My Melanoma Experience (Part 1)

shutterstock_177094181One of the biggest arguments my mother and I had during my teenage years was my refusal to wear sunscreen. She would point to the scars on her arms and legs from her own skin cancer surgeries and say “No matter how good you think your tan looks now, it is not worth this!” My mother’s skin cancers (5 in total) had been three basal cell and two squamous cell. Due to my mother’s vigilance, in part to my grandparents history of skin cancer, they had all been caught early and treated successfully. I really thought skin cancer was no big deal, if I ever got it I would go to Dr. Atkin and have her give me a cream, or have the surgeon take it off like my mom had done. Melanoma never crossed my mind.

After college I was fortunate enough to return to San Diego. It was nice to be back home, re-establishing old relationships and enjoying the sun and beach. During a visit to an old friend I first noticed the spot that would change my life. It started as a small dot on my thigh that I though was just a freckle. Over the following days I developed an uneasy feeling about the spot so I called my family dermatologist, Dr. Atkin, and scheduled an appointment.

Dr. Atkin did a full body skin exam, checking me over from scalp to toes. We agreed to biopsy the “freckle” on my thigh. It looked suspicious to her and it could be a skin cancer. A biopsy would tell us and help determine the course of treatment. That night I did exactly what they tell a patient not to do, I googled Melanoma cases. I wish I hadn’t because it was terrifying.

Three days later I received a call from Dr. Atkin. My spot was indeed a melanoma. She explained it was an early stage and she was glad I had trusted my instinct that the spot didn’t belong there. We scheduled an appointment to have an excision to remove remaining melanoma. We also planned a specialized test called a sentinel lymph node biopsy to check if the melanoma had spread.

After the surgeon removed the remaining Melanoma and checked my lymph nodes (they were all clear) I could finally relax. It had been a nerve racking experience. I now see Dr. Atkin every 3 months for evaluation, I do self examinations and most importantly I practice sun avoidance and sun protection. I can’t make up for the years of sunburns and trying to obtain that “perfect base tan,” but I can try to prevent further damage and reduce the cumulative effect of the sun on my skin.

This is part 1 of a 3 series story about Karen and her experience with Melanoma.