Skin Cancer Is Not My Friend

Raised on the sparkling blue waters of Lake Oahe in South Dakota, and being somewhat on the fair end of the spectrum, I received countless sunburns on my unprotected skin while growing up.  Most of it semi-deliberate, as a teen and 20 something.

By age 27, I was diagnosed with Basil Cell Carcinoma on my forehead.  In the words of my doctor, “This is the type of cancer I see 80 year old farmers in here with.  It’s 100% caused by sun damage.  Shame on you.”

It’s that wonderful time of year again, when we all want to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.  This is my cautionary tale of woe.

I Know What Skin Cancer Looks Like, Don’t I?

At least I thought I did.  It’s when a mole or coloration on your skin changes in shape, size, or color.  Right?

For just over a year, I had a shiny red circle on my forehead, close to my hairline, with three bumps in it.  I actually had a friend tell me, “You should probably get that looked at”.

My exact response?  “Why?  It’s not like it’s skin cancer, or something.”

Except that it was.

The Not Fun Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

This is a long, fairly ugly story, so I’ll try to condense it somewhat for you.  The series of events went something like this:

  • Although my initial request was for a magical disappearing night cream, I decide to let a general practitioner shave off these bumps, and send to pathology since she doesn’t know what they are, either.
  • Single Girl Living Alone Me comes home for lunch 2 days later to the phone message, “You have skin cancer and we didn’t get it all.  We’re gonna need you to come back in.”  Nice touch.
  • Despite becoming the object of disdain from my general practitioner, who treated me like an unreasonable Prima Donna, I request a referral to a dermatologist to address digging the rest of the cancer out of my face.  I know.  I’m so shallow.

Get Yourself a Funny Dermatologist

Under circumstances such as this (scared, at my appointments alone, etc) this proved to alleviate a lot of the tension.

He explained to me that removing cancer from your forehead is tricky, because there is no extra skin to pull over the incision.

 

There were 3 options. Actually, there were more than 3 if we factor in the clinical trials but I opted for one of the tried-and-true doctor recommendations.  The first one would leave my left eyebrow permanently raised, as if in a questioning expression.   Discussing this further, he described how everyone’s face is actually “a little crooked”, one half being slightly higher than the other.

Working through the decision logically, he observed, “Your face is already higher on the left side.  If you were higher on the right, I’d say let’s go for it – it may straighten you out a little.  But as it is, I’m afraid it would only accentuate your already hideous deformity.”

Funny guy.  I protested a little at this treatment (by smacking him in the arm and declaring “I’M GLAD YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY!”), but in truth I really appreciated his attempt at levity.

So we didn’t go with that.

We went with “cut a Z-shaped scar back into the hair line” option.  Good times.  27 stitches later, and a more-unpleasant-than-I-anticipated procedure later, my only question was, “Do I at least look tough and cool now…like a hockey player?”

A couple weeks later, to the surprise of his nurses, the Funny Doc even took my stitches out himself.  I think he felt sorry for me.  Regardless, it was an act of kindness for which I still feel a sense of gratitude.

SPF, Hats & Self Tanners – It’s Easy to Protect Yourself

If there’s an upside, it’s that I saw the error in my sun worshipping ways at a relatively young age.

Self tanners, SPF in makeup and skin lotions … these days they really do make it easy to protect yourself.  I try to throw in a visor or hat for good measure.  Plus, keeping your face out of the sun prevents that premature leathered alligator look when you get older.

It’s worth it to keep your skin in mind (and your children’s) as you head out to play this summer.  So please have fun, and don’t forget your sunscreen.

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About COMtnMom

Hi, I'm Tami! Writer, Influencer, and mom of two who loves travel, the outdoors, staying active, photography, reading books, and eating desserts. We are pretty much always planning our next trip to Disney World.

Comments

  1. Hey, Tammi! I’m a dermatology nurse (and a melanoma skin cancer survivor) and we see these types of skin cancers every day. I’m so glad you got treatment when you did!

    It is so difficult to convince folks that the sun is bad for you because it feels so good. Even people with olive complexions get skin cancer; my husband of Italian descent always tells me to “let the kids get a healthy sunburn.” There is no such thing as a “healthy” sunburn! Even one blistering sunburn in childhood increases your chance of getting skin cancer by about 50%.

    The American Skin Cancer Society recommends that everyone over the age of 30 get a skin cancer screening exam from a dermatologist every year. Hopefully your readers will make an appointment after reading this blog!

    • COMtnMom says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Kathy – that is all very good to know!

      Appreciate you sharing your knowledge and feedback … I hope it helps a reader, and it’s a good reminder for me, too.

  2. Oh nooooo. I am so sorry to read this! I was wondering if you would let me link your post in my blog post going up today for a hat company? I talk about the importance of wearing a hat, as my grandmother had skin cancer on her scalp. It’s going to be a review/giveaway with AdventureHat and I would love to link this important info. Let me know!

    • COMtnMom says:

      Absolutely, Farrah – and thanks!!

