Thursday, August 2, 2007

Skin Cancer, Urologists, and Italian food

Generally, my blog entries are educational and, hence, serious in nature. Occasionally, however, I do write about my personal adventures as a skin cancer crusader.

Today's blog is [hopefully] an example of this... (If anything it is a superb example of how I seize every opportunity to insert a skin cancer-related message into every situation).

Two nights ago my room-mate and I went to the Olive Garden. Our server was a very nice (and cute) gentleman named Dave. He was friendly, attentive, and suggested a fabulous new dish for me to try (I tend to order the same dish over-and-over again when I go to restaurants.) It was pleasantly tasty. Good choice, Dave!

At one point, when Dave came to replenish our supply of bread sticks, salad, water, and good conversation, he pointed to my "Skin Cancer Awareness" hat. Behold! The opportunity presented itself, and I gladly embraced it.

"I have had skin cancer," says Dave. "Really? If you don't mind me asking, Dave, was it basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma?" (Question marks begin circling his head.) "I'm not sure. It was some red scaly patch on my neck. It was a scab that wouldn't heal, so the doctor took it off." "Hmm, it sounds like it was either basal cell or maybe even squamous cell carcinoma, which are very common and very treatable." "Yeah, my doctor just removed it." "Well, you want to make sure you have a dermatologist take care of any skin-related issues. While general practitioner's are good, you will want to see a dermatologist especially if you have had skin cancer before. Have you gone in for any follow-up visits?"

(Note: By this time Dave is sweating bullets and has a peculiar, puzzled and perplexed look on his face.)

"No, I haven't gone in for any follow-up visits but my dad is a physician and..." (I intercept) "You really should go to the dermatologist -- at least once a year, and you should be examining your skin every month, too. What kind of doctor is your dad? Is your dad the one who diagnosed and removed your skin cancer?" (Dave turns bright red.) "Oh, trust me, Danielle! I don't want to see my dad or have him treat me for anything. I won't let him touch me!" "Why is that?" "Because my dad is a urologist."

(Enter loud laughter courtesy of both myself and my room-mate).

"Well, you should get that checked out, too!"

(Dave now sports an endearing shade of tomato-red and walks away.)

"I'll come back in a second, please excuse me."

Approximately 15 minutes later, Dave returns to our table. He says we embarrassed him, but promised to see the dermatologist ASAP. I asked him if he needed a recommendation, and gave him the URL for the American Academy of Dermatology. He also promises to check his skin out every month. "To tell you the truth, Danielle, I have had about 16 different moles removed. So, you're right. I should go in for a follow-up visit. Thanks for the lesson on skin cancer prevention."

Talk about a good sport! Little did Dave know that he would receive two tips from one lady in one evening. (My mother did teach me to tip generously!)

And now, I'm tipping YOU. It's a brand new month (Happy Birthday, Melissa), thus it is a great time to perform your monthly self-skin exam. So, after you get out the shower tonight, take a few minutes to check out your birthday suit.

Seriously, though, make a commitment to do it TODAY! It takes about five minutes, and it could save your life. When you think about another woman being diagnosed with skin cancer every five minutes, performing a thorough self-skin exam is time well spent.

That said, here's how to perform a self-skin exam...

First, you will need the following:

* A bright light
* A full-length mirror
* A hand mirror
* 2 chairs or stools
* A blow dryer
* Body maps
* A pencil

Now that you are properly equipped follow these simple steps:

1. Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror, then raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.

2. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides), and upper arms.

3. Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs. Also look between the buttocks and around the genital area.

4. Sit and closely examine your feet, including the toenails, the soles, and the spaces between the toes.

5. Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or a blow dryer to move hair to get a better looks. You also may want to have a relative or friend check through your hair because this is difficult to do yourself.

Now that you know how to perform a self-skin exam, here is what you need to look for:

A = Asymmetry. Melanoma lesions are typically asymmetrical, whereas benign moles are typically round and symmetrical

B = Border. Melanoma lesions frequently have uneven or irregular borders (i.e., ragged or notched edges), whereas benign moles have smooth, even borders.

C = Color. Melanoma lesions often contain multiple shades of brown or black, whereas benign moles are usually a single shade of brown.

D = Diameter. Early melanoma lesions are often more than 6 mm in diameter, whereas benign moles are usually less than 6 mm in diameter which is about the size of a No# 2 pencil eraser (or smaller). Note: Yet, some people have moles that are larger than 6mm, which is why it is important to examine your skin regularly so as to know what is normal for your skin.

E = Elevation. A previously flat mole, becomes raised. It also stands for evolution - any mole that changes is cause for concern and requires the immediate attention of a board certified dermatologist.

According to the National Cancer Institute "by checking your skin regularly, you will become familiar with what is normal for your skin. It is helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. I also recommend taking pictures, especially if you have numerous dysplastic nevi (large, abnormal moles). If you find that a mole has changed in color, shape, or size, is bleeding, or "doesn't look quite right" contact your dermatologist immediately. If you do not have a dermatologist, you can find one near you by simply entering your zip code here.

For the first three people who email me (or leave a comment) saying they have completed their monthly self skin exam for the month of August, I will send them a complimentary Skin Cancer Awareness pin. (You may also get an autographed copy of my book).

To learn why skin cancer, particularly melanoma, is a serious concern and why young adults should begin performing self skin exams NOW, pick up a copy of ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources and read through articles published by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Thanks, Dave, for providing me with an opportunity to educate others about skin cancer! I hope each of YOU will follow his example, and begin monitoring your skin each month and visiting your dermatologist every year.

Here's to your health (and tasty Italian food)!


PS: The picture above is not of me getting my skin exam done; rather it is a melanoma skin cancer survivor named Stacey Escalante.


Anonymous said...

I have done my August self skin check. I am very conscious of this and thoroughly check every month.


Danielle said...

This made my day, Missy! (There must be something about people with the name Melissa - they're so cool and SunSavvy!)

I'm glad that you make it a point to perform monthly self skin exams. I hope, too, that you visit the dermatologist every year.

I would love to send you a complimentary Skin Cancer Awareness pin and reward you for performing your August skin exam. What is the best way to get that to you?

Thanks again, Missy, for your comment/email. I hope you are encouraging others to be SunSavvy, as well!