Friday, September 28, 2007

An Ounce of Prevention, worth a pound of Treatment

I just barely came from the dermatologist's office. In fact, it was exactly 13 minutes ago. (My office is but a mere block away from my dermatologist's office - how perfectly convenient, especially when you're a patron of the public transit system.) Ironically, this visit to the dermatologist landed during our 1st Annual Dermatologists' Appreciation Week (this was not planned, by the way, though it definitely reeks of me.) Actually, I have been meaning to go the dermatologist for weeks. Every time I scheduled an appointment, some all-too-important project with an insanely pressing deadline would come up at work (you know, my "real job"; the one that pays the bills, because skin cancer crusading, though my life's mission, is what I do in my spare time - voluntarily). And, as such, I would have to cancel my dermatologist's appointment. Fortunately, the two new moles I found while performing my monthly self-skin exams didn't look atypical or suspicious; however, the sheer fact that they were new was cause for concern. Finally, my dermatologist called me on my cell phone and said "No matter what time of the day, I'll be available to get those moles taken care of, Danielle." In other words, "Drag your hind parts on over here, Danielle, NOW!"

And I did.

This morning, after getting out of the shower, I performed my monthly self-skin exam for September. I wanted to double-check those two new moles that I found earlier and examine all my other moles. I, thanks to both my mother and father, have numerous dysplastic (abnormal) moles and a high-risk for melanoma skin cancer. Additionally, melanoma is most common among women in their 20s and 30s, and since I'm 28 -- and a skin cancer educator, I wanted to be thoroughly prepared for my dermatologist's visit today. It was wise to examine my moles this morning. It turns out that one of the new moles I found (on my right thigh) had changed. In fact, it had grow rather large. And since ANY change in a mole - whether it be a previous mole or a new one - is a red flag, it was a good thing that I was going to get it cut off and biopsied today. Moreover, the other new mole (located behind my left knee), though it hadn't grown laterally across my skin, it apparently had burrowed beneath the epidermis (top uppermost part of the skin - the layer you can see) and the dermis (the layer skin just below) and into the subcutaneous tissue (the third layer of skin that contains fat and connective tissue and houses the larger blood vessels). YIKES! A mole that's burrowing beneath the skin and into the subcutaneous tissue is definitely cause for concern.

"Boy, am I so very glad you came in today and asked me to look at this mole on your leg, Danielle. It's deep. It definitely needs to be biopsied. The mole on your hip - the one that you said was changing, wasn't very deep, but it's definitely going to the lab. By the way, Danielle. Since I saw you last (in April), I have removed three melanomas off of women who are also in their 20s! I also removed a couple of suspicious moles off a little girl."

Then, Carrie the dermatologist, proceeded to excise an additional mole on my back.

"There is another one on your back, and that one on your left shoulder that you mentioned that I want to take care of when you come back in two weeks to get your stitches removed," she said. "In the meantime, these are going to lab."

"We caught the one on my leg early enough that it won't be an issue, right?" I asked.

"More than likely, the lab reports will come back clean like the others. Yet, if you hadn't come in today, I might be telling you something different. We may have had an issue on our hands," she said. "But, I know how vigilant you are about checking your skin, protecting yourself from the sun. I mean, you're the skin cancer crusader. You're apart of the American Academy of Dermatology! I don't worry too much about you delaying action on something suspicious. I'm just glad that my schedule was finally in-sync with yours so we can get this taken care of early, before it became something more serious."

(Did I mention that my dermatologist stayed after hours just to accommodate me? Oh, and yes, she even gave me her cell phone number so that I could call her "anytime day or night, if I have a concern about another mole" or if the excision spots "don't heal quickly and there's any sign of infection" Truly, this is a dermatologist who cares about her patients. And, it's an added blessing to have my dermatologist has become my friend. In fact, she wanted to know if I'd be in Vegas for the AAD meeting so we could "hang out together!")

Wow! Reflecting back on it all, I can't help but think...

If I had ignored it or dismissed it as "nothing" (which I sort of thought it was "nothing" except that it was new, and it was larger than 6mm), I may be facing more than a series of stitches and some soreness; rather, a possible melanoma diagnosis.

Ah, yet another testament to the necessity of monthly skin exams, as well as the importance of being willing to open your mouth and ask your dermatologists those important questions! Indeed, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment. (I talk a lot about ways to build a relationship with your dermatologist and being your own best advocate in my book ONLY SKIN DEEP?)

With that, take a few minutes today, after getting out of the shower, to perform a thorough self skin exam. Take digital photos of your moles and start cataloging them to monitor any potential changes over time. (Don't forget to print these photos off, date them and catalog them). Get your spouse to help you out with those hard to reach places such as your back, backs of your legs and even your scalp (a common place for melanomas to appear). Write down any questions and concerns you may have for your dermatologist in a notebook and bring it with you to your next appointment. (I suggest keeping a record of all your dermatologist's visits - date, what happened during the appointment, and keep that information in the same notebook along with your questions and photos.)

It is just too important; you can't neglect your skin (or your body, in general). Remember - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.

Here here.

Yours in the fight,
Danielle & The Cancer Crusaders Organization

(Note: Pictures of those moles Dr. Carrie removed today will be coming shortly).

PS: Ladies, here's an idea - since we all be going in for our annual mammograms next month (to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month), why don't you book an appointment with the dermatologist for your annual full body skin exams, too. This way, you're fighting off two deadly cancers in one month! Remember, breast cancer is important (I know, it killed my mother)and so is melanoma skin cancer. In fact, melanoma skin cancer is the only cancer that's on the rise. Yet, it's SO PREVENTABLE IF WE ARE PROACTIVE!

So, be proactive. Protect yourself. Check out your birthday suit and save your skin (and ultimately your life).

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