      I was very tired when I wrote this in the early morning hours today… and I totally forgot to mention wearing hats! After reading your comment, I had to go back and add a bit about that. 🙂

      I’m so entering your Adventure Hat giveaway…

  3. I’m so glad you found a great doctor who helped you through. It makes such a big difference, doesn’t it? Support and community are far better than scolding.

    • COMtnMom says:

      I agree – those things can make a very big difference. It’s scary enough as it is … kindness goes a long way in that situation.

      Thanks for stopping by, Catherine!

  4. Tami,

    I so agree! Congrats on getting it taken care of early. Plus I can barely see any deformity, barely… lol

    This is another reason my wife and I work so hard for Relay for Life. The education and training for the patient as well as the doctor help turn these type of situations around.

    good job!

    • COMtnMom says:

      Trace is one of my few blog readers whom I see on a day to day basis, in person – so I appreciate the feedback on my (barely there) deformity! 😉

      He’s also a big Relay for Life advocate – good job, Trace! You can check out his neat healthy and fun cooking blog for more info … http://www.cookingwithtrace.com

  5. Although I don’t have any proof (yet), I have always felt that I am a pretty good risk for skin cancer. So I always make sure to put on sunscreen and wear a hat if I am going to be out for any time at all. Unfortunately, I can’t convince everyone else to do the same. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • COMtnMom says:

      I’m impressed that as a guy you take such steps – good job, Steve! Let’s hope those you can’t convince don’t learn the hard way, that you were right about the sun. 🙁 Don’t give up … keep being a bossy SPF, hat-wearin’ pest!!

      Thanks for your comment

  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Tami! While I am always vigilant with the kids since they both have such light, freckly skin, I have been known to forget sunscreen on myself, so this is a great reminder! Especially important living in our strong Colorado sun 🙂

    • COMtnMom says:

      You are so welcome, Holly – thanks for stopping by, and for your comment

      Good mom for watching out for those kids! Now be a Good Mom and watch out equally for yourself 😉 … it’s so easy to forget that part, isn’t it?!

  7. How crazy is this! I was just sharing with someone my own experience with skin cancer when I came across your article! It is such a scary thing when you are in your 20’s, your whole life ahead of you, and something as weighty as cancer drops in your lap! It sounds like you are now taking the same approach I try to– one of knowledge. It was a learning and strengthening experience! I now realize that my red-headed self can’t take another sunburn! I know how to adequately protect my children! Thank you for sharing your experience! If you have helped even one person think twice about leaving the house unprotected then you will have performed a great service!

    • COMtnMom says:

      Ami … your comment means a lot to me.

      While I tried to use humor and somewhat make light of this experience – having been in the same position, I know you really understand how it felt. “in your 20s … and something as weighty as cancer drops in your lap” – so well said. It was weighty. And very scary. And preventable – that’s the irony.

      Yes – let’s hope we get some additional sunscreen wearers out of this post! 🙂

      • You have to laugh! It shows you are making the best of it! That and sharing your experience is the best you can do! XOXO

  8. Tami, thank you so much for this article. Sometimes it takes a bit of shock to get people to listen and think Oh My ! this could happen to me and people, It CAN. Being a red-head, but not so fair as some, I never gave it much thought but new I didn’t really love being in the sun. I did receive a bad burn while in Hawaii and ended up with melanoma skin cancer on my leg (knee area) that went to the bone. Whenever I see a child with a burn, teen or really anyone – I show them the divot in my leg and say .. this could happen to your child or you. Don’t be stupid like I was – use sunscreen and use it often. So Tami – I will be sharing your story with others to help reinforce the message that you need to get those suspicious spots checked and that you can prevent skin cancer if you just take the time to do it. Thanks again for your courage in sharing your story. Now go slather on that sunscreen!

    • COMtnMom says:

      I am touched by all the feedback on this post today. My heart goes out to you, what a horrible thing to go through!

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts.

  9. What an inspirational story, Tami! So glad you caught it early and successfully got it removed. It really is a great reminder with summer coming up. Thanks for sharing your experience with us to learn something from.

  10. Thanks for sharing! I too grew up in the midwest and got many a sunburn. My father had the type of skin cancer you had and I’ve had 8-10 moles removed, all of which have been pre-cancerous. Its so important to protect your skin!

  11. I am very fair skinned – and have never been a fan of the sun. Even as a kid, I’d rather stay inside and read a book. So imagine my surprise when I found out I had skin cancer a few years ago. It was a spot on my back – it looked like a scab – almost like it was a cigarette burn. And the scab would just never heal. I have a pretty big scar from where they took it out – but at least there is no more skin cancer. And now I get yearly skin checks – and evidently, we all should do this – I had no idea that yearly skin checks were necessary – but now I do!

Trackbacks

  1. […] my lovely blogger friend Tami- the Colorado Mountain Mom, just posted this piece today on how she found skin cancer on her forehead at the age of 27. People, it is no joke. Start taking […]

  2. […] had skin cancer on my face before, and it’ s no fun.  Be sure to protect yourself from the sun, too, […]

  3. […] that early protection and prevention is the key.  Since I’ve been down the not-so-fun skin cancer path before, I wholeheartedly agree with this […]

  4. […] after experiencing skin cancer on my face, I’m much more conscious of sun protection.  I strive to keep my face and neck […]

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