Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have chosen to come out as a lupus patient in an effort to raise awareness for a disease that many people do not understand. I enjoy the opportunity to explain various ramifications of life with chronic illness, and I am happy to do research on specific questions asked of me by other patients. It's an all too rare opportunity to put the past ten years of academic training to practical use in the real world. All that being said, I feel that lupus provides more than enough topics to write about. I really don't feel that I need to expand into other illnesses. Lupus is enough.
Or so I thought.
For years I have had a small lesion on one wrist. Being the good, health conscious girl that I am, I have had doctors check it out, just to make sure it wasn't anything serious. None of the doctors found it to be terribly worrisome, so I didn't worry much about it either. Then, two weeks ago, my doctor glanced at my wrist. "That has grown since the last time I saw it," he said, looking worried. I hadn't noticed it growing, but he was quite certain. So certain, in fact, that he decided to perform a biopsy personally, taking a good deal of time out of his incredibly busy schedule to do it, rather than have me wait the usual three months to get in to see dermatology. (Side note: they say the American medical system doesn't have waiting lists. That is complete bull****).
Knowing he was going to be out of town, my doctor asked another doctor to keep an eye out for the biopsy results...just in case. I wasn't expecting to hear from her at all, so I was slightly mystified, and a little worried, when the office called last Wednesday and asked if I could come in today. A couple of hours later I was sitting in an examining room, being told that I had malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma is, by far, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It was invasive and spreading, although luckily it was still shallow. But the cancer was growing, and growing quickly. Wednesday I was diagnosed with cancer. Friday they operated.
So, there you have it. Diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 30. I was incredibly, incredibly lucky that my doctor caught the cancer before it had a chance to metastasize. Metastasized melanoma has a five year survival rate of about 15%. By contrast, the five year survival rate of melanoma that is caught early on, as mine was, is 92%. Those two are very, very different numbers.
I know people joke about how they might get skin cancer someday because they go tanning, never wear sunblock, get really tan working outside, etc. Skin cancer is the kind of thing that only happens to other people, and generally much older people, at that. Well, guess what? If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone. As I've written about before, I do everything possible to avoid sun-exposure. But I still developed skin cancer. It does happen to young people, and it did happen to me.
I'm sharing this as a way to beg my friends and family to take sun-exposure seriously. The doctors removed a sizable piece of my forearm in an effort to completely eradicate the cancer. It was not fun... an hour of being cut open, listening while they cauterized the wound to prevent excessive bleeding, having two separate layers of stitches put in, being told it will take a full year for the wound to heal completely... not a great way to spend a morning. I will also have to be checked regularly by dermatologists for the rest of my life to make sure the cancer doesn't return. And, again, I was one of the lucky ones. So please, even if you can tan, don't. Wear sunblock. Wear sunglasses. Get any unusual skin sores or moles checked out. Don't mess around with cancer, because I don't want to see people I care about turn into statistics.