Diagnosed with Skin Cancer: A CDL Student Perspective
By Anne Therese McCorkell, student, Center for Distance Learning
June 1, 2012
In August 2010, after noticing a new sun spot on my face, I immediately made an appointment with my dermatologist because the thin brown line on my cheek stung, and I knew it was getting a bit longer daily. Within a couple of days after a biopsy, my dermatologist called and said, “You have malignant melanoma on your face, and it needs to be removed as quickly as possible. I’m referring you to a surgeon.”
Malignant melanoma must be treated as soon as possible because it is deadly. Melanoma, squamous, and basal skin cancers begin when cells in a part of the body, in this case, the skin, grow out-of-control abnormal cells. The American Cancer Society provides more information in, “What is Skin Cancer?”
The following changes and warning signs were pulled from www.cancer.org.
You should get your skin checked regularly by a dermatologist, especially if you notice any of the following changes:
- A is for ‘asymmetry’: one-half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other
- B is for ‘border’: the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred
- C is for ‘color’: the color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes patches of pink, red, white or blue
- D is for ‘diameter’: the spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about 1/4 inch – the size of a pencil eraser), but melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
Some melanomas do not fit the rules described above, so it is important to tell your doctor about any changes in skin lesions, new skin lesions or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.
Other warning signs are:
- a sore that does not heal
- spread of pigment from the border of a spot to surrounding skin
- redness or a new swelling beyond the border
- change in sensation – itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding or the appearance of a bump or nodule.
Skin cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy.
There are several causes of cancer, including sun exposure, genetics and heredity: For more information, visit American Cancer Society "Causes of Cancer."
An American Cancer Society representative, who coincidentally happened to be having a coffee near me the day I received my biopsy follow-up phone call, handed me her business card and instructed me to call the nearby American Cancer Society office. I called to find out more information about cancer care, and they offered counseling and information to me as well as to my husband. Counseling helped me understand more about cancer, its treatment and my feelings about having been diagnosed. It turned out that an American Cancer Society office was located less than five minutes away from my home.
A few days later, while I was being prepped for surgery, a nurse explained to me, “Try to avoid the sun as much as possible in the future. Many people think they just need to apply 30 SPF sunscreen once daily, but you should apply it every two hours while outdoors.” My surgeon added, “You have very light melanoma; it is not even stage I, so it should just require a little bit of facial tissue removed.” Stages include 0 through IV, with IV being the most advanced and severe. However, both my dermatologist and surgeon told me that melanoma would spread and eventually cause death if I did not have it removed surgically.
Surgery included the application of disinfectant to the wound site, an incision and excising the cancerous tissue, application of further disinfectant and ointment and application of sterile gauze and tape. After the surgery, I was bandaged and told to make a follow-up appointment for one week later. Surgical aftercare involved using a Q-tip and cleansing solution, and I was given gauze, Q-tips and a prescription for the solution which was immediately available at our regular pharmacy. I was instructed to clean the wound once daily with the disinfectant solution on a Q-tip and to apply a piece of sterilized gauze over the wound.
A few days afterward, I received the call that my pathology was clean and did not contain any further cancer in the biopsy tissue, and a couple of days later, my wound was touched up and sewn up for good. I am seen by my regular dermatologist every three months and occasionally for a complete body check.
According to Cancer.net, “The vast majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are cured by their initial surgery. The five-year survival rate (percentage of people who survive at least five years after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases) is 91%.”
Through it all, I continued my studies through the Empire State College Center for Distance Learning. Every time I read my classmates’ and professors’ posts, and each time I wake and greet my husband and the new day, I feel so happy that I am alive!
Two links that I found helpful during my experience, were the American Cancer Society (800-227-2345), which offers counseling services as well as information about cancer treatment in your area, including transportation, if necessary, and www.cancer.net, which provides information about coping with emotions and other support.