A woman looks in the mirror at a suspicious spot on her body.

My Doctors Didn't Even Think It Was Skin Cancer: Why You Are the Best Expert on Your Body

Standing in the bathroom of my suite at the Best Western Plus a few years back, I quickly examined myself in the floor-length mirror before hopping into the shower. Hotel bathrooms, while notorious for harsh unforgiving lighting, are ideal environments for skin inspections. I gently itched my lower back, noticing the spot in question starting to bleed. Well, that’s new, I thought.

A concerning spot

It wasn’t a mole; just a little irritated spot on an area of my body, which, thanks to years of modest one-piece swimsuits, I didn’t think ever saw the sun. I wasn’t overly concerned and was instead eager to get ready and downstairs in time for the complimentary continental breakfast before heading to our company’s training seminar which was taking place in the hotel. Later that day, I showed the spot to my colleague and close friend who laughed when I asked, “It’s not cancer, right?” She shook her head no and went back to rummaging through her purse for lipstick.

My doctor said it isn't skin cancer

Back home a week later I noticed the spot had somewhat healed but was still there. As a blonde-haired blue-eyed gal, I was always on the lookout for dubious skin changes. At 35, I’ve had my share of precancerous pests removed from my face, so at my upcoming doctor’s appointment, I showed her the suspicious spot. She immediately reassured me it was a completely normal skin spot, “one of the many perks of growing older I’m afraid.” Her assessment was further confirmed a few days later by the dermatologist at my yearly check-up. I treated myself to a celebratory Frappuccino and went about my life.

Years later, the spot looked and felt different

As the years went by the spot faded but continued to linger. My conscientious (i.e. paranoid) nature resulted in my consistently bringing it up at any future doctor's appointments, and was each time encouraged when it was dismissed as a common skin nuisance. About five years later, I was changing out of my workout clothes and brushed my hand over the spot, as I did occasionally, and noticed it felt different. I rushed to the bathroom and more closely examined the area. And while our artistic lighting was no match for the fluorescents at the Best Western, there was no hiding the fact the spot looked different.

Unfortunately, cancer wasn't new to me

I should also mention, two years ago after giving birth to the cutest little towheaded-troublemaker, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Coincidentally, it was in a hotel bathroom where I first noticed visible changes in my breast. Early detection saved my life so as you might expect, I wasted no time in getting an appointment to see my dermatologist.

The dermatologist wasn't concerned

Less than 48 hours later, Dr. Derma (not his real name) was squatting with his magnifying monocle to assess the situation on my lower back. “Yeah, I still don’t think it’s anything of concern. But you’re correct it has changed and feels a tad rough so let’s do a biopsy, but like I said I would be shocked if it’s anything other than a benign skin lesion.” After the biopsy, which took less than five minutes, he reminded me if I didn’t hear from him in a few days I could assume all was fine. “No news is good news.”

The doctor was shocked

Three days later I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize, and I hesitated to answer as I’d been getting a lot of spam calls, but it was a slow day at work so I risked it. “Hi, Sarah. This is Dr. Derma. I’m calling you from my downtown office. I just got the results of your biopsy, which indicate the presence of basal cell carcinoma. I’m shocked, actually.” I took a deep breath, replaying in my mind what he had just said.

The importance of self-advocacy

“So wait, it’s skin cancer?” I asked hesitantly. “Unfortunately, yes. It’s early stage so we’re in a great place in terms of treatment,” the doctor responded. He discussed next steps and I set up an appointment to see him the following day. “Sarah, good on you for monitoring skin changes on your body.” He said some other stuff but honestly, it was a wash.

Some sense of relief

After we ended the call, I went into one of the vacant office conference rooms, closed the door, and cried. It wasn’t quite the relief of the year before when, after my double mastectomy, the doctors confirmed that my breast cancer hadn’t spread. But it was definitely relief nonetheless.

When it comes to your body if you see something, if you feel something, say something, and keep saying it until you get answers. Medical professionals are certainly experts in what they do but ultimately the best expert on your body is you.

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