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UPDATE: Beth Jett’s Journey with Skin Cancer: New Diagnosis

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — We have an update on a diagnosis that hit home for us at WHNT News 19.  Just before the summer, our Beth Jett was diagnosed with skin cancer.  She decided to share her entire experience–from tests to treatment–in hopes of spreading the word about an increasingly prevalent and threatening form of cancer not many people are talking about.

As it turns out, a warning from Beth’s dermatologist that she would likely have more trouble proves true.   Here’s Beth’s story:

It’s August 22nd and I’m back in Dr. Angelo Mancuso’s office — under the knife.

“This should be sufficient enough to let us know if it’s a skin cancer or not,” Mancuso says as he manipulates a device, shaving off the suspicious spot on my chest.

It’s been exactly nine weeks since my original diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma incitu on my chest. Dr. Mancuso warned me it was likely more skin cancers would show up and he was right.  On this day, he’s removing a new type that showed up on my chest– superficial basal cell.

“It’s hanging at the lowest level of the epidermis,” said Mancuso. “That’s where it begins. That’s the basal level. So it begins there and then from there it kind of works its way downward and then outward.”

My skin cancers come after about 25 years of sun exposure, natural and manmade.
 

“I would say that everything that we’re pretty much seeing in here, including the last one that you had, 99.9 percent is going to be due to the ultraviolet,” said Mancuso of the sunspots all over my body.

Much of my exposure to ultraviolet rays came from tanning beds, which he says deliver more concentrated rays that penetrate deeper than those from the sun. My basal cell cancer is a case in point–it was deeper than the squamous cell and also harder to eradicate.

“What you see is not what you get,” Mancuso says of basal cell skin cancers.  “Superficial basal cell has the ability to literally skip areas, which means that if you look at it under a microscope, you’ll have basal cell, basal cell, no basal cell and then if you got a little further beyond that, basal cell could pick up again.”

Mancuso removes what he sees of the basal cell. But given it’s my second skin cancer in nine weeks, I have to ask him–

“What are the chances that it will come back after this? Or that I’ll see another one anyway?” I asked Mancuso.  “See another one.. a good 40 percent.” he answered.

Again, he was right. I had already spied another suspicious spot next to the basal cell.  He shaved that off too and sent it off to pathology for a diagnosis.

Nearly a month later, I’m back for the results and a checkup.

“Hoping for good news,” I said to Mancuso, as I sat on the exam table.  “Yeah, well..yes and no,” he said.  “So let’s kinda go with that.”

In short, the good news is he removed the basal cell cancer.  The bad news is the spot I thought looked suspicious came back as another squamous cell carcinoma incitu.  Since June, I’ve had three spots of skin cancer.

There are other options to treating suspicious spots, including using a topical cream.  The cream burns the spot, and causes the body to develop antibodies against the cancer, then the spot scabs over.  But Mancuso warns it doesn’t always work.

“It just works on very specific pre-cancerous lesions, the best early skin cancers, somewhat,” he said.  “It’s not going to get every single early skin cancer.”

For me, I’ll stick to the surgical procedures, since they’re quick and thorough.

And now that I’ve had three skin cancers in nine weeks, Mancuso insists I come in for checkups every three months in order to stay ahead of anything that looks suspicious.

“Let me look at it,” Mancuso says to anyone who has a spot that looks abnormal.  “There isn’t a charge for letting me look at it.  It may look ok to you, but that doesn’t mean it looks ok to me.”

So at this point in my journey, I’m cancer free and somewhat paranoid of my sunspots and age spots.  But I’m no longer in the dark about sun exposure.

One other thing to mention is Mancuso stresses skin cancer does not need any sunlight at all to attack.  It can show up in unlikely places, such as the genitalia, often as a result of venereal disease or warts.  And scar tissue is also susceptible to skin cancer–specifically squamous cell, for example, in burn scars.  Mancuson says he’s seen several cases of squamous cell popping up within the scar.

