Here’s my disclosure: 100% honest, my entire life I’ve been a lover of the sun. I have had many glorious tans in my life, but I’ve also been sunburned more times than I’d like to admit. Back as a teen I baked in tanning beds, even had a tanning lamp of my own, spent plenty of vacations and summers in the good ol outdoors probably with baby oil or some fabulous smelling tanning oil…and who am I kidding, I still love to absorb the sun now, just without oil. Yes, I do now wear sunblock (most of the time) and have SPF in my daily face moisturizer, but I’m guilty of probably not always protecting my skin as much as possible or reapplying as recommended.
Here’s how my recent journey began…
My husband Steve must of been admiring my derriere (haha!) and brought to my attention a dark spot on my butt cheek. Was it chocolate, lint, a wood chip, dust, dirt, anything I could flick off? Nope...it was a very dark mole/freckle with regular boarders like an eraser top in size if not smaller. I was never aware of this spot and assumed it must of recently taken up real estate on my tush. Seemed to be an odd spot since I don’t often sun my butt cheeks and I’ve never considered myself a moley person. Sun spots, yes I have plenty of them on my shoulders, chest and back. When my daughter was in elementary school, the Cheetah Girls were the big thing on Disney. She once asked me if she could take me to show and tell as a real live “Cheetah Girl” due to my sun spots. She thought I was legit part cheetah or probably a founder of the Cheetah Girls, ha! Anyway, I thought about this new mole/spot, tried to brush off my thoughts figuring it’s fine right?!?! But then realized, um Jen…pull it together, this is a red flag and anyone that knows me, knows I love the sun, and probably has a fair share of sun damage and over exposure in my life. This was my wake up call that I’m grateful for. I knew deep down that I need to be seen, checked over head to toe and leave it to the experts to determine if it’s something or nothing.
I made an appointment in early-mid September 2017 with my family doctor physicians assistant who I’ve known 30 plus years. She checked me head to toe and the only spot that raised a red flag to her was indeed that dark spot on my butt cheek. On 9/19/17, I had that spot surgically removed. The spot had regular borders, was dark in color and was just considered a nevus at that point. Quick, easy, a few stitches and then we waited for the pathology. I was told if it’s bad news, you’ll likely hear something quicker than if it’s benign. Steve took out the stitches for me 10 days later (his first attempt at this and job well done I might add) and I still hadn’t received the results. I felt relief knowing, no news is good news…or so I’d hoped. I sent a message to the physicians assistant asking her to follow up and she had notified me that it was still being reviewed. The biopsy had been read my multiple pathologists and was being forwarded on to an additional specialist as the results kept coming back as “small lesion challenging to decipher”. The specialist reviewed it and brought back the final diagnosis. On 10/3/17 I was diagnosed with “Malignant Melanoma In Situ”.
I took a picture of the spot before it was removed. Why? Just in case it was abnormal, I wanted people to see something that could seemingly appear to be fairly normal, can actually be abnormal. I (and thanks to Steve) indeed literally saved my ass and if I can help you save yours or others, that’s my whole reason for sharing this. I don’t want or need sympathy or pity, but want to encourage you to get naked and get checked. I avoid the spotlight most of the time. Most people that know me or truly know me know that I’m actually quite shy or guarded (until I am comfortable with someone). I don’t share too many intimate details of my personal life and family life online or social media. I embrace and cherish my family so much and prefer to keep most of it all near and dear to me, live it, embrace it and not put my every thought, opinions and moments on social media for everyone else (even though I share many portraits) and fun events we've done or are doing. I put some additional thought into my current situation wondering, do I keep it quiet and carry on or do I bring awareness and possibly shed some light. I decided it’s the right thing for me to share this and if I can convince you to get checked, ask your friends and family to get checked, keep record of your spot/s, be aware and take action on any changes, it’s worth me bringing myself into the spotlight and sharing my current reality with you.
Now what? I will be having some upcoming and ongoing follow ups, plus an additional wider excision procedure to remove more (even though the margins were all clear). I won’t be sharing frequent updates online, but I want you to be aware of what my melanoma looked like and ask you to please check yourself and be seen if something raises a red flag for you. Better safe than sorry! I’m sure all melanomas don’t look the same, but I have malignant melanoma and I’m sharing mine. Be aware and don’t wait!
Here’s the good news, I caught it early and I pray it doesn’t spread or reappear. I am hopeful that I will be OK and will be hyperaware with anything I see. I'm not going to lie...it made me feel like I been punched in the gut for no reason after being told I have malignant melanoma. I’ve been feeling many emotions due to having a diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear, but I am strong, I will do everything I can to overcome this and I'll tackle this being as positive and optimistic as I can. I will continue to work and live life to the fullest, just like I did before joining the cancer club...that will not change. I have so much left to do here, so much more to give, experience and share...so cancer, you might be tough, but I'm going to show you just how strong I can be.
A few things I’ve recently learned about Malignant Melanoma. Melanoma only accounts for about 1% of all skin cancer cases, according to ACS. But it’s the deadliest type of skin cancer, with more than 9,000 Americans dying from melanoma each year, according to the CDC. It’s a cancer that arises from the melanocytes in your skin, which are the cells that produce the pigment of your skin and it causes new moles or changes existing ones into cancerous ones. Researchers don’t know what causes melanoma, but being exposed to UV light increases your risk for developing it. 90% of melanoma cancers are due to skin cell damage from UV radiation exposure. Having fairer skin, history of blistering sunburns or a family history of skin cancer increase your risk as well. Luckily, melanoma is usually easily treated with surgical removal if caught in an early stage. If melanoma spreads beyond the skin, it can require more extensive treatment. Melanoma can develop in places that don’t see the sun…like between the toes, under your nails, in your eye, under a tattoo or even inside your lady parts. Get acquainted with your skin and get a thorough check by a doctor once a year. Do your own skin exams monthly. Try getting a partner, friend or family member to help out with those hard to see areas.
Follow the ABCDE Rule: A stands for asymmetrical, B stands for border, C stands for color, D stands for diameter and E stands for evolving.
When melanoma is found early, it is easily cured with simple outpatient surgery. Melanoma can spread, come back or reappear at any time. When found in later stages, it may become life-threatening, and there are few effective therapies to treat metastasized melanoma.
Take care, love the skin you're in and get checked!