Diagnosis: Skin Cancer – Beth’s Blog

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Sunday - July 1st

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It's 11:45pm and I just got home from work. My surgery is first thing in the morning. I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma -- the diagnosis came on my anniversary, June 20th. The first few days after getting the diagnosis, I went through all sorts of feelings -- fear, worry, then dismissiveness. My father has had so many bouts with skin cancer. He had each spot removed and moved on with his life until the next suspect spot showed up. Then, it was more of the same -- doctor's appointment scheduled to have it removed, operation, then return home to change bandages for a while until the spot healed. It seemed more like a nuisance than anything else. but then again, all but one of his spots of cancer were basal cell, the least worrisome form. He only had one spot of squamous cell. It was on his nose and he had it removed and moved on. He even had one spot of melanoma and had that removed. Dad died after completing chemotherapy to treat a tiny spot of cancer that showed up on his lungs. It wasn't the cancer that killed him, but the treatment to get rid of it. A family friend told us once you get rid of melanoma, it comes back in a much more sensitive and difficult area to treat, like the lung or the brain.

Anyway, I guess hearing that I have squamous cell carcinoma was a bit sobering to me, since it's as if I started my journey with skin cancer at a more serious level than Dad did. The day I was diagnosed, I had to take my twoyearold daughter, Sarah, to daycare. I glanced back at her through the rearview mirror and that's when I felt a combination of worry, fear and guilt. It dawned on me that this journey I'm about to begin could eventually claim my life prematurely, robbing Sarah of her mother much sooner than would naturally happen if cancer wasn't part of my life. When Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, his doctor warned him this would probably be it. It would probably lead to his death, ultimately. Maybe not the cancer, but pneumonia or some other complication he would suffer in the midst of his treatment for cancer would do it. The doctor was right.

Having said all that, when I got the news from my doctor, my husband had already scheduled a trip to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, for our anniversary so we could enjoy a couple of days of fun in the sun. For the first time that I could remember, I bought sunscreen to take with me. I had already ceased going to the tanning bed, since the moment I heard my doctor guess that an abnormal spot on my chest might be skin cancer. We took the biopsy, but then I didn't hear the results for at least two months. I had already dismissed it, thinking if it was cancer I would have already been told. The phone call on my anniversary came as quite a shock, since I was still thinking "no news is good news". But the doctor's nurse said they had just received the pathology. She noticed I had an appointment for a checkup in August, but she insisted I come in as soon as possible to get rid of it. I managed to block it out of my mind during our trip to Mexico, although I did put sunscreen on. It wasn't too hard to dismiss it, since I didn't feel anything unusual. I didn't feel any pain, burning, itching or anything else on the spot or around the spot. The only way I knew I had cancer was by the discoloration, which wasn't even that noticeable. I've always wondered what cancer feels like, although I didn't want to know badly enough to get it. I guess I should be grateful it's squamous cell and not melanoma.

I go tomorrow morning, July 2nd, at 8:30a to meet with my dermatologist and go through the outpatient procedure to remove it. I'm told the worst of it will probably be the shot to deaden the area with anesthesia before he shaves off the spot. I hope it's as simple as that. But I know that now that I've had it, it will always be part of my life. I will have to go for checkups every six months, at least, to make sure it hasn't come back. I know I'm susceptible to skin cancer and I'll likely have more diagnoses in the future.

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Monday - July 2nd

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So it's been more than 12 hours since my procedure. The band aid is still on and the area is still numb. Wow.. I have such relief from what I thought I had. I'm so grateful for a word I had never heard of until this morning--incitu. It means 'on the surface'. That means the doctor just removed it and that should be the end of it, at least for now. I have another spot that scared me but seems to be healed over. The doctor said we'll just keep watching it. And it's the same for a flaky spot on my right arm. I have lots of sunspots. I guess any of them could morph into something ugly. And now that I've had one skin cancer I'll likely have another. It's just a matter of time. The doctor could have just scraped the area and then checked it in three weeks, but my husband insisted that he cut a wedge to send off to pathology and make sure we got rid of all of it.

