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My Current Challenge, Part 3

My Current Challenge, Part 3

Following up from Part 1 and Part 2 of My Current Challenge:

It’s August 7 and yesterday I got this news as the nurse was removing my stitches. “Your margins are clear. See the doctor again in six months.” Okay, so I clearly understand what the second part of her advice was, but what did she mean exactly about my margins being “clear?” That is not a phrase that one hears every day and, although I know that it was good news, what does it really mean for me and anyone else who hears those words as they relate to cancer?

What are clear margins?

Well, here is what I found through the National Cancer Institute. “The edge or border of the tissue removed in cancer surgery. The margin is described as negative or clean when the pathologist finds no cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has been removed. The margin is described as positive or involved when the pathologist finds cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has not been removed.”1

The confusion of cancer lingo

Before I go on to how I feel and my overall thoughts about this experience, let me first say that it is important to understand dermatology/cancer speak. Medical folks have their own lingo and subculture like all professions and industries and it helps to understand the language. If you are not sure, ask. If you are still not sure, ask again. This is your health. Be informed. Nurses and doctors use this jargon all day, every day, and it is easy for them to assume that you are fluent in their parlance, but you may not be.

What I learned in my latest cancer scare

So, what has this current challenge taught me?

  • Do skin checks! Know what to look for and check regularly.
  • If you are not sure about something, see your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Have access to and understand your medical charts, if possible. Ask for clarification. Google terms and phrases that you don’t understand. Keep asking until you are satisfied with the answers you are getting.
  • Get multiple opinions and make sure to follow up with each appointment. Don’t delay and put off appointments out of convenience.
  • Be vigilant and diligent.

Clear margins but I’m stressed again

I am thankful that my margins were “clear” and that I had a good report. But this was just one mole. My next general appointment was pre-scheduled and is actually August 20, 2018. I start this whole process again, the waiting, the questions, the answers. It never really ends. It is tiring. This is my life, the life of a melanoma survivor. I find myself stressed out because of the unknown. Having this forum and platform helps me deal with the anxiety and pain.

Find someone to connect with

My best advice is to find people to connect with during these challenges. Find people who understand and can relate. Find others who can give you an encouraging word or simply listen. This was my biggest lesson during this current challenge. This is the first time that I have had biopsies since I have been contributing and moderating on so the lessons are raw and real and my empathy for others is bubbling at the surface.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms - Margin. National Cancer Institute. Available at


  • Ronni Gordon moderator
    12 months ago

    Yeah, their lingo can sometimes be confusing. Doctors told me I had a lesion on my kidney and I had no idea what that meant. It turns out it means cancer! Luckily it was on the edge and a nice surgeon cut it out and that was that. As for clear margins, when I hear that after Mohs surgery I’m always relieved because it means I can go home.

  • Scott Matheny moderator author
    12 months ago

    Yes, we don’t want lesions but we do want margins.

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