Being in my mid-40s and overweight, concerns about my health — especially the risk of heart attack and stroke — are to be expected, especially since I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation last summer.
However, my most recent health scare had little to do with my cardiovascular system, but another word that begins with C: cancer.
For quite some time, I had a weird-looking mole on my upper back, between my spine and my right shoulder blade. And while I meant to get it looked at, I kept putting it off for various reasons — though inheriting my grandmother’s dislike of going to the doctor might have had something to do with it.
Ironically, it was an abscessed tooth in early August that caused me to get it checked out.
Like I said, going to the doctor is not one of my favorite activities, so for me to break down and go to the doctor over an aching tooth should tell you how much it hurt. And for some reason, I decided that while I was there, it was time to get that weird-looking mole checked out. When the nurse saw it, she told me to come back in two weeks to have it removed.
Two weeks later (Aug. 16), I did just that. I walked from the Powell Tribune up the street to Heritage Health and had an area the size of my thumb tip cut off of my back. When it was done, I walked back to the office and then headed to the Powell High School gymnasium to visit with the PHS volleyball coach, since I am covering the Lady Panthers volleyball team this fall.
I wish I could say that was the end of it. But not quite.
Six days after having that “weird-looking mole” cut off of my back, Heritage Health called me to let me know my results from the biopsy of the weird-looking mole were back. Since I was quite busy that day and the next one, I chose the morning of Friday, Aug. 24, to get my results.
I don’t remember what all Dr. Juanita Sapp told me, but I do remember the two words that counted: malignant melanoma. Needless to say, I was upset — while skin cancer is one of the most survivable forms of cancer, melanoma is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. Adding to that was that melanoma took the life of my friend Angela Pearson, the former mayor of my hometown in Missouri, at the age of 32.
Suddenly, I felt scared and alone, partially because my family and closest friends were more than 1,000 miles in the Midwest. When I was offered the opportunity to take the rest of the day off, I accepted it.
The next step in dealing with my melanoma involved going to Billings, Montana, last Tuesday — not only to have a larger area of my back cut on to make sure that all of the cancer was gone, but also to biopsy lymph nodes under my right arm to make sure the cancer had not spread. Needless to say, I was not excited, especially because I have a phobia of general anesthesia. However, the procedure went well, and I was back at my desk at the Tribune last Thursday.
The bad news is that I am still a bit sore from surgery, which is not a surprise since I have an incision the size of the palm of my hand on my upper back, not to mention a 3-inch long incision under my right arm.
But I can live with that, especially since my surgeon called me earlier this week and said that the lymph nodes were negative for cancer and that they got all of the melanoma out of my back. I was very happy, to say the least.
In closing, my bout with skin cancer is all the more surprising since I rarely get out in the sun and have seldom gone shirtless since I was 16 years old. So if I can offer some advice, if you find a “weird-looking mole” or something similar on your skin, get it checked out. It might just save your life.