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Tuesday - July 3rd

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This is Day 1 after my skin cancer removal procedure. And now I feel it. I took off the band aid to take a shower and it burns. I couldn't find my Polysporin, so I just used lotion on it. It's not bleeding, but it looks ugly and raw. Thank goodness it's small and easily covered by my clothing. The doctor's orders were to wash it and put Polysporin on it at least twice a day for three days, but I should not put a band aid on it. It's not so bad but it's not numb anymore! Dr. Mancuso said the pathology results from the skin he removed should be back in 4 days. They'll call me with the results.

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Wednesday - July 4th

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This is Day 2 after the procedure. It's a holiday, but I had to work today. I got ahead of schedule, so I had time to look at the video of my procedure and log the interview and comments so I can write the story of my experience with skin cancer. There seems to be a lot known about skin cancer, thankfully. It's not a mystery disease and treatment is just logical. I listened to Dr. Mancuso predict my chances of reoccurrence. That was kind of deflating. I'll likely get it again. I have lots of sunspots which indicate 'chronic sun exposure'. They could flare up to cancer. I just have to watch them carefully. The doctor explained the difference of tanning bed sun and natural outdoor sun. Of course I've always known dermatologists are adamantly opposed to tanning booths. I've seen a dermatologist since I was 15 years old. They've always explained why tanning beds were dangerous, but I think this was the first time I really heard and comprehended the danger. I don't regret having a healthy glow to my skin and getting some help drying out problem skin for years. With Dad's history of skin cancer, I knew I would get it. So, I guess now I'm beginning to pay for it. I won't be going back to a tanning bed ever. I will layout in the sun with sunscreen--whenever my baby daughter Sarah will allow me!

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Saturday - July 7th

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This is Day 5 after the procedure. The spot still burns to the touch. It has a thin layer of a scab on it. It looks opaque and not very noticeable. I'm lucky it's so small. I'll probably hear from the doctor on results from pathology soon. Athough, he said no news is good news.

I'm thinking about a friend who has a suspicious spot on her shoulder. She did research online as to how to treat it. She doesn't have health insurance and was scared of the costs of having her spot biopsied and removed. She was using a combination of vitamin C lotion with hydrogen peroxide on it. I mentioned this to my doctor. My friend showed me how the spot had seemed to improve and flatten out. My doctor said what she's doing is not working. It's only irritating the surface of the skin and masking the potential problem. He says a lot of people try this wholistic treatment and think it's working, but it's only treating the surface and not penetrating the cancer. I haven't seen my friend yet to tell her. I dread that conversation, but she has to know.

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Sunday - July 8th

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I've just finished anchoring the 9p and 10p shows for WHNT NEWS 19. My boss has asked that I submit a script for my journey with skin cancer by tomorrow, so we can begin editing the piece for air this week. It occurs to me that I want people to understand my motive for sharing this experience. It's not for sympathy or grandeur. It's really in honor of my father who had dozens of procedures to remove skin cancers during his life. Mom still talks about Dad's introduction to skin cancer, when he had something suspicious show up on his chest. He ignored it and it grew. Whether it was apathy or fear or denial or all three, Dad lived with it growing on his chest for 10 years. When he finally decided to do something about it, it had spread to a large area of his chest. His local doctor sent him immediately to a specialist in Birmingham, who ordered him to come in immediately and have it taken off. Dad lost a patch of his chest about seven inches long and six inches wide--essentially the entire right side of his chest. The surgeons had to do skin grafts to replenish the skin. It was a scary situation. I was a child and didn't really understand any of it at the time. As I grew older, Dad had more bouts with skin cancer, mainly on his face and back. They were all basal cell cancers that were scraped off and discarded. I remember Dad's diagnoses of skin cancer almost became routine. He had many procedures to have them removed and then ordered to come back for check-ups. Many of his spots were diagnosed and removed in the same appointment. It seemed to become more of an inconvenience than anything. I noticed he started wearing hats and trying to stay somewhat covered when he was going to be in the sun. But it still didn't seem to be anything really scary. I remember hearing the doctors suggest it was hereditary. I must admit that I have always expected, on some level, that I would get skin cancer, since I seemed to have inherited Dad's other skin problems. But I defied the advice of my dermatologist and frequently went to the tanning bed. In doing so, I had a nice healthy-looking sun-kissed glow and the rays of the bed seemed to clear up facial blemishes. I knew I might have to pay the price for vanity later in life, but I did what I thought I needed to at the time to maintain my image. Eventually, a suspicious spot showed up on Dad that turned out to be melanoma. As always, he got it removed and was grateful the doctors recognized and got rid of it so quickly. However, it did come back---in his lung. Again, his doctors caught it early and had a very agressive plan of action to get rid of it, starting with chemotherapy.

