Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.

Aug

7th

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.

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“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.

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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?paperwork edited

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.

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Time for surgery.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


EARLY DETECTION

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).

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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.

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mole patrol

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.


*sigh*

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.


SIDE NOTE

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.

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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

COMMENTS

27 Responses

  1. Collette says:

    I’ve taken my teenage daughter to derm for multiple large moles and the resident Doctor seemed unphased. One is growing larger on her chin. This will make the decision in my gut to take her back in an easy one.

    • Laura G. says:

      Get another opinion!!! My mom was suspicious of a lump in her breast and her gynecologist poo pooed her concern…she waited a month or so and then sought another opinion…it WAS breast cancer and she had a mastectomy soon after…AND made sure the surgeon sent a report to her poo pooing gynecologist! She never went back to him again!!

  2. Laura G. says:

    You have the means and the power to reach many, many people with your blog and I am grateful that you use it wisely!!! I am a breast cancer survivor and I am very open about my decisions and journey to others who are just being diagnosed. I hope I can lessen some of the stress involved in making the decisions for treatment. Rock on Becky!!! :)

  3. Kathy Long says:

    It is so important to have an annual checkup with your dermatologist to have a skin check up. My best friend had a melanoma in her scalp. You need to check everywhere; your scalp, in between your toes, the bottom of your feet. one of your sentences was also interesting where you questioned, “Has that always been there?”. Same thing happened with my husband very recently. All of the sudden he was bleeding. When we took a look at his back there was this scaley mole. Both of us where asking the same question. Has that always been there? He immediately scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist. Turned out it was a Basal Cell carcinoma. Early detection is key.

  4. Kathy Long says:

    It is so important to have an annual checkup with your dermatologist to have a skin check up. My best friend had a melanoma in her scalp. You need to check everywhere; your scalp, in between your toes, the bottom of your feet. one of your sentences was also interesting where you questioned, “Has that always been there?”. Same thing happened with my husband very recently. All of the sudden he was bleeding. When we took a look at his back there was this scaley mole. Both of us where asking the same question. Has that always been there? He immediately scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist. Turned out it was a Basal Cell carcinoma. Early detection is key. Self care is so important. We are all so busy with our jobs and our families, but we need to take care of ourselves first, otherwise we cannot serve those who need us.

  5. Carolyn F says:

    You said it well – know your body and trust your instincts. I was diagnosed in 2016 with lymphoma. We would not have found it if I hadn’t been insistent about following up.

  6. Rosa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are able to reach so many people with your blog and, let’s be honest here, sometimes we all need a little reminder to be more proactive. I know I will be checking myself as well as my kids. I assumed my kids would be ok since they are kids… But no one is immune. Thank you.

  7. Cari Wozniak says:

    Good for you, Becky. Thank you for using this social media outlet to spread the word. As a breast cancer survivor, early detection is important. I was suspicious. My OB was unsure, but wanted to be cautious and check it out. The mammogram was negative. Thankfully, I had had concerns before, so an ultrasound was already scheduled regardless of what the mammogram said. Sure enough, the Rafiologist decided to biopsy the lump. It was cancerous. An MRI proved that there were two more growing behind the initial mass. I had a bilateral mastectomy immediately. Pathology reported that those two “hiding” were growing twice as fast as the initial one. The other breast was filled with “pre-cancerous cells” like your mole.
    I amble to talk about it and share my story because I know my body, as you do.
    Thank you for being a beacon for those who are either unaware of are on the fence as to making that initial appointment.
    Thank you,
    Cari

  8. Candy Clouston says:

    Colonoscopy is not the only screening test for colon cancer. It’s not necessarily any better than an annual FIT test, which does not have the risks associated with having someone poking around in your colon.

    There’s a sweet spot between hyper-vigilance in screening that results in false positives and unnecessary stress and procedures and indifference. Unfortunately, no one knows quite how to determine what it’s going to be for each individual.

    The older I get, the clearer it is to me that while most mainstream medical practice (for any ailment) is evidence-based, medicine is still in its infancy in terms of optimal decision-making. The long-term effects of newer drugs are largely unknown, but most drugs effect multiple systems (which is reflected in the variety of side effects and known risks), so it’s not surprising that many turn out to not be quite as wonderful as initially believed.

  9. Nancy G. says:

    Thank you for being so open and sharing your story. I am sure it will lead some individuals to take action and listen to their body when something is “off” . Three years ago I had spotting after menopause. I went to the OB/GYN and discovered I had endometrial cancer. With surgery I am now 3 years cancer free. Any woman who has spotting after menopause should go get it checked by her doctor, it may be nothing or the visit could lead her back to health.

  10. Dalia says:

    I am so glad you are ok now…and thank you for you sharing your story.

  11. Lisa D. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Please, please share with your family and friends to be sure and check the bottom of their feet and palms of their hands for any spots. I went through this same thing almost exactly one year ago with what looked like a freckle on the bottom of my foot. Came back pre-melanoma and had to have more taken out. One would never imagine that a freckle on the bottom of your foot could be cancer, but they are often melanoma. It wasn’t fun having it removed twice in a month as I’m sure you’re experiencing now, but so worth it. Best of luck in your recovery!

  12. Cindi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal story. I am calling a dermatologist tomorrow for a check. This cancer runs in my family and I was a big tanner as a teen and young adult. This was a real eye opener. God bless you!

  13. Meliss Epps says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am going to scheule deem appointments for my family.

  14. Libby says:

    I am much, much older than you and have had many (dozens?) of harmless spots removed . Two MOHs surgeries on my face (all went well.) I go to my derm more often than any other doc ( 5x year?) , and she is very proactive. So very important to know your own body, as you say!

