’s the easiest thing you can do for prevention and many sunscreens can be light and undetectable.
You have no excuse.
Melanoma Skin Cancer infographic by MountSinaiNYC.
Be safe out there, my babies!
Your dermatologist and all who love you, thank you!
~ Originally published May 6, 2016. Updated April 30, 2019 ~
~To protect those you love from skin cancer, please consider sharing this post far and wide on social media. Smooches!~