Here’s the timeline of my dianoses in brief:

Original diagnosis: June 20th – squamous cell carcinoma incitu
Removal: July 2nd

Checkup and biopsy of another spot:  August 13
Diagnosis: August 21 – superficial basal cell carcinoma
Removal: August 22

Results: September 18
Checkup and more specifics: September 20th

Next Appointment: 3 months away, unless sooner is necessary

Beth Jett’s Blog from Tests to Treatments

AUGUST 21, 2012

It’s Tuesday, August 21st, and I just got the call from Dr. Mancuso, personally.  It was about 12:45.  I had just laid down to take a nap from working the Morning Show when the phone rang.  Superficial basal cell and an aging spot. He said it’s nothing to worry about.. similar to what I has already.  He said I could use a cream on the spot for a out 3 to 4 weeks to burn it off or do it the way we did it before. I took option b.  I’ve already called to make an appointment to have it removed tomorrow at 4:35.  Dr. Mancuso said he saw the report that aired and was very happy with it but noted that in the report he suggested that once I have one cancer chances are 30% I would have another.  So he proved correct.   So we’ll get this removed and keep watching it.  I guess this is the next chapter of my journey with skin cancer.

AUGUST 22, 2012

It’s Thursday, August 22nd and I’m in Dr. Mancuso’s office in Madison. It’s 10:30a and I just got off the Morning show. He came in and asked how I was. Frustrated. I’m there to get another spot removed–basal cell cancer–but since I’ve seen him yet another spot popped up. He looked at it and said ‘Okay we’ll biopsy that one today.’ I’m frustrated because I have problematic skin and I can’t tell the difference from what appears to be a blemish versus skin cancer. Mancuso said that’s another side affect of skin cancer: paranoia. Once you find one spot, then another, you start to question everything. Sure enough, the top of my back has been itchy off and on for quite some time. He said he’d look at it too. Agh!  I’m gonna have surgical spots all over me before too long.  I guess its better than the alternative though.

AUGUST 24, 2012

Today is Friday, August 24th, and I just emailed my boss to ask him to allow me to do a follow-up report on my journey with skin cancer. There is still so much to talk about on this topic–including people who may believe they’re clear of skin cancer when they’re actually more susceptible to it. For example, burn victims–skin cancer can emerge from the scar tissue; people with immunization deficiencies are also susceptible.  No one seems to be talking about skin cancer in the media, yet it’s becoming so prevalent. My boss tends to agree that another report is appropriate. There’s no telling how many more suspicious spots may show up on my skin between now and then.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2012

Today is Sunday, September 9th, and it has been about two and a half weeks since I had the basal cell removed and another spot biopsied.  I called a few days ago for results but pathology wasn’t back.  This surgery has taken much longer to heal and has itched and burned quite a bit.  It’s right in an area where my daughter often grabs at me wanting me to pick her up and knocks open the scab. It’s finally now the size of half of a dime, but still very tender. I’ll call tomorrow morning to see if any results are back. I haven’t really noticed any new suspicious spots–thank God. I’m already getting tired of the paranoia that comes along with skin cancer.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2012

So, it’s Tuesday, September 18th, and I’m typing up an email requesting a photographer go with me on my next appointment tomorrow.  I called my doctor’s office yesterday to find out the pathology results from my most recent surgery to remove skin cancer.  This was a basal cell carcinoma and my doctor says he got it all off during that procedure.  However, the other bump I showed him and was concerned about also turned out to be cancerous.  Here’s the worrisome part — the nurse told me Dr. Mancuso wants another doctor’s opinion about what kind of cancer that may be.  Not sure what that means.  Lots of questions swirling around in my brain, like what if it’s melanoma — it shouldn’t be because the telltale signs of melanoma weren’t there.  What if it’s much deeper than the others have been??  What if there’s some indication that the cancer has spread to a lymph node or something.  It could be anything.  I’m due to find out what it is on Wednesday.  I wanted a photographer to go with me to record the good — or bad — news.  It’s still important to me to bring along viewers on this journey so others can learn by watching and listening.  I know I often learn that way.  As for my concern, it’s split — I’m not real real concerned because I haven’t felt any symptoms from these spots of skin cancer.  They don’t hurt.  At most they itch, but that’s it.  On the other hand, I know people who’ve eventually died from their skin cancer that showed up as a mole on their leg.  I assume those moles didn’t hurt either, at first.  I still wonder how this Journey is going to go and what the end result will be.  I’ve come to grips with my pasty-white appearance now.  I may, at some point, try a fake tan applied in a salon, but then again I don’t want to send a conflicting message, so maybe I’ll just be happy with a little extra blush to give me a healthy glow.  

