It seems this Irish girl spent a little too much time in the sun with baby oil on her skin in her teens. I certainly had my share of sunburns. Peeling shoulders were a badge of honor at one time.
Fast-forward a few decades. Today, I had a surface basal cell carcinoma scraped and burned off my chest. Basel cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer. As my doctor said, if you’re going to get cancer, it’s the kind you want. I understand the sentiment, but it still totally freaks you out when you get the phone call. “We’re calling about your biopsy…”
I hadn’t been to the dermatologist in several years. In fact, I hadn’t been there since I'd had a mole removed from my chest in the same spot where today the cancerous cells were hopefully obliterated. Over the summer I noticed that the spot that had simply had a small scar on it for many years would bleed once in a while. It would scab up and then bleed again, never really healing. I thought it was odd but didn’t do anything about it immediately.
It wasn’t until late September when a reminder went off on my phone to make my yearly OBGYN and mammogram appointments that I thought to myself, “Maybe I should go to the dermatologist, too, and get that spot checked out.”
I’m really glad I did. The biopsy showed that I did indeed have a form of skin cancer, one that does not kill, but can leave horrible disfiguration of the skin if not taken care of.
As I lay there today as the doctor scraped the cells from my skin and then used an instrument to literally burn my skin (even though it had been numbed, I could still feel the burn), I kept my eyes closed and was torn between wishing I was anywhere but there and being thankful that I'd gone to get it checked out.
The procedure took less than 10 minutes, and the worse part about it was actually the smell of burning skin. I tried to make a joke about it smelling like the time I caught my hair on fire from a candle on Christmas Eve during the somber singing of “Silent Night” at church, but in reality, I was panicking inside. The doctor was purposely burning off my skin.
I’ve now been instructed to return every six months. The good news is that as long as the team took care of the spot correctly, it’s done — at least in that spot. It’s not the type of cancer that spreads. The bad news is that since I’ve had one occurrence, I’m much more likely to have another because it’s clear my skin is susceptible to basal cell carcinoma.
I tell you all this to urge you to go to the dermatologist as soon as you can if you have any areas that concern you. If you don’t have any areas of concern, get yearly checkups. Not everything is noticeable to you, especially on your back. If the problem spot hadn’t been so prominent, I may never have noticed it.
I feel fortunate that what I had wasn’t very severe. But, I’m a freckled, fair-skinned, Irish girl who spent a lot of time in the sun when she was younger (and still heads to the beach several times each year). Today scared me enough to make sure I do my twice-yearly checkups.