What I’ve Learned From Having Malignant Melanoma… Twice.

melanoma twice

My granddaughter and me at the beach

 

I finally went to the dermatologist to have a skin tag removed from my leg, something I’d been putting off for several years. While I was there, I went ahead and had a full body mole check as well… a standard procedure which looks for early signs of skin cancer.

In doing so, the doctor spotted a small, unusual looking mole right in the center of my back. Although she assured me it was probably nothing to worry about, she decided to go ahead and remove it for a closer look, just to make sure.

A week later at work, I received the phone call… and I’ll never forget it. “Bill,” she said, “this is Dr. Smith. That mole I took off your back ended up being malignant. You have malignant melanoma.” Even though I knew what the word malignant meant, I asked never the less… does that mean I have cancer? She said yes. To this day, I still don’t remember any more of that conversation.

Instantly, I envisioned my entire world imploding right before my eyes… I could hardly breathe. In that moment of panic, all I could do was think about how I wouldn’t be able to see my kids grow up. I had never felt so confused, alone, and scared in all my life. I was absolutely convinced I was just given a death sentence.

That was 18 years ago. I ended up being one of the lucky ones; I fortunately caught it early. Truth is… I could have just as easily waited another year to get that skin tag removed, which could have very possibly cost me my life.

Surviving cancer is wonderful, and believe me, I thank God every day to be so blessed. But the fact is, many cancer survivors die a thousand deaths worrying and anguishing.

You see, there’s this black cloud that forever lingers. It’s the one that constantly reminds you, through every little ache and pain, imagined or otherwise, that there’s always that chance your cancer could possibly return. Yes, time dissipates that cloud somewhat, but those first few years are absolutely brutal.

For the next five minutes I’m going to arm you with all the information you’ll need to help keep malignant melanoma out of your life. And believe me, after 18 years of educating myself on the subject, I know what I’m talking about.

Relying on dumb luck to determine a life or death situation, when you actually have the ability to stack the cards in your favor, is a fool’s game. It’s like playing Russian roulette with four bullets in the chamber.

When most people think of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, the most common and easiest to treat, is what usually comes to mind. Because basal cell carcinoma very seldom spreads to other parts of the body, it fools many people into thinking that skin cancer is no big deal.

Guess what! Malignant melanoma is in that same family of skin cancers… and if given half a chance… it will kill you. In fact, melanoma is one of the most deadly, most ruthless, most difficult to treat of all cancers, once it has spread.

Here’s the good news. There is no reason you can’t keep melanoma out of your life. With a little knowledge, you can learn to recognize this cancer in its early stage, giving you the opportunity to deal with it before it has that chance to spread.

Melanoma is one of the few cancers which often can be detected in time to cure… that is, if you’re looking for it. In its early curable stage, melanoma most commonly presents itself in a mole on your skin.

The following information will help you determine the difference between a normal, harmless mole, from one that may be cancerous. In fact, it’s as easy as ABCDE.

Here are the well-known ABCDE warning signs… become familiar with them.

Asymmetry

A) Asymmetrical

A) Asymmetrical: This benign, or normal mole, on the left is not asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will match, meaning it is symmetrical. If you draw a line through the mole on the right, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for malignant melanoma.

Border

B) Borders

B) Borders: A benign mole, like the one on the left, has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

Color

C) Color

C) Color: Most benign moles are all one color— often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.

Diameter

D) Diameter

D) Diameter: Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.

Evolving

E) Evolving

E) Evolving: Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. Any change in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting, points to danger.

If you detect any one of the above ABCDE warning signs, see a dermatologist now without delay. Knowledge coupled with action will keep melanoma in check.

Melanoma is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays produced by the sun as well as tanning beds. You didn’t want to hear that, did ya?

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid the sun at all cost… you just have to use sunscreen all the while you’re in it… both summer and winter.

I’m living testimony to the effectiveness of sunscreen. I’ve been using it religiously now for 18 plus years, with wonderful results… no more traces of skin cancer.

I jog outside… I mow grass in the heat of the day, and I go to the beach on family vacations…. but never, ever without wearing #15 or better sunscreen. In fact, I keep it in my car at all times, so there’s no excuse. The stuff works wonders… and I keep a light tan in the summer as well.

Regardless of your skin tone, gender, or age, here’s what I suggest. Today, go ahead and make your first appointment with a dermatologist for a base line mole check. It’s simple and painless.

By doing this, you’ll know where you stand at this moment with all the moles on your body. Now, once a month, take 10 minutes to look over your body for any of the ABCDE changes in your moles.

If you discover any, don’t be afraid… just simply call your dermatologist and nip it in the bud. Remember, no gambling here. It’s all about catching it early.

Now go make that phone call… please.

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14 Responses

  1. Sibyl
    Sibyl April 7, 2015 at 6:05 am | | Reply

    What a very sweet yet powerful picture! The love is so palpable.

