Diagnosis: Skin Cancer

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - Cancer. It's a word we all fear. It's a  disease that has touched most of us in one way or another. And recently it affected one of our own at WHNT NEWS 19.  Our Beth Jett brings us her personal story entitled "Diagnosis: Skin Cancer".

Beth also has a blog that shares her daily experience battling Skin Cancer.

It's mid-July and lots of people have been to the beach or tanning beds to acquire a healthy-looking summer tan.

Up until this year, that included me too. I loved to be in the sun, but often chose the tanning bed because it was quicker to achieve that flattering glow.

But not this year -- and likely never again -- after a diagnosis of an aggressive form of skin cancer.

I'm sharing my experience to help sun-lovers and others who may get a similar diagnosis be prepared and calm about what may be in their future.

I had it removed on Monday, July 2nd at my dermatologist's office in Decatur.  Dr. Angelo Mancuso began his day of seeing patients with me.  I asked him to explain what I have, which started out as a small sore on my chest that never healed for months.

"It's squamous cell," Mancuso said. "Squamous, but it's incitu, which means it's sitting right on top of the skin. You got the earliest one."   "Oh, that's beautiful," I said to him. "All you gotta do is scrape it," he said.

Mancuso drew pictures for me to explain what the biopsy told him about my suspicious spot.

"Basal cell and squamous cell usually are like a pimple," Mancuso explained of two kinds of cancer. "They usually pop up like pimples. Red.. Red or Pink. Squamous cell is more agressive, squamous cell incitu is not like squamous cell because it's early. I mean, the cure rate is like 99.9 percent. It's like really.. it's the best one to have."

That was a moment of big relief to me, but my thoughts quickly wandered to my father, who battled all three types of skin cancer for decades. Basal, squamous cell and finally melanoma. Dad, too, was frequently in the sun.  So, as I stood there covered in sunspots, I asked Mancuso for another answer I didn't really want to hear.

"What is the connection between what I have and sun exposure?"

Mancuso responded, " Like 99 percent.. 99 percent. That's UVA, UVB exposure."

I confessed I've used the tanning bed year-round for 25 years. In short, Mancuso said my chronic sun exposure set me up for pre-cancers, and the tanning bed gave me pure UVA rays, which penetrate the skin the deepest.  The beds spared me from UVB rays, which cause sunburns, but set me up for something worse.

"So when you do wind up getting a skin cancer, it's usually more agressive because that's penetrating," said Mancuso. "The rays are penetrating the deeper layers of the skin."

That's why I bypassed basal cell, a less aggressive form of skin cancer, and started my journey with a more threatening kind, which he says I'll likely see again.

"You're getting another one," Mancuso said. "Sometimes 30, sometimes 40 percent. Once you've had two skin cancers, then it goes 40 percent and over."

But on July 2nd, Mancuso removed it. The simple office procedure started with shots to numb the area. I felt the first one, but not the other shots. Then, he cut out a wedge, which I didn't feel, to send off to pathology to make sure he got it all, as my husband Jim requested.

"After you scrape it off, how will you know that you got it all or are you going to have to go back and do another biopsy?" Jim asked. "Normally, what happens is this whole layer just kinda peels right off. You have a nice big scab and then when it heals back, it heals back nice and smooth."

Mancuso says it's the check-ups which determine the direction of my journey. But it's not just my journey.  I will bring my family along, whether they like it or not. Skin cancer could ultimately rob my precious two-year-old daughter, Sarah, of her mommy if I don't stay on top of it.

So this time I'm lucky. It could have been melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer that shows up black in color. Twenty years ago, Mancuso said, one in 250 people got it. Now, it's much more common.

"It's one in 37 people," said Mancuso. "That's how prevalent it is.

And he says tanning beds are largely responsible, although melanoma and other skin cancers are genetically passed along as well.

About 48 hours after my procedure, the spot is about the size of a dime. It burned a little, but wasn't unbearable and it was healing.

Just as Mancuso predicted, the area scabbed over.

Then, I had to wait for the pathology to know whether we got it all. In the meantime, I scheduled a check-up in August to determine the next step in my journey with skin cancer.

On the day I had my cancer removed, when we left Dr. Mancuso's office, his waiting room was "standing room only" with patients waiting for answers and orders to their skin problems. There's no telling how many of them were there for skin cancer-related issues.

I'm happy to report that on Wednesday, July 11th, I got the phone call from Mancuso's nurse -- the cancer was all gone. He got it all in one procedure. Thank goodness.