I'm proud for Dad to say he did not die from skin cancer--or any cancer. He passed away on March 4th at the age of 76 from a combination of lifelong health problems associated with being a lifelong smoker as well as being severely weakened by the chemotherapy which broke down his immune system.

Skin cancer, unfortunately, was such a large part of his life. I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma incitu after he passed away. I remembered wondering if this is going to be how my life will end. When I look at my 2 1/2 year old daughter, Sarah, that's when it really hits home. I simply must be around for her. A premature death is not an option. I remember when the nurse called to tell me of my diagnosis, all of my knowledge and experience with the subject seemed to immediately leave me. I asked her, 'OK, what does this mean?'

I wanted to share my journey with others who may also experience that lump in their throat when they hear the words, "You have skin cancer." Getting rid of it is not a major undertaking. It's not a major surgery. It's often taken care of in the doctor's office. But as I'm learning, once you get it, it's the beginning of a journey, during which you'll likely see it show up again. The doctors say you'll always have to watch out for it and get regular checkups to stay ahead of it.

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Wednesday, July 11th

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This is Day 9 after my skin cancer removal procedure and my spot has a harder scab on it and, boy, does it itch!  I woke up scratching at it unconsciously, then realized what I had been doing overnight in my sleep and stopped.  I caused it to bleed, but it scabbed back over.  It's still about the size of a dime and doesn't really hurt.  I haven't heard from my doctor on the results from the pathology of the skin he removed last week.  I'll call this afternoon and inquire.

There's never a bad time to receive good news---even if you're standing in pouring down rain. I had just finished a liveshot in Morgan County at 5p tonight about an interstate construction project. Moments before the anchors tossed to me, I saw a zap of lightning---very dangerous, when you're hooked up to wires and metal mechanical gear! We made it through the shot though, just in time for me to notice my cell phone ringing. The caller ID said, "Beth dermatologist", so I knew this was an important phone call. The promos about my journey with skin cancer have hit the air now, putting it out in the public domain (although I gave my Facebook family a 'heads-up' about it last night). Again, my world sort of stopped for a moment when the call came in. I answered and it was a nurse at Dr. Mancuso's office, calling to tell me the pathology results of what Dr. Mancuso removed last week. She was happy to tell me that he got it all. I'm free of squamous cell carcinoma incitu! However, she said Dr. Mancuso wanted me to be aware of an aging spot he noticed. She said it's nothing to worry about and is often confused with something suspicious, but it's not threatening. As the rain picked up around me, I felt warmth, comfort, and a sense of relief. Whew--I'm good to go for now. But I'm still due for a check-up appointment with Dr. Mancuso in August to make sure everything is ok and no seemingly harmless sunspots have changed for the worse. The timing of the news is perfect, since my special report airs tomorrow night at 10p. Now I'll be able to end the piece on a happy note! Thanks to God...and my Dad..for watching over me!