SEPTEMBER 20, 2012

It’s Thursday morning, September, 20th, the day after my follow-up appointment with my dermatologist.  Now that I’m part of the WHNT NEWS 19 Morning Show team, I find I do my best reflecting on the day’s events on the next day..in the shower or putting on make-up.
 
So, the results of my appointment Wednesday came as a mixed bag, with the majority of the mix being good news.  Dr. Mancuso confirmed the basal cell carcinoma he detected was taken out completely.  The spot right next to it that I thought looked suspicious, and Dr. Mancuso biospied, came back as another squamous cell incitu.  It’s my second one, right on the surface of the skin.  Dr. Mancuso had thought he would have to go in and scrape more of it out surgically, but upon inspecting the area, he decided not to.  So–yay!  No shot, no surgery, no sore!  
 
However, since as of today, I’ve had three confirmed spots of skin cancer, Dr. Mancuso says I need a check-up every three months.  He’s fully expecting more to pop up.  And he insisted again, this was all the result of sun exposure–magnified by my time spent in the tanning bed.  
 
Looking at my body in the office, as Dr. Mancuso checked out moles, sun spots and aging spots, I couldn’t help but notice my skin is sooooo white.  I’ve always had a tan.  Even in the winter, I just looked and felt better after a 20-minute session in the bed.  I miss that healthy glow, but it’s simply not worth losing precious time with my precious daughter, Sarah, and family.
 
Dr. Mancuso once again thanked me for doing the first report and is grateful that we’re working on a follow-up report to keep this issue in the news.  As a journalist, it’s nice to hear that I reached so many people who’ve called Dr. Mancuso and set up appointments to get spots checked and make changes to their lifestyles.  In fact, he said many of his recent patients have come from Scottsboro–my hometown.  We laughed that I’m becoming a ‘maven’ of skin cancer–something I certainly never aimed to do.  But, I know I have access to a public platform and can help others learn by my experience.  
 
But it all brings me back to my father.  Since my Journey with Skin Cancer piece aired, we’ve celebrated what would have been Dad’s 77th birthday on August 29th.  I miss him and feel there’s a hole that will never heal in our small family.  Sarah is nearly three years old and coming into a personality Dad would have loved.  I know he’s enjoying watching her from above, but I feel robbed—robbed of being able to see his expressions and reactions to her and the joy she would have brought to his life with her funny antics.
 
Dad had so many bouts with skin cancer.  They popped up so often on his body that we grew numb to it.  It was almost commonplace for Dad to be going to see his dermatologist and coming home with a new bandage over another skin cancer the doctor removed on the spot.  He had all three kinds over the course of 30 years–basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.  He only had one squamous cell and I’ve already had two in my short journey.  That scares me a little.  But my doctor congratulates me for staying on top of my skin and getting my skin cancers removed so quickly.  I told him that I’m glad to be able to bring attention to this threat, since it’s becoming so prevalent.  And I’m so grateful to God that I’ve been able to bring the message through an experience that hasn’t been all that bad.  I think I’ll be able to handle everything ok, as long as I don’t hear the word ‘melanoma’.  A diagnosis of that would bring my Journey to a whole new–and very scary–level.
 
But for now, I’ll continue tracking my Journey and sharing it.  At the very least, it’s good therapy for me in trying to cope with the void left behind from Dad’s passing.   I kinda feel like I’m shining a spotlight on something that brought him so much grief and pain–with the hope that people will understand there is a dark side of sunlight, especially artificially-made sunlight.