Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Of golf and melanoma

I hear ya: "geez, first you're warning us about bird flu, now melanoma! Should I even leave the house? Don't you listen to anything but NPR?!"

Okay..okay...I hear ya. Just let me tell you this story. It just might save your life.

A little over a year-and-a-half-ago, I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. In layman's terms: skin cancer. I had what they call a sentinal lymph-node biopsy done shortly after the removal of the cancer, and that surgery determined the progression was negative. In fact there is less than 5% chance of a recurrence from this particular episode. After 5 years I am cleared.

Had the surgery proved different, I would be telling you a whole other story.

How it was discovered:

Almost 2 years ago, I went to an Allergist to see what my options were to help relieve me from allergy's. She decided to do a scratch test in which they prick your back with different potential allergans. They can see which ones you have a reaction to, and then they can create a formula for immunotherapy (which is a series of shots taken to build up your immune system for said allergans).
At the time of the test, she noticed a mole on my back that said needed looked at by a Dermatologist.
After my appointment she gave me a referral to a Dermatologist, and I went to see her.
I wasn't too concerned at that point because about 5 years previous, I had a check-up in which a doc noticed it, but said it was of no concern.
This is where the Internet and general curiosity would have been a big help to me. Instead of taking that docs word, I could have pro-active measures by looking into melanoma . But, hindsight is 20/20.

How I could have prevented it:

When I was a kid, I can't tell you how many times I got sun-burnt. The peeling, the itching, the dry-skin. I was all-too familiar with the routine. Coppertone was out there, but not the information (like there is today) of how important UV protection to your body is.
80% of skin cell damage is done under the age of 18. SPF 15 is recommended. Anything less than that leaves you no protection.
You might be tempted to tell yourself: what is done is done, but you would be wrong, as there is a whole 20% more skin damage that can occur, and the older you get, the less resistance your skin has.....and skin damage can come not only in the form of skin cancer, but in pre-mature aging (eg: wrinkles, age spots, leathery-looking, and shiny skin).

How I prevent it going forward:

No doubt, that was the biggest scare of my life. But I am lucky, as I had excellent doctors that took immediate action....and I am overall very healthy, which played a lot into all of this.
The most productive use of my life lesson, is to practice prevention, and to pass this message on to others.

  • Always wear a brimmed hat while in the sun, ballcaps don't cover your ears or the back of your neck.
  • Always put on SPF 15 or greater lotion...focusing on the parts that will be exposed.
  • Get a full-body check-up from a Dermatologist. A general practitioner is not qualified to spot problem moles.
  • If you have a mole that's bigger than an erasures-head...it needs to be checked.
  • Check out the melanoma website and get familiar with what a problem mole looks like, how to self-check yourself routinely, and what other avenues of UV protection you need to observe.

Thanks for reading. Keep it in the short-grass.

JFB

1 comment:

NothingMan said...

Yikes! Glad to hear you're alright.