    Another great posting, Bill. Very informative and appropriate with Spring and Summer coming up. Thank you for the reminder.

    What I liked the most is your description of what it is like after discovering and treating the cancer. I see my patient’s go through the same phases: shock, fear at first. Then they trudge through the treatment, determined to fight it. It is the time after treatment that is the most difficult to go through and very difficult to watch for both the family and the provider…the time when treatment is over and it finally sinks in. I think God has a way for us to be able to get through the treatment without freaking out…the freaking out starts after the treatment and during remission. I see patients spend years living there life, focusing every day, on “when will this cancer come back?” They sit and wait for it instead of moving on and living the rest of their life. I certainly understand this. It is difficult to calm them when they come to the office. They almost have a PTSD reaction when they come to their cancer surveillance visit – and it shows on their vital signs with increased heart rate and blood pressure. Then when you tell them all is fine, you can see those vitals signs go back to normal. It is so sad to watch and no matter what I say or anyone says, they cannot help themselves. You’re right, its likes a dark cloud following them into the office and staying until after the visit….til next time. I’m sure they see the cloud all the time, like you did.
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m so glad you are here with us to share yourself and your talent. And I am most glad that you will get a chance to see your grandchildren grow up!!

  2. Billy Peak
    Billy Peak April 7, 2015 at 9:30 am | | Reply

    We have purchased enough sun screen for Cora to fill a pool. Thanks for writing this blog.

    -Billy

  3. Marcia Kiper Stansberry
    Marcia Kiper Stansberry April 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm | | Reply

    Thanks Bill. Vic has gone through this twice also. He was getting checks ups every 6 months because of suspicious freckles. Then this biopsy on his leg came back positive. Had surgery with lymph node removed in groin, which came back clean. He is doing well, but it is something to be watched constantly.

  4. Jerry
    Jerry April 7, 2015 at 4:42 pm | | Reply

    Bill I too had a malignant melanoma. At first I thought my life was over I came home from the Dr. and cried myself to sleep even though the Dr. told it was curable. The word cancer just scared the hell out of me. They put my surgery off for six weeks I couldn’t understand that if I had cancer why wait six weeks to get it out of me. My Dr. was James Moss. All of this was in Sept of 93. During the six weeks I lost a total of 30 pounds worrying about the cancer. They cut a hole about the size of a tennis ball in me and did a skin graft. After it was all over the Dr ask me what made me ask about the mole and I told him my wife pestered me until I finally went to the Dr. He said to buy her a bottle of wine and a dozen roses because she saved my life. If I had waited another six months if would have wrapped itself around my ribs and it would have been a different story then. So every morning I get up I thank God and then my wife because cancer sucks. In 2008 I had bladder cancer and was operated on and have been cancer free this time for six years and looking forward to watching my grandson graduate from high school in about 8 years.

  5. Barbara Reynolds
    Barbara Reynolds July 1, 2015 at 10:38 pm | | Reply

    My daughter has had 2 malignant melanomas…. the first time she was barley 30. She was diagnosed with BC at 36 and many surgeries and 12 weeks of chemo later she just celebrated her 4th year cancer free, is recently engaged and getting married next May. As horrible as it is for us as old folk to go thru these medical issues, it is beyond devastating when it happens to your child. But I love to hear about these ‘happy endings’. God is good…..

  6. Terri Neininger LaVon
    Terri Neininger LaVon July 1, 2015 at 11:55 pm | | Reply

    What a great article, Bill. My husband, Les, an I have both survived cancer, and you tell it like it really is. Every little ache, pain, pimple, or mole is suspect. That little voice in your head comes to the forefront saying, ‘Uh oh…what are you and what do you want with ME?’. Les had a large melanoma on his back which required two invasive surgeries, and I had breast cancer, so we know the drill. Getting folks to get that initial body inspection is key here, and your writing is a powerful testament to early detection. Everyone should read this, because it could save someone’s life. Thank you, Bill!

  7. Carol Mullin
    Carol Mullin July 4, 2015 at 5:26 am | | Reply

    Bill, this is an excellent post but I would like to expand it to include ocular melanoma. Many people don’t realize that you can have melanoma in your eye – – retina, iris, ciliary body and cutaneous (lids, under the lids, etc.). It is most commonly found in people with fair skin and light eyes (green or blue), people over the age of 50 (although I know many patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s). Many people have no symptoms. It is important to get a routine eye screening with dilation at least once every 2 years under the age of 50 and annually at 50+). Half the patients who develop ocular melanoma go on to develop metastatic disease most commonly to the liver. It is a far more aggressive disease than skin melanoma and at this point in time there is no known cure. So in addition to that sun screen make sure you wear your sunglasses and a hat with a visor that helps shield your face. In addition to seeing a dermatologist, get your eyes checked by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Thanks for letting me add to your post.

    Carol Mullin

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