alt=a man looks at his path of life, thinking about mortality

Skin Cancer and My Mortality

I recently saw a forum online that asked the question of “What Song Will Be Your Funeral Song?” This question may initially seem a bit morbid but honestly, the older I get, it doesn’t seem quite so grim. In fact, earlier this year I had already started compiling a list of songs I’d like played at my funeral some day (hopefully 30-some years from now).

I don’t yet consider myself old (I am now 56), but I am definitely not as young as I used to be. My age, combined with the fact that I naturally tend to be a planner and organizer, led me to start thinking about funeral preparations.

How long do I have to live?

Which then led me to wonder, how long do I have left on this earth? My dad passed away at the age of 65, but my mom lived to be 89 years old. My dad had skin cancer for many years, although that isn’t what caused his death. I, also, have had skin cancer for many years; 2023 will mark my 28th year in my skin cancer journey.

At the risk of jinxing myself, besides having skin cancer, I am healthy. I take no medications, other than daily vitamins. And while my skin cancer seems to have slowed down somewhat over the last few years, new cancerous areas do still show up, and I know that skin cancer for me will never completely go away.

Healthy, other than skin cancer

Which has me wondering – is skin cancer going to be what eventually does me in? I have regularly-scheduled skin checks with my dermatologist, seeing her every six months. But I admit that sometimes, my mind messes with me and plays the “what if” game. What if there is something that isn’t clearly visible on my skin and we have missed it? What if I have a skin cancer that has been growing deep underneath the skin for years? I’ve had almost 28 years of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, but what if I get another type of skin cancer?

I know that worrying does me no good, and being the fact finder that I am, I review skin cancer statistics periodically. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are highly treatable if detected and treated early, and the five-year survival rate for melanoma patients who are treated before the melanoma spreads to lymph nodes is 99%. They also state that death rates from melanoma declined drastically, by nearly 4%, between 2014 and 2019. Those are all positive statistics.

At risk for melanoma

But then I read that people who have a history of non-melanoma skin cancers (that would include me, with my basal and squamous cell carcinomas) are at a higher risk of developing melanoma than people without a non-melanoma skin cancer history. This statistic isn’t as positive, but it lets me know that I cannot give up on being diligent about my frequent self skin checks, my bi-yearly skin checks with my dermatologist, and practicing good sun safety habits.

And, I suppose, it probably wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and make some more end-of-life plans. Not to be morbid, but to save my kids from having to do this down the road, once I have lived a good, long life.

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