When I was 33, I found a dark mole on my back while getting dressed. I showed it to my mother, who reassured me that it was probably nothing. “We have red-heads in the family; we have that type of skin”, she said.
Still, I wanted to have it removed before the summer, or before bikini season. I wasn’t concerned about skin cancer; I was completely unaware of skin cancer.
I made an appointment in a private clinic to speed up the process, out of pure vanity. When the doctor looked at it, he said, “I can’t remove it. It’s melanoma. You have to go into surgery.” I left with a consultation paper with the word “cancer” on it, and no plan. The shock was devastating.
At the time, I trained 4 times a week. I ate flax seeds daily. I made my own bread. I had stopped working to be a house mom and raise my children. And I had NEVER set foot in a tanning salon.
After the birth of my second child, in 2006, I had very quickly lost all the baby weight, and within another three months, had actually lost an extra 20 pounds. Anyone worried about losing baby weight would be excited to shed an extra 20. And so was I. Until I understood that the unexplained weight loss should have been my first warning sign.
I was lucky to be taken in right away at the hospital where, the very next day, my tumor was removed. Unfortunately, I was to find out a few weeks later that the margins were not clear, and that I had vascular invasion meaning the cancer had been in contact with my blood. I underwent another 4-hour surgery to remove a total of 6 inches of skin on my back, as well as my sentinel node for biopsy. My prayers were answered: the lymph node biopsy showed no trace of melanoma.
One of the follow-ups often done for young patients is a PET scan. I was thrilled to have a full scan showing that I could start counting my remission days. A clean bill of health. But unfortunately, the results showed a 1-inch tumor in my throat. The ENT doctor did a fine needle aspiration and it revealed that I had papillary carcinoma, or thyroid cancer, which was completely unrelated to the melanoma. So he had to do yet another operation to remove all of my thyroid gland, leaving my hormone levels to be synthetically controlled for the rest of my life.
How does it affect my life today?
I need to be super careful in the sun, so putting on sunscreen has become part of my regular routine. In place of my thyroid, I control my metabolism, mood and energy level with hormone pills. I stay on top of things by meeting regularly with my oncologist, dermatologist and endocrinologist.
I recognize now that persistent changes in your health (like my weight loss) deserve attention and I could have brought it to my doctor’s attention earlier had I known.
Fortunately, because I wanted that mole removed, my melanoma was caught at a treatable stage. If there is one thing that you should remember here: pay attention and listen to your body.
And remember, people who love you may diminish the importance of symptoms because they just don’t want anything to be wrong. A sudden no-effort weight loss is not normal. A new dark mole is not normal. Any new lump is not normal. Have it checked out.
- dark mole on back