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Cancer: Skin Message Board

Cancer: Skin Board Index

Okay, yeah, you need to calm down and just breathe! I can "hear" the intensity in your voice and that is not going to help you at all! :)

First, let me tell you that I had a melanoma removed 3 1/2 years ago, and I did a lot of research, so I know a little about what I'm talking about. Second, it's been 3 1/2 years and I'm stick kicking - and plan to for a long, long time yet to come! Third, I've had "atypical nevi" and you know what? I've survived those, too! ;)

The plain and simple fact is, something like 90% of the world's population have atypical moles (or nevi). It's just that the majority of them never know they do. An atypical mole simply means it's not typical, or normal. (Okay, that took a rocket scientist, right?) However, does a "not normal" mole mean it's cancerous? Absolutely NOT! People can live their entire lives with an atypical mole(s) and be just fine and healthy. No problems healthwise or with skin cancer whatsoever. And they may not even be at risk for any type of skin cancer. They simply have a mole that is atypical. Yet, people hear the word "atypical" and they think something's off. It's simply a medical term.

Now, there are two schools of thought in the medical community when it comes to atypical moles. One school of thought is to leave them alone, and to have the patient watch them for any changes in growth, color, bleeding, etc. It depends on the doctor, but this might also be done if a mole is easily seen, say on the arm or leg or front of the torso. If the mole is in a more difficult area to keep track of (say, on the back, behind the knee, between the toes), a doctor may opt to remove it and biopsy it.

The other school of thought on atypical moles is to simply remove them and biopsy them. Because atypical moles have a higher instance of turning into melanoma, there are some doctors who take this approach: it's best to remove it BEFORE it becomes a problem, then leave it and have the patient watch for the next 10, 20, 30 years and worry about it.

Which school of thought is better? They one YOU, as the patient, can live with. The melanoma I had did not develop from an existing mole. It developed on its own. I've had 6 moles that were considered atypical (and 2 that really, truly fit the textbook description of melanoma) removed and biopsied, and they came back negative. For me? I don't like being carved into and dealing with stitches, so unless I really have an odd feeling about a mole, I prefer to watch it. Other people want them cut off. If I did that, I'd feel as though I were being skinned alive and it's simply uncomfortable for me.

From what you have stated, you really don't have anything to worry about. Either your doctor is concerned that, due to the location of this mole, you will not be able to keep a close watch on it, or s/he may be of the school of thought that it's best to simply remove it. Either way, I'm inclined to go along with him/her. It's best to not fuss around with moles on the feet - they are difficult to monitor! You go in on Monday to have it removed, and that's great! The biopsy will probably be ready within a week or so after that (by mid-Sept), and I'm betting on everything turning out just fine. You state you are not at risk - being Asian with dark skin, eyes, and hair - and only having had one sunburn. I'm thinking you'll sail through this with flything colors!

So, relax, take a deep breath, enjoy your weekend, and simply go to your appointment on Monday. You're going to be fine!
Does your wife know you have these anxieties? How does she handle it? :)

Seriously, let me give you some background on myself and my experience:

I am 50 years old and have been raised and living in So Cal. I am caucasion - auburn hair, fair skinned, freckles, moles. In my teens/20s I was the typical So Cal "beach bunny" - I lived for that perfect tan. Every day that I could, I was at the beach, out on the sand, trying for that ever deeper brown color. Now, it didn't matter that I ALWAYS burned first - and I experienced some pretty severe sunburns in my teens/20s - it would usually turn tan. It didn't matter that I was damaging my skin. I had to be tan!!!

In my 30s, the message finally got through my thick skull that I could be at risk for: sun damage, basal cell and squamous cell cancers, and melanoma. I stopped actively seeking a tan, but I didn't really take precautions, either. At the time I had 3 moles on my upper torso that so perfectly fit the ABCDE of melanoma. They had been there "forever," but I still kept watching them, ever fearful they would turn into melanoma because, with my past history of sunworshipping and sunburns and my fair skin and moles, I am a candidate. I finally got tired of watching these 3 moles, and having doctors tell me they were "nothing." They were big, jagged, bumpy, irregularly colored moles - exactly what you would see if you looked up "melanoma samples" on the internet. So, I demanded my doctor remove them. He did so reluctantly and did a biopsy. The result? All three were negative for cancer. They were simply atypical. Whew!

