• The ABC’s of skin cancer

    by Kelvin Wade

    One of the facts of life as you get older is you tend to run into more health problems then you did when you were younger. Perhaps part of that is paying for all of the sins of youth — drinking like you’ve got a hollow leg, taking a toke of whatever’s passed your way, spending too much time in the sun or trying to subsist on cheeseburgers alone. Or maybe we’re just walking around with little genetic time bombs implanted in us ready to deliver their toxic payloads on their own clock.

    Coming out of the shower recently, my girlfriend noticed a mole near my armpit that had grown in size since the last she’d seen it. I’d noticed it and saw that it had grown in size, but like too many people I blew it off. I’d had other issues to deal with and this one seemed to be small enough that I could kick the can down the road.

    But I went online and found a skin cancer guide that mentioned the ABC’s of moles.

    A is for asymmetrical. Look at the mole by halves. If one half looks noticeably different than the other then it’s suspicious.

    B is for border. If the border of the mole is irregular, notched, indistinct and/or scalloped it is more likely to be cancerous or precancerous.

    C is for color. If the mole is more than one color or shade, it is suspicious.

    D is for diameter. If the diameter of the mole is greater than a pencil eraser, it too should be suspected of being cancerous.

    E is for evolution. If the mole or spot is continually changing, whether growing quickly, changing borders, shape, or texture or sensitivity it is an important clue.

    The guide said if any of the answers are a “yes” then to see your physician immediately.

    In my case, they were ALL yes. The mole was a knobby, black-brown, elevated distorted oval that had probably tripled in size in a year’s time. There was no way to keep procrastinating on this.

    So I went to see my doctor and told her I had something to show her. As soon as I unbuttoned my shirt and she saw it, she said, “Oh, I don’t like the looks of that!” She referred me to a dermatologist.

    A week later I was in the dermatologist’s office answering a bunch of questions from his perky assistant who appeared all of 12 years old. She typed my answers into her computer and asked to see the mole twice. Then she left and the doctor, a slight Asian man of few words came in and studied the computer screen.

    “Where is it?” he asked.

    I showed him and he pulled out a tiny flashlight to get a good look. He went back to the computer and then came back to take a second look.

    “Come back in two weeks. I numb it up. I take it off. I stitch it up. We test.”

    His bedside manner could use a little humanity, but as long as he was competent I didn’t really care if he wasn’t the warmest guy around.

    Two weeks later after jumping through some hoops with my insurance, I was back in the dermatologist’s office reclining on a chair in the middle of the room while the dermatologist with the cadaverous bedside manner jabbed the area around the mole with a needle full of Lidocaine.

    He and his assistant went to work removing the mole and stitching me up. The dermatologist left the room with the specimen and his assistant slathered me with ointment and bandaged up the stitches. Another doctor came in and gave me some post-surgical instructions.

    All I could really think about was that small piece of my flesh being sent off to some lab to be analyzed until an answer was delivered back to me of yea or nay.

    As of this writing, I haven’t heard anything from the dermatologist. But I’m not sitting here worried, because that’s not me. I don’t anticipate anything negative coming from this because I’m an optimist. But it will be what it will be and I’ll deal with it.

    Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from skin disease. Obviously it’s more common in Caucasians but anyone is susceptible. You should check your skin monthly, using a mirror for hard to see places. Or have your partner, if you have one, check your skin. See a dermatologist once a year. If you’re fair-skinned you need sunscreen if you’re going to be out in the sun for extended periods of time. And spray tans may not look as good as one from a tanning bed but they’re safer.

    There are some things you can safely put off for later. Your health isn’t one of them. Remember the ABCs of skin cancer.

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