A childhood cancer survivor’s journey is never done. We live with the risk of long-term effects from our treatment for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, I am not immune to this. I have always known I had a higher risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer, but I never really thought about it. I used sunscreen if I would be outside for a prolonged period of time and wore a hat to block the sun. I have never used a tanning bed and, for the most part, thought I did a good job at just being cautious.
A few months ago, I noticed a spot at my hairline that I never felt before. It gave me an uneasy feeling. I know my body, and I knew this was something new and wasn’t going away. I made an appointment with a dermatologist, and then the pandemic hit, and my appointment got canceled. A month went by, and I knew the spot on my neck wasn’t a normal mole or ingrown hair. I had a deep, somewhat unsettling feeling it was skin cancer. My dermatologist’s office finally opened back up and rescheduled my appointment. I brought my stuffed dog, Katie, with me. During my cancer treatment years earlier, she had been there, and I knew that if I were to need a biopsy, I would want Katie with me again. Sadly, I was right…my doctor confirmed that she didn’t like the spot I found, and she took a biopsy. I held Katie as she injected numbing medication into the spot so I wouldn’t feel the biopsy.
A few days later, the results were back. It was Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer. My treatment will be to have it removed. Since I live a nomadic life, my dermatologist is kind enough to work with me to find a dermatologist in whichever city I end up in to have the BCC removed. I will also have to follow up with my dermatologist every six months (although not sure how that will work if I am on the other side of the country.)
Hearing the news, I had skin cancer felt weird. It was like I already knew I had it, but to hear the words was surreal. I can only assume that my treatment from leukemia had a part in this diagnosis, as it was my only risk factor. It brings an awareness of how quickly our health can change. We only have one body, so we need to care for it the best way we can.
What comes next, a more vigilant me. According to the skin cancer foundation, once you get one BCC, you are at risk of getting another. I ordered a hat, will continue to wear sunscreen when outside, especially for prolonged periods of time, and will note any other spots I find on my body because you want to catch in early with any form of cancer. When we get to Utah, I will find a dermatologist to remove the spot in a few months. And I will pray that this will be my first and last dealing with BCC or any other form of skin cancer.
Your skin is your largest organ, so please take care of it. Please check your body, check your loved ones, and if you see anything that looks suspicious, get it checked out by a dermatologist. Please refer to the Skin Cancer Foundation for more information about risk factors and warning signs.