Tuesday, June 5, 2012

GET IT CHECKED! The Life You Save May Be Your Own

Nag, nag, nag. That would be me. I'm good at it and it's paying off!

Yesterday, as I write, I co-officiated at a funeral. During the day I was in a conversation with two friends and the subject "melanoma" came up. As it's prone to do when I'm around. Sigh. What can I say? I hate to waste a good opportunity to turn the talk toward something that may educate. In this particular case, it led to a very pleasant surprise.

We in the melanoma community post about melanoma, write and blog about it. We share videos and do our best to make a difference for people so our story doesn't become their story. All too often we can feel like we're singing to the choir, with the choir, and we know the songs. Unfortunately it seems like other people don't want to sing with us. And who can blame them? The lyrics really suck. The melody is unsingable. I guess that's not much of a song really. But it's our song and we sing it well.

So yesterday we're talking and one of my friends thanks me for all my posts about melanoma! He has never, ever given a clue that he's been paying any attention to anything I post on Facebook! Not only has he been paying attention, but my constant nagging caused him to pay attention to a place on his face that had been nagging him! Turns out he had a precancerous place. Squamous cell. That can be fatal, too. It was a great reminder that usually people do not tell us when we nag them into action. We can get discouraged, but for one person...ONE person to simply say, "Thank you" makes it all worthwhile. And I accepted that for all of us. I thanked him for telling me I had made a difference. And I meant it. It redeems this to know God takes, blesses, and breaks the cancer bond for someone else.

So, for anybody reading this: if you have a place, anywhere on your person, that doesn't behave like it should, is worrisome, keeps scabbing but never healing...get it checked!

Remember that not all melanomas or skin cancers begin in moles! We pay homage to the ABCDEs of melanoma, and while rightfully so, a lot of people are placing too much faith in that alone. There are people who think that's all there is to watch for. Melanoma needs moisture, which can be mucous, and for that reason, I want it removed from the "skin cancer" category of cancer. If you have a place, of any color on your person, that is changing, growing, itching and/or bleeding...get it checked!

For the record: melanoma can, and does begin for some people, in the eye, the ear canal, mouth, rectum, genitals, under nails and in nail beds, it can show in organs with no known primary. It can present as a pinkish place or as a bump under the skin. That does not mean that all lumps, bumps, and pinkish places are cancerous, but it does mean they need to be checked out and, if necessary, removed and pathed. So if you have, usually, a dark spot in any of these places...get it checked!

If you've grown up in the sun, if you've ever been to a tanning bed, if you have a body with skin and organs...get it checked. And that would be a full-body skin check by a dermatologist that is well-acquainted with what melanoma and skin cancer looks like. Not all are; some let their careers take them into other areas of dermatology besides cancer. And, "full-body" means just that. Scalp to in-between toes. When you call for that appointment, be sure and ask if the dermatologist does full-body checks. If not, call another.

Know your body and trust your gut. If you feel something isn't right, see your doctor. If you have a place of any size, shape, color, odd behavior that's causing you concern...get it checked. But don't stop with a "check" if you're really bothered by it. Get it removed and pathed. If it's itching, scabbing constantly, bleeding, or giving you a sick in the gut feeling...get it removed. If it's removed it has to be sent to pathology. Do not take "let's watch it" as an appropriate, helpful response. If that place is something, it's growing and spreading while you're watching. Remember, if it is something cancerous, it's your cancer, your fight, maybe your death. It will not be your doctor's. If you want it removed, get it removed. That simple. If not by the doctor you present it to first, then another doctor.

Also remember and get this thoroughly drilled into your thinking: you are your own best advocate. You may even be your only advocate. You'll probably get told "no" by people: doctors, insurance companies, etc, when you ask for tests, scans, places to be removed. Some people breeze through but plenty don't. There are people who have to fight and push for everything they get. If that proves to be you...fight and push. Advocate for yourself. Learn the system you are fighting and pushing in. Do what you have to do. I can't promise you'll be one hundred per cent satisfied with the results, but I can promise that rarely will you be handed all that you want or need.

Nobody wants the word "precancerous" attached to themselves. Nobody wants to be told they have cancer. But if it's there, we need to know. Survival depends on it. Basal cell skin cancer is cancer. It's disfiguring, and though very rare, understand that it can be fatal. Squamous cell skin cancer is cancer. It's disfiguring and can be fatal. Melanoma is classified as skin cancer but that's horribly misleading. Melanoma is cancer, it's disfiguring, and is, by far, the deadliest of these three cancers. Particularly if it advances. However, don't breathe a sigh of relief if you get a stage 0 or 1 diagnosis. Stages 0 and 1 can rapidly progress to 4. That's rare, but it happens.

With all of these cancers, early detection is key. Doing what you can to prevent them is important as well.

Cancer is cancer. Skin cancer is cancer. It can be fatal. Melanoma isn't just skin cancer and it isn't only cancer found in skin. It's highly preventable, highly treatable when caught early enough and highly deadly when it isn't. It isn't curable. None are curable. And having one kind raises the risk of getting another kind. Being cancer, it doesn't discriminate either. Color, race, ethnicity, age, gender...none of that matters. Statistics may vary, BUT all statistics are made up of people. So...

So, when in doubt...get it checked!

To be on the safe side, even if you're not experiencing any problems or issues...get it all checked once a year.

You'll be grateful you did.

For good information on basal cell skin cancer.

For good information on squamous cell skin cancer.

For good information on melanoma.
   Aim at Melanoma
   Melanoma Research Foundation

For good information on skin cancers that don't present as "usual" skin cancers or are precancerous.
   Actinic Keratosis
   Dysplastic Nevi (Atypical Moles)
   Merkel Cell Carcinoma

And then there's Skin Cancer and Melanoma For Dummies.