My Diagnosis Journey
I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma during the summer of 1988. My thirty-year survival anniversary is this year! I often am asked how I discovered my skin cancer. I tell everyone that my diagnosis was a journey and not a single event. I didn’t just walk into a doctor’s office one day and out of the blue was diagnosed with this killer disease. It was a process.
Initial awareness of an abnormal mole
Ahhhh, summers in Southern California!!! I remember being in a Jacuzzi at a pool party in Whittier, California, when a lady who I barely knew told me these words, “You have black death!” Of course, I was taken aback and had no idea what she meant. She told me that she was a nurse and that it appeared to her that I had melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. This was the first stage in my diagnosis. I became aware that I might have a problem. Now, if this had been the end of my diagnosis journey, then I might not be here today.
Be open to others concern for your skin
Let anyone and everyone speak into your life. This is what I mean. It is okay for people to make you aware of a skin issue and you are happy for their input. At any point in time, you cannot see all of your skin. Let the people in your life know that they have carte blanche to make you aware of things that they see regarding your skin. Of course, this includes friends and family, but it also includes people like barbers, hair dressers, aestheticians, massage therapists, trainers, etc. Anyone who sees you has permission to speak.
The journey continues: prioritize the dermatologist
This initial awareness is only part of the diagnosis. This must be followed up by a trip to the doctor and I don’t mean just any doctor, but a licensed dermatologist. Find a good dermatologist and go see him or her. The diagnosis journey does not end with simple awareness, but must be followed up with a professional. Too often it is easy to fail in this area. Face it, most of us are busy and going the see a skin doctor is not high on our “to-do” list, but it should be. Continue the journey by getting a checkup.
First, see the doctor when you are aware of skin changes
I have found that the best way for me to be diligent in my diagnosis journey is to follow these two steps. First, see the doctor when I (or someone else) notices something in my skin that has changed or seems out of place. If something seems amiss, get it checked out. Don’t worry if it feels that you are “bothering” your doctor. Your doctor is charged with keeping you alive. See your doctor when you notice a change in a mole or a new growth or if something does not heal as it should.
Next, continue to see the doctor on a regular basis
Get into a routine. See a licensed dermatologist on a regular basis. This may mean every six months or even more often, if you have had cancer recently. Put it on your calendar like you should for teeth cleanings and changing your smoke detector. See the doctor when everything seems ok and you do not notice any changes. If you have a good dermatologist he or she will notice things that you may miss. This routine will allow medical professionals to notate and measure growths and moles for later evaluation. This benchmarking is critical.
Cover your bases
I follow this process. Anyone has the right to make me aware of my possible skin issues. I follow up. I see a doctor when I am aware of something. I see my doctor on a regular basis. This is the best way for me to be diligent about my health. I try to cover all my bases.
How well have your skin cancer diagnoses been explained to you?