Then, in late October 2006, when I was getting out of the shower, I happened to notice a tiny freckle on my left knee. Now, I have tons of freckles all over my body, so why should this one lone freckle stand out? I've absolutely no idea. But a few days later, again while coming out of the shower, I looked at the spot and it seemed to be just a smidge bigger and just a bit darker - or did it? I decided to watch it. And yes, gradually, this freckle did get larger and darker - but, that is how moles can develop and I have lots of those. So, again, why would I notice? I don't know.

By the beginning of December 2006, this "mole" was now about 1/8" round, perfectly symetrical, exceptionally sharp, crisp border, and dark brown. Nothing about fit the ABCDE of melanoma. Still, something about it just didn't sit right with me. At my annual physical in January 2007, I brought it up to my doctor, and she agreed it was probably nothing, but we should remove it and biopsy it. I made the appointment for 2/21/07 for removal.

On 2/23/07, I received a call from my doctor: the biopsy came back, and it was malignant melanoma. I'll never forget hearing that. Not even if I live to be 100. After that, things moved very quickly. I was referred to a surgeon, who I saw on 3/5/07. Surgery was scheduled 3/27/07. And now, I have a lovely 3" scar on my left knee as a permanent reminder of the experience. (As if I would ever forget!)

For 3 years I saw a dermatologist/gp every 3 months for a skin check. I've had several moles removed "just to be sure." I find it uncomfortable to be carved up, so unless it really is necessary, I'd rather not. Now, I see my dermatologist twice a year. After 2012, I will see her once a year. I've learned how to give myself a skin check, what to look for, what is "odd."

At first, I connected with a lot of melanoma sites, and what I confronted was frightening. People who had originally had stage I melanoma (what I had), who did their skin checks, thought all was okay, only to have melanoma re-enter their lives 5, 10, 15 years later as stage IV. THAT'S the frightening part of melanoma. THAT'S the part that will haunt your dreams. Finding something on your skin and having it removed? That's the easy part! It's learning to live with the idea that this beast may come back - and sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. And that's how one determines how they will live their life. Sure, I could dwell on it. Think about what "may" happen in another 10 years. But I refuse to live in fear - that's the same as saying the cancer has won. Besides, it may never happen. And I OWE it to myself and my husband to live my life to the fullest I can.

You will never, ever hear me say I am a "cancer survivor." I never use the words "survived melanoma." Because I don't feel as though I have. I know the doctors say that in the early stages melanoma is "curable" with surgery. The truth is melanoma can return 10 or more years later. That's something doctors never talk about. Melanoma is one of the cancers that never goes into remission. There really is not 5 year mark and you are "cured" like there is with other cancers. The doctors talk about 5 year survival rates and then 10 year survival rates. But there are no "cure" rates or "remission" rates with melanoma. There is only NED (No Evidence of Disease). It's something we who have had melanoma live for. BTW, the American Red Cross will not accept blood from people who have had melanoma - did you know that? Doesn't matter how many years have passed, either. You had it, they will not accept your blood donation.

Now, you want to talk about living with fear??? These are the types of things I've had to deal with and reconcile in my mind over the past 3 years - and still have to fight going forward into the future. I can truly understand a fear of not surviving and of leaving loved ones behind and not being there for them. I can understand and relate to the feeling of the possibility of dying while one is still in their prime of life. And believe me, I've encountered so many of stories of individuals who have battled melanoma and lost the fight. It is a tragic cancer, and one that research for simply does not receive much funding.

I simply cannot express to you strongly enough to wait until you have the results back from your biopsy before you let worry consume. Also, really take a look at the risk factors for melanoma - do you fall into those risk categories? Fair skin, fair hair, excessive sun exposure? If not, your chances for melanoma lessen greatly. It's important to keep in mind that, while melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancers, it is almost the least common. Basal cell and squamous cell are by far the most common. And the easiest to combat.

I know this is long, and I know there are probably some scary things in this, but those of us who have had melanoma face some truly scary stuff. My advice to ANYONE facing a biopsy is to get the results FIRST. More often than not, the results will be negative for cancer - most biopsies are. Working up a worried frenzy is not going to help.

I really think you are going to be fine. It sounds as though your doctor has done the right things, but is not overly worried, and it doesn't sound as if there really is anything to be worried about.

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