Why I'm Choosing to Talk Openly About My Skin Cancer

I am what you would call “lackadaisical” about using suntan lotion and sunblock. Back in my teenage years, I thought using baby oil would give me that coveted glossy “sheen.” I would be that gal on the beach who would be there for hours with no umbrella. More than once, I burned my skin so bad, it hurt to sit down. Did I ever think I would get skin cancer? Nope. Did I think I was invincible? Yep.

Well, flash forward to the summer of 2016. I was at an appointment with my doctor, and I showed her a mole on the back of my left calf. She told me at the time it was nothing to worry about; the mole was OK, and she didn’t suspect skin cancer. Towards the holidays, I began to notice the mole getting larger and changing colors. I was super busy and figured I would ask my doctor to take a look at the mole at my physical in January 2017. Well, once she took a look, she was like, “Catherine, how long has that mole looked like that?” I said, “Oh, a few months.” She immediately did a “punch” biopsy and said I would get the results in about a week.

I knew when she called me personally, the news was probably not good. It wasn’t. She told me I had malignant melanoma and would need to go to the Melanoma Clinic at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to confirm the diagnosis. I got an appointment a week later, and it was confirmed that I have stage 1B malignant melanoma skin cancer. Even as I was sitting in a hospital gown, I still was hoping it was a mistake and I didn’t really have skin cancer.

During that appointment, I talked to two doctors, and they said, “Can you come back tomorrow? We will remove the mole.” My husband was able to rearrange his schedule to be able to take care of our son Dominic, and since I was getting a “local,” I drove myself there and back. I figured since they removed the mole, and it had only looked strange for a few months, that would be the end of it. I had to wait five business days before I got the results. The doctor who removed the mole called me and told me the cancer was deeper than they originally thought and I would need to see a surgeon to schedule my surgery. Excuse me?

When I went to see the surgeon on Valentine’s Day, she said, “We shouldn’t need to do a skin graft.” What?! I already have a one-inch scar from where they removed the mole. My surgery is scheduled for March 23, and I will be getting a “wide-local excision of left calf melanoma with intra-operative lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy.” Quite a mouthful, huh?

There is a 15 percent chance the cancer has spread. I am hoping by being so open about my experiences, if just one person goes to their doctor when they notice a change in a mole, instead of waiting like I did, hopefully it will spare them having to go through what I am going through now and what my friends and family are going through. Consider it a public service announcement. For more information, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.

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