Sunday, June 21, 2015

Getting NAKED with Melanoma


 Even though the month of June in our little Missouri towns have been full of overcast skies and rain, we can still get overexposed to the sun's harmful rays.  I know we all want to feel the warmth since our Winter clamored on for so long and we really haven't been able to enjoy it much, but we must be careful about those burns.

     Yes, you can obtain a sunburn even if the sky is gray!

        As a child, I do not remember anyone making a big deal about sunscreen and it seemed we could stay outside for hours without obtaining that crispy layer of red over our body surface.  Those days are gone!  We have destroyed our protection in the atmosphere and if a blanket of sunscreen is not applied to our delicate outer body layer, we are turning crimson within twenty minutes.

     So let's go to the tanning booth!  Yeah! Noooooo!

     Of course studies relay that "fake tanning" can be equally as harmful or worse than the rays of the real sun.  My option is to spray tan and I buy the good stuff so it blends well with my normal skin tone.

     Anyone and everyone should visit with a dermatologist, not just when you notice a problem, but yearly so you can catch irregularities before they become a problem.  

   Few people know this about me, but I developed melanoma at twenty-nine years of age.  Working in the medical field, I had easy access to my physician and asked him to assess a mole that had grown on my back for years.  The mark was hard for me to view myself so detecting change was difficult.  Explaining that I had a sensation that something wasn't quite right is the only reason I had for asking him his opinion.  One look and I was sent to the Dermatologist asap.  

  All of us who work in health care understand that when the patient receives a call directly from the physician, all is not well.  That ugly mole that was not causing me any pain or discomfort was cancer.  Finding it in the early stages was essential and it was only detected because I had a "sensation".  It is important to listen to our bodies. 

     That initial finding was ten years ago.   Since then I am accustomed to visiting with my Dermatologist every six months to a year due to finding several other severely atypical nevi, all located on my back.  Since then, my physician has removed more than forty suspicious moles from my body by freezing or shaving methods.(yuck!)  Three more have been surgically excised.  Those three in particular would have also developed into melanoma had we not caught them early. 

     I am not an avid sunbather, although I am a tom boy at heart, enjoying the outdoors inevitably equips me with some sun exposure.  I do take precautions with sunscreen, hats and staying covered up with adequate clothing.  Rarely have I found myself in a tanning bed and the times I can count were all prior to my diagnosis. 

     So why do I continue having these problems if I adhere to the precautions?   Genetic melanoma.  By definition, it is a genetic or inherited condition. This means that the risk of melanoma can be passed from generation to generation in a family.  Yes, there are others in my family that have acquired this condition.  So far, I am the only one it keeps coming after.  

   So I didn't do anything wrong, it is just in my body.  I have a predisposition towards the disease and by continuing to take precautions that include taking ten minutes to stand in front of my Dermatologist  naked, I can significantly decrease my risk. 

     Of course the scars are not attractive.  There have been many loud whispers behind me during summer months wondering what in the world would cause such large defects.  "Did I get knifed?" has been my favorite so far.   

     As most of you know, scars are a part of my life since my auto collision and hint at a story without using words.  Attaining these marks of survival instead of receiving treatment over advanced melanoma has been the better choice, even if I am left with a road map of visible challenges.  

Most likely I will acquire more, but each time I understand that because I take care of my health, I am controlling melanoma instead of melanoma controlling me.
Prevent. Detect. Live.

      Never be ashamed of a scar, it simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.