Friday, January 21, 2011

Managing Skin Cancer

My previous posts highlighted the goofy ways I manage to mismanage myself.  Today’s post will shift more towards the serious efforts to manage myself when it matters the most. 

Here is a picture taken of me this morning.  If you look closely, you will see dry, scaly lesions on the nose, cheeks, and forehead.  Embarrassing huh? Can you believe I did this on purpose?  I volunteered.  I'll go as far to say I'm tickled to see my face covered in red blotches.  Why?  Because each red blotch is sun-damaged skin being destroyed and replaced by healthy cells.  Yep...I managed to get Skin Cancer. 

My Dermatologist prescribed a treatment of Carac, Fluorouracil cream, used to treat actinic or solar keratoses which are scaly or crusted lesions caused by years of too much exposure to sunlight. It works by killing fast-growing cells such as the abnormal cells in actinic keratoses and basal cell carcinoma, according to PubMed

I am choosing to remain optimistic by looking at it similar to muscle pain you feel after a really good work out.  The discomfort is a sign it’s working and it’s only temporary.  The treatment will last another week, then my face will return to its normal, cheery self. 

However, it is startling the hear your son say "What’s wrong with your face?”

Skin cancer has been a part of my life since I was ten years old, after watching my grandfather endure numerous surgeries and infections from skin graphs.  In keeping with our family’s sense of humor, he made jokes.  It serves me right," he'd say.  "A man with skin as white as mine should never become a sailor.”

At the time, I just thought the best way to not get skin cancer was not become a sailor.  Problem solved, Right?  Wrong.  Hey, what did I know?  I was 10. 

Sailing wasn’t to blame.  It was the excessive amount of sun exposure with little to no sunscreen.  Something I had already been doing for a decade and I would continue for another two. 

Ahhh...the life of the sun worshiper...lying on the beach...drenched in tanning oil...accumulating burn after burn in quest of the perfect tan.  SPF?  What’s That?

Harsh reality struck at age 36 while expecting my third child.  My Obstetrician noticed a small red spot on my upper left shoulder when injecting a necessary rhogam shot.  An initial biopsy's results were negative for cancer, fooling us in believing everything was fine.  It wasn’t.  Within one year, the small red spot, about the size of a pea, grew to the size of a quarter.  A second biopsy revealed malignant melanoma. 

The doctors wasted no time.  Hours upon receiving the diagnosis, I was in an operating room with a large section of skin removed from my upper left arm. I was lucky....even with a nasty scar.  The melanoma spread across the top layer of skin, the epidermis, resembling oil on water.  If it had broken through the second layer, the dermis, I might not be here to share my story.

Cancer management requires 6 month check ups with my local dermatologist.  Additionally, I am seen by the Pigmented Lesion Group at the University of Pennsylvania once a year for a more extensive examination.  U of Penn is “mapping” the progression of my many moles to keep cancer under control, using photographs to document any changes. 

These less than attractive photos, I will not be sharing.  I have nightmares of coming across them in medical journals on melanoma.  Trust me...they're scary.

Please think of me when you are in the sun.  No matter what the weather or time of year, wear your sunscreen.  Make it a part of your daily routine.  Protect yourself.  And moms out there....PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN.  Save them from looking like this.


  1. I'm so sorry you have to go through this, but, thankful you are sharing your journal. Hopefully it will teach others that they should do all they can to protect themselves from the sun.

  2. I can feel for you since we both have this in common! I would NEVER have posted those daily photos but I told my doctors, if I can help just one person or warn that teenager, then it was worth it. I will fight this the rest of my life as you will, but I am not going to let it win! Thank you for sharing your story and I pray you will heal and win the battle. If you also click on the other tab in my blog there is bloging for a cure and click on that in the introduction and it will lead you to a cancer blog where I would never have thought I would help someone and also get support in return....but I did!

  3. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story so others can learn from it.

  4. JerseyGirlie! Thanks so much for your candor. I have always been haphazard with my sunscreen use, and I HATE hats. But now that I live in FL, there are no excuses. I will make it a part of my routine to slough sunscreen on myself and my children every day.

    Don't know if you get told this enough, but you are awesome.

  5. HI! I just wanted you to know that I added your sites story to my blog list this week. It is Skin CANCER AWARENESS MONTH!