In the fall of 1998 I was pregnant with our first baby girl. We had received a generic medical self-care / home first-aid book at work by the wellness department and while flipping through the pages, I saw a picture of what they labeled as a “melanoma” that looked similar to a mole I had on my chest, right on my sternum. I showed it to my mom (who was paranoid about everything) but she didn’t really think it was anything to be concerned about. The mole didn’t exactly have many of the A-B-C-D characteristics that they tell you to look for – but it did look like the picture in that it was almost like 2 moles squished together – one lighter than the other – with an irregular border. At the time, I had been paired up with a mentor at work and she canceled our first meeting together because
she had to go back to her dermatologist to have the margins on a cancerous mole extended. I suddenly just felt this need to go have my mole checked out. The morning of my appointment, I ran into all kinds of traffic trying to get into downtown Phoenix. I went to this doctor so infrequently, I had not bothered to find a closer office and this one was down by the hospital I had worked at in my previous job – nowhere near my house or work. I was pretty late for the early morning appointment. They acted like they wanted to reschedule at the front desk when I got there but I ended up being seen. The dr. looked at the mole and also really didn’t see anything to be concerned about. But, since I was already there, he wanted to remove it to be sure. He pulled out the needle and scalpel and I thought this is stupid, nobody thinks this mole is anything to be worried about and I’ve really made a bigger deal than necessary about it now … I’m not a fan of needles and I told him we should just forget about it then. But, he took it off anyway.
So, less than a week later I was at work and I heard my name being paged overhead. Apparently my dr. had been trying my direct line all afternoon and wasn’t having any success since I was in other buildings most of the day. He finally called the switchboard operator. That was not a good sign. I finally called him back. Keep in mind I am at least 5 months pregnant now with our first child (it really didn’t take much to freak me out in this state). He proceeds to tell me that my mole, indeed, was cancerous – melanoma, in fact. The “deadly skin cancer”. He was probably more shocked than I was with the pathology report. Crazy story followed, he was so surprised with my report that he was questioning his staff as to whether or not they may have accidentally switched my biopsy vial with another patient he was sure had a cancerous mole but his came back negative. He said he would like to have a few days to sort through everything – even recalling both specimens and pathology reports to have them retested – and genetically matched to the patients if necessary. Meanwhile, I needed to start making appointments with a surgeon to perform a wide excision on my chest to make sure everything was removed AND I needed to go see an oncologist. An oncologist. That might be the scariest thing you can tell a pregnant woman who is only halfway through their term. I made my appointments, still holding on to a thread of hope that this was just a giant mix-up at the doctor’s office. Well, several days later he called back to tell me that I still had melanoma … and so did patient #2. So, perhaps this little incident, which was never a mix-up to begin with, saved his life as well.
I had surgery about a week later. It was out-patient but they did do it in a surgical suite and they had the labor and delivery nurses bring an ultrasound machine down to the operating room to check on the baby. She did fine throughout, which was a big relief. The plastic surgeon cut about a 3-4 inch U-shaped scar into my chest – a flap, he called it. He also went down very deep. Pathology reports from that came back clean so that was good. I saw the oncologist and he ran blood-work and scheduled me for a CT scan after the baby was born. I was lucky, with regular follow-up I would most likely be done with this episode. My oncologist told me several times that I was extremely lucky – that during pregnancy, due to the hormones, this melanoma could have grown out of control and I may have been too busy with a newborn to have even noticed until it was too late.
About 6 years later, I found another mole on my arm. This time I had my dermatologist look at it (I had been going for semi-annual or annual skin checks ever since the initial diagnosis). Yet again, the doctor didn’t think the mole was anything to worry about but decided to take it off based on my history. Sure enough, this one was also melanoma but, fortunately, in much earlier stages. I had another deep wide excision performed on my inside forearm.
I’ve had a few more moles removed through the years that have not ended up being anything. It completely freaks me out that moles that really don’t look bad are, in fact, really bad. I’ve had to rely on my gut feeling to get things looked at. Fortunately, my dermatologist will take off anything that I don’t trust, regardless of her opinion on it based on my history.
Today I had my annual skin check-up. Neither me nor my doctor could find any moles to do anything with this year. I have one on my stomach that I’m watching. She asked me if it had been there long and I said that I wasn’t sure – after losing 100 pounds this year I’m just now able to see that part of my stomach!
So, what does this have to do with weight loss? Well, not much. But, it does have to do with listening to that inner voice when we know something might not be right. Or moving ahead with taking care of something when we are scared, not ready, not sure, worried. Pushing outside of our comfort zone to take care of ourselves. I realized yesterday that almost exactly one year has passed since I read a Facebook post from an old friend and neighbor praising her weight loss doctor, Dr. Robert Ziltzer. Lots of people post things about weight loss, diet … whatever. What made me pay attention and follow up on that day? I’m not sure. It felt right from the beginning. I knew it was something I should do – something I had to do. I couldn’t have been more right.