Skin Cancer Doesn’t Always Look Like A Mole – What You Need to Know This Summer (Skin Cancer Awareness Month)

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I’ve been aware of skin cancer since I was a kid, or at least aware that getting sunburns is bad. My mom slathered a thick coat of white zinc on my nose and cheeks growing up, and she stayed in the shade. Fair-skinned and green-eyed like her, I learned early on that my skin couldn’t handle as much sun as my friends, or even my brother. But I loved the sun and the pool. Lifeguarding and swim lessons consumed my summers from ages 13-22, and while I always wore sunscreen, I typically wore an 8. Yes, an SPF 8 was actually a thing in the 80’s and 90’s. It wasn’t the baby oil my friends were using, and I rarely used tanning beds, so I truly believed I was taking care of my skin.

By my early-twenties, my mom was sending not-so-subtle reminders about seeing a dermatologist. She and my dad had already had several questionable areas frozen off and knew the potential damage lurking in my skin. I started seeing a dermatologist for skin cancer checks at age 25. By age 29 I had three basal cell carcinomas removed, all located on my trunk or arms, all moles. I learned the ABCDs of bad moles – Asymmetrical, Borders, Color, and Diameter, so I thought I’d know trouble when I found it. But my PA also froze off a number of other spots, “concerning spots” that were so hard for me to identify. They were rough, or splotchy, sometimes nearly invisible, and always seemed like no big deal to me. But she’d note them, chart them, and freeze many of them off. Freezing the spots off wasn’t a big deal; a small scab remained for several days and then it was forgotten. So I kept showing up, she kept freezing things off, and I figured this would be my skin story. 

Then, in March of 2018, I found a spot that seemed different. It was right in the middle of my forehead but met none of the ABCD criteria. It was like a pimple but not a pimple, small, and it wouldn’t go away. I went in to see the PA even though it wasn’t time for a check-up. She decided to take a piece out to check it, but she didn’t seem worried. I had a scab for a few days after and then forgot about it. Her phone call a couple of weeks later quickly reminded me. It was a squamous cell carcinoma, and it needed to come out. It was in the middle of my forehead, and a Mohs surgery was required to get it all.

Two weeks later, I went in for the minor surgery. I thought I was prepared for what I’d look like after.

I wasn’t. With an incision that split my forehead and took nearly two dozen internal and external stitches to close, I looked awful. It was impossible to see my face without seeing the wound. I wore massive headbands and eventually cut bangs. I followed the doctor’s directions perfectly, yet it still got infected, still required additional visits, and took months to heal.

But it did heal. By August of 2018 it was pink and shiny, and as my skin healed, so did my self-consciousness. By the one year anniversary I was growing my bangs out and growing confidence in my new mission.

Yes, I have a scar, but it’s given me a gateway to remind everyone about skin cancer prevention. We must take care of our skin and schedule skincare consultations like we schedule well-woman checks. I am fastidious about sunscreen, hats, covering up, finding shade, and telling others to do the same. Know your skin. Check your skin. And most important….. get regular skin check-ups with a dermatologist. We trust our hair to our stylists and our teeth to dentists. The least we can do is trust our skin to dermatologists. Get your skin checked and start a file now so changes can be noted later.

I still love the sun, the beach, the pool, baseball games, and the warmth of a beautiful summer day. I just love it with SPF 50, a good hat, shade, and the knowledge a good dermatologist is helping me keep an eye on my skin.

Because I love it, too.