listening to your body
Part of cultivating a good life is listening to your body.
You know the phrase. We hear it from time to time — and what does it even mean? I’m sharing my own recent story about paying attention to my body to illustrate what this has meant to me personally. My purpose in sharing is to (hopefully) help others be more motivated to take action when something — anything — doesn’t seem right with their body. If you feel like someone you care about would benefit from reading this, please share the link.
“You have malignant melanoma.”
These are the words I heard on June 29 this year. Melanoma? Hmmm. Skin cancer? Ew. Cancer? Oh man. Okay.
I have had many moles removed in my life because I’m always on the lookout for anything “off” with my body. I pay attention. I’ve had my skin checked several times. Recently there was a mole (or what looked like a mole) above my right knee that was suspicious to me. It was bigger than it used to be. In fact — was that mole always there? Was it new? Its edges were irregular. And the coloring seemed a little off.
These, to me, were warning signs. Not worth brushing off. I went to the dermatologist. The PA who checked over my skin looked at the mole and kept going. “Wait a second. Go back. That one’s actually suspicious to me,” I said. He said it was likely nothing, but you never know, and if it made me feel better then he’d do a shave biopsy. Uh — Yes please.
Two weeks later, the pathology report confirmed my fear. I felt the range of emotions from fear and uncertainty to actually being fairly optimistic about the situation.
The bad news, of course, is that I had skin cancer. Ugh. No one ever wants to hear that they have ANY kind of cancer. And yet some of you reading this have had — or currently have — cancer. Or someone you love has / had it. Cancer affects most of us. In just my immediate family alone, my dad had it, one brother had two different kinds of cancer, another brother caught skin cancer in an early stage, and another brother died a few years ago from cancer.
Actually, this is the second time that cancer has come up for me personally. The first time was in my appendix. It was found after an emergency appendectomy like 17 years ago — but it was completely contained and not a big concern. Anyway, cancer is one of the harsh realities in this mortal existence for sure.
It was when I was filling out this paper work at the surgeon’s office that it hit me. I saw “Informed-Consent Skin Cancer Surgery” at the top of one of the forms and … man. I was having cancer surgery? This is really cancer?
By the way, what you see above my right knee there was a healing wound from my punch biopsy when the area was originally removed at the dermatologist’s office.
There was “good” news in my diagnosis. Keep in mind the theme here: EARLY DETECTION. This is key, friends. What I had was called malignant melanoma “in situ” which is actually before Stage I because the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the surface of my skin above my knee… as far as we could tell at the time. We immediately scheduled my surgery so we could go wider and deeper and catch any remaining cancer cells that could possibly be hanging out. I learned that “in situ” is definitely less worrisome, but melanoma is no joke and of all the types of skin cancers, this isn’t the one we wanted to hear.
When I met with the surgeon, he mapped out a to-scale sketch of what he planned to do. There’s a whole formula to how much is excised based on the size of the melanoma, etc. I was definitely surprised by how much would be removed from my leg, but let’s be honest: I’ll take a big scar ANY day over cancer.
Time for surgery.
Everything really went very smoothly. There was so much to be grateful for. Before I knew it, I was back home, tucked in bed, leg elevated, and focused on recovering.
Oh — notice that other area on my inner thigh? Speaking of being proactive … I did point out to my surgeon another “suspicious spot” (another mole that the PA overlooked) and he agreed that we should remove & biopsy that one too.
Three days post-surgery, I had my follow-up with the surgeon and it was the first time I saw the incision with a dozen stitches over my right knee. I’m keeping the more gruesome pictures out of the blog post and off social media so I don’t gross anyone out. This leg brace? It helped me to keep my right leg straight during recovery. The incision barely goes over my knee so I couldn’t bend it or I’d bust the stitches.
Fast forward through many, many hours working from my bed, some hobbling around, relying on friends and family for rides, and some very humbling experiences being the recipient of several acts of service … here we are.
This is what my leg has looked like since surgery. A few days ago I had half of the stitches removed. I can now bend my knee enough to finally drive again (splendid!), but I’m pretty awkward trying to do stairs. For what began as the smallest little spot, a lot was removed and the area is quite tender and sometimes painful. It’ll be several weeks before I can exercise again. All of this is completely worth it because … guess what?
Fantastic news: the pathology report indicates that it’s GONE. The melanoma is gone, you guys! It appears that there are no more cancer cells in that area. Oh, and remember how I requested that a second “concerning spot” on that same leg be excised since I was having surgery already? Turns out, according to the pathologist, that little booger was on its way to becoming melanoma. I’m happy to kick that opportunity to the curb because it’s gone too.
I am feeling all the feels for early detection and so let’s talk about it, shall we?