  15. Paula Corsaro says:

    After I read your blog I went to the dermatologist for a skin check, which, thankfully, was fine. I’m glad I went though, thank you for being so honest about your situation, you are making a difference and probably saving lives!

  16. Cindi says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My dad passed away in 2011 from metastatic malignant melanoma. He had had a spot removed (with wide margins like you detail) from his back about 17 years before. He had close, excellent follow up care over the next 15 years (deemed clear at that time) but then around the 17 year mark, developed a weird cough. The mass they removed from his lung was the same as what they had removed 17 years before (thank you lab slide records). 4 months later, he was gone. Long story short, most people I think blow off skin cancer when the malignant melanoma type can be truly devastating. Stay vigilant!

  17. Enid says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is very important to be pro-active.

  18. Deena says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! Glad you are doing well. Just a tip for the stairs–going up the stairs use your left leg (not surgical side) then meet the same step with your other leg. Reverse it going down (go with your surgical leg first and then meet the same step with your other foot). Take it one step at a time until that knee starts to bend easier :)

  19. SM says:

    I just left a comment under a different email of mine, and though I’d left other comments under it before, I must be blocked from commenting because the last few times I’ve tried to comment it never shows up. I know I’ve left comments in the past about being bummed about products or the way things were handle, but I’ve always tried to be constructive and not rude, and I have left far more positive comments than negative comments. This actually really bothers me that you block people for leaving comments that weren’t particularly “on brand” (according to you). I find it rather short-sighted to force consumers to disengage with you because you don’t like what they have to say. I’ve been a loyal customer since you launched (and even knew you peripherally as a YW leader in AZ years ago), and honestly, you just lost my business. I don’t want to spend my money at a company that doesn’t value my opinion and feedback as a loyal customer even if you don’t agree with it. I know this won;t affect your day-to-day business or even be a blip on your radar, but I thought you should know why you lost a long-time, loyal customer.

    • Race Ashby Race Ashby says:

      Having your comments not show up after you put all that effort into reading and responding to our blog posts must be incredibly frustrating! We would hate to lose your business over a miscommunication, so let us assure you that we’ve never intentionally blocked anything from either of your email addresses. We do have an automated spam filter, but it’s pretty lenient and it’s hard to imagine it would have singled you out on its own, but stranger things have happened, and that would explain why this is the first time we’re hearing about the issue. Going back, we are able to see about a dozen comments on our blog posts that you have made, with excellent feedback, that were not blocked and are actively showing up on those old posts. Whenever you (or anyone else) notices an issue like this please please bring it directly to customerservice@beckyhiggins.com, and we’ll very happily troubleshoot the issue with you.

  20. Robbie Wagner says:

    I second every single thing you said. Oct 2015, my husband had a bump on his shoulder that looked like a cyst (internal bump). Both his doctor and the dermatologist said it was just a sebaceous cyst. We kept our eyes and it and when it started rapidly growing, we went back to the dermatologist. Come to find out it was melanoma. Stage IIIB. All praise to God – it had not spread to the sentinel lymph node, but it was in local micro nodes. After going through initial induction treatment phase, he is now in maintenance mode and last PET scan was clean! IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT SOMETHING, GET TO THE DOCTOR! I know that is yelling, but that’s how strongly I believe in that. Too much to lose if you delay.

  21. Liane Zamojski says:

    Becky thankfully you caught it early, but you did not have the worse type of skin cancer. Most people know of melanoma & basel cell but there are several other types including one called Merkel Cell. This one keeps coming back! Oh you maybe lucky enough to get rid of it for awhile but it will come back maybe a couple of months maybe a couple of years but as of right now all research points to it returning. Not a lot is known about this type, but there is more and more known each year. And Becky good for you for making the doctor look again at what you were worried about and making him take a biopsy! Friends YOU MUST MAKE THE DOCTOR LISTEN TO YOU!!! You know your body, don’t let anybody tell you something isn’t wrong if you feel it is. Between my father then me then my mother and know my husband I have meet my share of doctors that do and do not listen, I fire the ones that do not listen and cherish the ones that do. My husband’s first skin cancer (basel cell) was found by me as it was in the middle of his back between his shoulder blades. We are now on to experimental drugs for the Merkel Cell after radiation, chemo then radiation again.

  22. Carol Ellis says:

    Becky,
    Thank you so much for your honesty and this personal look at your journey with something I think most of us have a secret hidden fear tucked in the back of our brain that usually comes to the forefront as we sit obediently at our doctors appointments. I had a classmate whose life was cut short from what certainly most of us would ignore, especially because it was in the middle of her back. So glad all turned out for the best. I will print out your blog and share it with friends because of the great info. Hugs!
    Carol

  23. I love that you wrote this all up! I got yearly to the derm, I never really thought to check my kids, will do that! Glad you are on the mend and sharing your story to help others.

  24. Donna Gibson says:

    Hi Becky! Thanks for sharing your story. Since your first mention of your suspicious places, I’ve scheduled and had an appointment to have a full body scan. Two places were biopsied, and I’m thankful the results were negative. This was my first scan, and cancer runs heavily in my family. I never saw anything that looked funny, so I never went to a dermatologist. How stupid! One of the places I had biopsied was on the center of my back and hidden by my bra. No one would have ever seen that one. My scalp was not checked. I’ll have my nurse/daughter look at that. We do have to take charge of our own health.
    By the way, when I broke my leg a few years ago, I had trouble going down stairs, too. (Going up wasn’t as bad.) So, I went down backwards, holding onto the rail. It worked great, except that when I could walk again, I had to relearn how to go down normally.
    Thanks again for sharing your story!

  25. Ashley Schultz says:

    Thank you for sharing this so openly. I’m so glad to hear you were persistent and are okay.

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