Deborah Dormady Letham, PhD

'Spot Check' Your Cancer Concerns

With cancer, catching it early is the best medicine.

As excited as I am to have stickers and bandages on my left arm for successfully donating power reds at the local blood drive this week, I am quietly rejoicing that on my right arm there are none. No bandages because last week my dermatologist said my newly noticed brown circle of skin was not cancerous.

Whew! It’s so important to be diligent about screening.

My mom noticed what seemed to be a boil on my father's arm. Coincidentally she found his spot the same week that I noticed the spot on mine. We each got in right away to a dermatologist, COVID-19 or no COVID-19. Taking preventative care trips to our doctor is imperative, because why trade an unknown for not treating a known issue.

His raised skin spot IS cancer, cutaneous, meaning on the skin. It is a squamous cell carcinoma. The doctor was reassuring to us as this type is a minimally-spreading cancer. Yet with his history of cancer, just using the word “CANCER” causes an alarm. Luckily, because it was caught early. unlike a previous bout, this spot was taken care of, simply, with an office visit.

My own dermatologist office visit was reassuring.  While there I also verified that I had scheduled an appointment for my yearly whole body check. The statistics say that 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US each year.  Basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas are the common types. I do try to be good, wearing sunblock, a hat and sitting in the shade, especially on the beach, but I am not always good about putting sunblock on before I take a walk or when I run out to the garden for a quick trip that turns into an hour of weeding. There is so much hidden sun damage I didn’t  know about.

Those painful sunburns as a kid, that time I nearly had sun poisoning at the amusement park in college, come to think of it, my mom had near-sun poisoning when she was pregnant with me. Yes I better be retro-pro-active! There is a reason sunburn hurts, and warns us to get out of the sun. My mom was ALWAYS quick to point out safety measures, for us and for my dad. I am glad she is able to stay on top of any suspicious findings now.

Cancer is not uncommon. Cancer is not fun but it does not mean it is a life-sentence, immediate death. There are treatments and support groups. There are screenings and precautions. And there is HOPE in novel treatments. With newly approved targeted cancer treatments every year, there is always a road forward, but first, you must first take that first step into the doctor’s office for continual conversations and those occasional essential “spot checks”.

Be well everyone! The sun is not always kind.