Friends: If you notice ANYthing that doesn’t seem right with your body, you are your best advocate. Get it checked out and be persistent, if needed. When it comes to skin cancer, there is seriously so much information out there, but here’s the very BASIC stuff to look out for, and it’s easy to remember with the ABCDE acronym:
ASYMMETRY – One half is unlike the other half.
BORDER – An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
COLOR – Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white, red, or blue.
DIAMETER – Melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller (mine was smaller).
EVOLVING – A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
All that said, I really want to emphasize this: Go have your skin checked. Even if you’re not seeing anything of concern. You and I? We’re not dermatologists (okay, so a few of you reading this actually are … but I’m speaking to everyone else). We’re not the experts. Skin cancer can manifest itself in different ways and something that seems like nothing? It could be something. A life-threatening something. And something that you might think is something could be nothing at all. The point? A competent, trained professional should be looking at every inch of your skin to be sure all is well. And if anything comes up as concerning … take care of it. Don’t wait. You’re worth it.
Need a little more motivation? Watch this.
I’ve been asked if I had any pictures of what these areas of concern looked like before they were removed, so let’s do it. Surprisingly, I didn’t take a “before” picture of the spot above my knee (because … who knew it would be melanoma and that I’d be wanting to document and share like this, right??). However … I was able to find a video clip from the little family movie I made of our June excursion to Hawai’i. I remembered panning from my chair in the sand to the kids playing in the waves so … there you go! This is a screen shot from that video clip (which explains the quality).
This gives you an idea of its size and a general idea of what it looked like. What you can’t see from this screen grab / freeze frame is the A, B, C, and E features that had been first “curious” to me and then the more I looked at it … concerning enough to have checked out.
Let’s talk about the other spot; that one I mentioned noticing on my inner thigh. This one is an intentional picture that I took before surgery. You can see that there’s just enough of rough borders and color variation but doesn’t hardly seem concerning, right? Except that it had been evolving over time and, given the melanoma diagnosis, I just wanted the thing gone. I didn’t want it to have the chance to evolve any more.
And hello — I’m so glad it’s gone! Those cells were working on becoming melanoma … but no more. No thank you. Buh-bye.
As you can imagine … I’m totally on “mole patrol” with my family and friends right now. It’s hard for me to not glance over people’s skin and encourage them to be sure they’re getting in to see a dermatologist if anything seems off. I realize I can’t actually do anything about anyone else’s “stuff.” That’s on them. That’s on you. That’s on me. We each have to be our own advocate. But you better believe I can do something about my own immediate family.
And so you know what? We’re taking care of things. All 3 kids have had a mole or two that I didn’t like — as in, there were at least a couple of those ABCDE warning signs that made my mama instincts feel like they just needed to be GONE. So … in the past week, both of our boys had surgery to remove moles (because of how many and where the moles were, surgery made the most sense) and Claire had a procedure to remove one.
I’m not sitting on anything. Getting them gone.
One last note about early detection
This post is about more than skin cancer. It’s about your body. And listening to it. It’s about paying attention to anything that doesn’t seem right. It’s about being proactive with your health care. Stay on top of your well visits (dental and medical). Stay up-to-date with your optometry and dermatology and OB/GYN visits. Get that mammogram or colonoscopy that you’ve been putting off.
Oh yeah. Let’s go there for a minute. If you should be having a colonoscopy for any reason — whether it be your age or symptoms or even your family history — DO IT, friend. As soon as my brother Jonathan was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer several years ago, our whole family had a colonoscopy – including me. It’s worth it. His mortal story was cut short and you better believe we’re all vigilant about staying on top of that.
Never thought I’d be showing personal body type pictures like this, but here we are. I have chosen to be really open about this story in my life in the spirit of inspiring others to take care of their health and be proactive about anything that doesn’t seem right.
Going back to the beginning of all this… As I sat at the dermatology office that one Wednesday, waiting for the PA to come in and tell me what I was already fearing … I documented. I took this picture. For me.
I also did some journaling on some recent scrapbook pages for our family yearbook (something I do weekly with the Project Life® App). In my state of self-awareness I found it interesting that I was documenting (taking pictures + scrapbooking) when I was clearly stressed.
Why was I doing that? I believe I was subconsciously searching for comfort. I find comfort in documenting our stories. In some way, my mind was more at ease when I was documenting. I already know the blessings of preserving our memories. I have just become more hyper aware of those blessings right now. If documenting your journey brings comfort, do it.
Thank you again for your prayers + positive thoughts + encouragement + kindness + for sharing your own stories. This has been a humbling experience and I feel completely grateful to a loving Father in Heaven who helps us feel lifted through other people. I am grateful that each of us has our personal and direct line with Him (through prayer), available at any moment and as often as we make it a priority. And I’m grateful for modern medicine and skilled individuals who care to do a good job at what they do.
I’m certain that more updates and early detection reminders will continue to show up on social media. Sharing is what I do. #BHMelanoma