Eight years ago, my husband saw a spot on my back that he’d never seen before. I’d just gotten out of the shower and had a towel wrapped around me when I felt his finger touch my back as he said, “What’s this?”
“What’s what?” I asked, contorting my body in such a way so I could catch a reflection in the mirror. I could barely see the pea-sized dark red spot. “I don’t know what that is.”
“You should get it checked out.”
I considered those words for a minute. I’d never been to a dermatologist before, as I never felt a reason to go. Yes, I have freckles and moles, but none of them changed shape or color or looked goofy in an obvious way the seems abnormal. Still, I took his advice. His furrowed brow was enough to convince me. I was 32-years-old.
A couple of short weeks later, I had the spot biopsied then excised from my back. It wasn’t melanoma but a Spitz Nevus, a benign tumor that presents as something worse. The cancer scare was enough to shock me into the reality that one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer before 70, and that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all cancers combined.*
Because skin cancer is often related to lifestyle, it is highly preventable.
I was diligent with my body scans from the Spitz tumor forward, that is, until my dermatologist retired a couple of years ago and I dragged my feet to find a new doctor. I knew I needed to go, as there are a few moles and spots we were watching, but finding a new doctor feels like a mountain to climb. All those phone calls. All that paperwork. All that effort to find room in my busy schedule.
And then, an earthquake. Or at least the kind of news that makes the ground shudder. A friend at church was diagnosed with melanoma, and she passed away within the same month.
Her symptoms were mild, barely there, seemingly unrelated to anything that might be fatal. Alas, melanoma, like an iceberg, can show itself as a tiny speck on the skin, but what lurks beneath the surface can fully derail and steal your life.
Following the funeral service, I found a new dermatologist immediately and scheduled a full-body check-up. The previous moles and spots are still being watched, but the doctor discovered a few suspicious pre-cancerous cells on the bridge of my nose and froze them off right away. I wore the scab proudly for a week, a glaring red dot in the center of my face, a sign that, to the best of my ability, I’m preventing skin cancer.
Some might think I’m a dermatology zealot. They are correct. Sunscreen is readily available. Finding shade is simple. Going to one appointment a year is entirely doable.
As mothers, we’re diligent about lathering our babies and children in sunscreen, being careful about too much time in the hottest hours of the day. We take them to their wellness check-ups and try to feed them vegetables. Their health is our top priority.
When it comes to our own health though, we can be lax. We make excuses, put things off, and forget. With so many health-related variables out of our control, it’s vital we do what we can with what we have.
Wear sunscreen, ladies, and make the appointment.
*Statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation