May is "Melanoma Month".
I never fully understood the importance of skin checks until last summer, when I had a "dysplastic nevi" [abnormal mole] removed from my shoulder.
The mole was there for as long as I can remember. I had always thought that it looked a little different than moles should look, but I never thought about getting it checked out.
I read an article (I think it was in Glamour magazine) and it changed my life.
I don't remember much about the article except an excerpt from a dermatologist; she had skin cancer. She says that she had always ignored a small mole on her foot and it turned out that for her, that tiny mole was melanoma. If it could happen to her and she knows what she is looking for, then it could certainly happen to me.
It is amazing to me that skin, the thing that protects us from the elements, the thing that torments us as teenagers, is something that can kill us. It can be our best friend and our worst enemy. The way I see it is, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. This is the way I have started to look at my skin: frenemy numero uno.
So, anyway, back to my story.
Last year, after reading this magazine article, I decided that I would no longer have this sinking, wondering feeling about that mole. I would face my fears and just get checked out.
Now…had I really known what I was getting into at the dermatologists office, I probably wouldn’t have had so much gusto regarding my check up. Also, it would have helped if my doc was an eighty year old man, rather than a guy in his mid thirties, who looked like he could be friends with my fiancé. I am proud to admit that it was a little weird to be nearly naked in front of a total stranger (also weird because I had worn a push up bra that made my boobs look a-mazing). It was also weird because the doc was extremely thorough. I had no idea that it was possible to have moles between my toes or in my ears; he checked all these places.
I told him I was concerned with the mole on my shoulder and he agreed that it did look odd and scheduled me for a removal the week after my initial exam. The mole removal didn’t hurt a bit and it was an extremely fast procedure. Honestly, I’m sure when I cut my legs shaving it hurts much worse. The results came back pretty fast, within a week and they did advise that it was an abnormal, benign mole. The doctor prescribed limited exposure to the sun and always with a high SPF (especially since my mom has also had abnormal moles removed.)
Since this visit, I have been bronze free. Don’t get me wrong. It has been hard. All growing up I loved being out in the sun and was always tan. I played soccer most summers while growing up and had extremely tan legs and arms (nothing is better than soccer socks tan lines). Also, during high school and college I loved going to the tanning beds. My motto was always, “Everything looks better tan.” My thought process was: so what if I am sportin’ a little “chub”, at least I’m tan. Well…it has been hard to get over this way of thinking, but I’ve been doing well so far this spring. I am much more conscious about the sun and what it can to do our bodies. Not only the cancerous thing, but I’m sure that Demi Moore minimizes her time in the sun. I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to look like Demi when I am older. So…bring on the SPF 50 and the big brimmed hats.
I encourage you, if you have never had a cancer screen, please visit the American Academy of Dermatology's website here and see if there is a FREE cancer screening in your area. If there isn't a free screening, you can learn how to do a self check. Be well, and oh yeah...check behind your knee caps!